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It feels like forever since the Director's Cuts of the initial Lethal Weapon trilogy first appeared on VHS over a year ago ... now the entire quadrology has finally arrived in a classy (if minimal) looking DVD box-set.  These discs are also stored in brand new Amaray casings rather than those dire snapper ones that the previous theatrical versions were housed in.  When the last sequel (Lethal Weapon 4) first appeared on DVD over two years ago in 1999 it provided us with our first glimpse of the deleted scenes from the first three movies ... it was obvious then that they were completed at the time of their original theatrical release but ultimately removed to bring the pace up a bit.  Admittedly, most of them were kind of redundant in terms of enhancing the story (except maybe for the original Lethal Weapon) but it's kind of nice to see them restored back into the movies for these new DVDs - you can buy them either separately or in the box-set provided.

Sequels can often become a big money-spinner for a studio and this franchise is no exception ... but if care is not taken they can just as quickly destroy the original's reputation.  The start of any franchise sometimes comes from an unlikely source where the creators are given a less-than-desirable budget to work with ... which in turn compels them to become more creative and (to some extent) allows for more freedom of expression than the inadvertantly restrictive nature of its possible sequels.  Luckily for Warner Bros the first sequel greatly complemented upon its predecessor which sealed this series' reputation as a box-office winner, regardless of how dire any further sequels ever became.  The trouble with this particular series is that the writers thought that "more is more" and "if it's not broken, fix it anyway" - this ultimately spelled doom for the fans who were bombarded with more and more characters to contend with in each sequel, as well as the increasing reliance on some so-called comedic elements which all but halts proceedings unnecessarily.

Lethal Weapon:  "Come on, we gotta get up and catch bad guys" ... "Who Left The Gas On?"
The original 1987 Lethal Weapon exhibited a gritty realism that the sequels began losing along the way.  Also, the subsequent Director's Cut goes much further into Martin Riggs' mental turmoil which makes you feel for him a lot more than what the theatrical release relegated into little more than a passing moment of time.  The same cannot be said for the Director's Cuts of 1989/1992's Lethal Weapon 2 & 3 with either character or plot development.  Indeed, 1998's Lethal Weapon 4 could have done with some major trimming of the comedic actors (Joe Pesci and newcomer Chris Rock) to speed things up dramatically - Leo Getz more irritating with each sequel (get it?) and Biscuit, er Buttkiss, er Butters does little else other than wind up as the butt of a homosexual joke (pun intended).  Indeed, what were the actors thinking of in the last sequel by using the "F" word every two seconds?

Aside from these shortcomings, the Lethal Weapon Legacy collection is definately one of the "guilty pleasures" in my library - you just can't go past the frenetic action that is present in all four of these movies.  The musical soundtrack (provided by the successful combination of Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen) is powerful in the stunt sequences, very supportive in the darker sections as well as uniquely comic in the lighter moments - however this same beloved opus loses all meaning in the very last sequel, which is purely the fault of the movie itself.  Bigger budgets meant more of everything (including unwanted comedic quotient), EXCEPT it seems for plot - the filmmakers ended up putting in more explosions, more zany situations and more characters into each sequel that ultimately there was much less for each of them to do except just be there and cope with everything else that is happening around them!

Movie
Lethal Weapon (1987) - "Roger Murtaugh, meet your new partner, Martin Riggs".  After having turned 50, family man Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is teamed up with a new partner called Riggs (Mel Gibson) who is an ex Special Forces war veteran ... however Riggs is wrestling with an irreconcilable demon of guilt everyday from the death of his beloved wife three years ago in a car accident that Riggs had no involvement in.  As Murtaugh reluctantly takes on the recently diagnosed psychotic Riggs, they start off Murtaugh's birthday by investigating the death of a prostitute, who just happens to be the daughter of a long lost Vietnam buddy Michael Hunsaker (Tom Atkins).  The two mismatched police detectives discover that Hunsaker has been involved in a huge drug-smuggling operation run by former Vietnam mercenaries named "Shadow Company", led by General Peter McAllister (Mitch Ryan) with the aid of Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey).  Everyone (including Murtaugh's family) becomes involved in this dangerous game which ultimately becomes a battle of courage and skill to defeat the enemy before innocent lives are lost.

Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) - The odd couple are at it again!  A wild car chase ensues with the two cops hot on the tail of some people with a really weird accent ... when they "stop" their quarry in a storefront window it is discovered that the car is full of South African gold Krugerrands.  After having caused pandemonium on the streets the two boys are sent to babysit a federal witness named Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) who is scheduled to testify against the persons he was stealing from whilst laundering their own drug-money.  When he reveals that these people are actually South African consulate members headed by Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland) and protected by diplomatic immunity, then noone is safe from their reach.  Along the way, Riggs pursues a dangerous liaison with the female assistant of the consulate Rika Van Den Haas (Patsy Kensit).  Twists and turns ensue where events come to a head and the two cops must go against the rules (just as their foes have done) in order to save the day ... in which Riggs and Murtaugh know that it's take-no-prisoners.

Lethal Weapon 3 (1992) - The mania continues!  Murtaugh is only 8 days from retirement when the dynamic duo literally bring the house down with their antics, then they are busted down to street patrolmen.  After having thwarted a clever bank robbery using armoured trucks they find that their investigation is taken over by Internal Affairs headed by Sergeant Lorna Cole (Rene Russo).  Whilst they are sorting out their differences in the captain's office, a former rogue cop Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson) has shot dead their only suspect inside their own police station, to which they later discover that he is dealing in stolen firearms.  After Riggs and Cole try outmatch each other with their scars from the job, all three cops band together (with the aid of Leo Getz; real estate guru) to hunt down the criminal.

Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) - The gang is back!  As the crew are literally heading for retirement age, Murtaugh takes Riggs and Getz (now private investigator) for a pleasure ride on his cruise-boat when they manage to stop a freighter carrying illegal Chinese immigrants set for underground slavery on American soil.  Suspicions lie with local mob-boss Uncle Benny (Kim Chan) who is currently in dealings with a very dangerous Hong Kong Triad member named Wah Sing Ku (Jet Li).  Ku is particularly involved because this operation was part of a plan to rescue the rest of his Triad kindred who are currently held by the Chinese military.  Along the way, Riggs' de facto Lorna Cole is pregnant with their child, whilst the new police detective Lee Butters (Chris Rock) is expecting a child to Murtaugh's daughter Rianne (unbeknownst to Murtaugh who thinks that his affection for him is for something other than father to son-in-law).  When the Triads hit close to home, Riggs & Murtaugh and their fellow work colleagues vow to set things right.

Video
All these DVDs exhibit a generally pleasing transfer with some common artifacts present (such as the unavoidable moire grill patterns).  The image ranges from good to fantastic for all four movies and does not portray any colour blooming or bluriness.  Please note that the first three movies are given the deluxe dual-layer treatment (with no extras to inhibit the compression), whereas the last sequel (Lethal Weapon 4) is squeezed onto a single-layer (double-sided DVD) even though it is the longest running of all the movies present.  The previously released theatrical versions of Lethal Weapon 1/2/3 were also stored onto single-layer DVDs so these exhibited even more image problems (although you may still prefer these versions over the Director's Cuts).  The restored scenes amazingly do not draw any attention to themselves which makes for a seamless viewing experience.

Lethal Weapon - Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio (the matte is further opened from its initial 1.85:1), this is a marked improvement over the original theatrical release DVD.  This movie was always meant to be a moody and gritty experience and the nominal budget reflects the film stock used to create this environment.  There is some noticable grain in the lighter sequences but the majority of dark scenes mask this quite well, however shadow detail suffers slightly which is only due to the deliberate filming conditions at the time.  The colours are quite featureless which sells the rawness of the locations.  There are no majorly distracting video artifacts present although specks and dust are somewhat prevelant throughout which is forgivable given the age of the film.

Lethal Weapon 2 - Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the most obvious difference from its predecessor is how much brighter the image (and mood) is, but the last act of the film brings back the grim locale that the original was so famous for.  The shadow detail is improved upon somewhat with better imaging shown even to the darkest sequences.  The colours are given a chance to shine here which greatly improves delineation in skin tones and location settings.  Grain is virtually unheard of this time around but there are some MPEG artifacts which show up in the backgrounds a lot.  As it stands, the specks and dust make a veritable cameo performance in this film.  However, a few instances of aliasing occurs when anything with grills comes along (such as venetian blinds) - they look okay on the PC but are truly horrendous on non-progressive TV displays.

Lethal Weapon 2:  Dealing With Leo Getz  ...  "Has Anyone Caught The License Of This Truck?"
Lethal Weapon 3 - Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the image present is much like that of the previous installment but with an ever so slightly softer look throughout.  Shadow detail is deeper and more defined giving an almost grand backdrop for the characters to play against.  Colours are as saturated as should be expected for this series of films without being overly striking but still two steps below reality.  Grain does not rear its ugly head anywhere but only a few MPEG artifacts pop up in the wide shots with similiar background expanses such as walls and skies.

Lethal Weapon 4 - Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this being the worst movie of them all it is typically given the best transfer (which is also a miracle for a 2 hour+ movie on a single-layer DVD).  Shadow detail is easily the best of the series, and it has to be with the darkest scenes requiring much needed element highlights in commonly problematic sequences (such as the nighttime underwater finale).  Colours are fully saturated and natural, and there is absolutely no presence of grain, specks/dust or MPEG artifacts throughout.

Audio
All four of these discs exhibit a fun English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (with alternative French and Italian dubs).  Warner Bros often does a credible job with the audio remixes in their back catalog of movies, even with much older titles like the recently released Clint Eastwood catalog.  For the Lethal Weapon series, the dialogue is generally understandable in these (re)mixes provided, however a slight problem exists because there is a tendency for critical lines to get lost in a mumble of jumble ... one reason is because of the swift banter between multiple characters all at once ... another is from the many one-liners that are uttered "a little too subtly" for my liking.  Since every movie (except the last one) was produced before the Dolby Digital 5.1 system was well and truly standardised in cinemas, Warner Bros has done well to bring the best out of the original source material, however each one exhibits some different shortcomings

Lethal Weapon - This is probably the most moderate of soundtracks in this quadrology but it is definately by no means a quiet mix, in fact it's a lot more involved than many other 5.1 remixes made these days.  Both the sub-woofer and rear channels are used sparingly but effectively, they complement the slightly subdued sound effects rather than drawing unwanted attention to themselves.  Occasionally you get a nicely jarring upsurge of sound in all channels which I believe was utilised to enhance the moment, if not create a peak or turning point in the movie.  

Lethal Weapon 2 - Right from the get go you will be hearing and seeing cars flying off in all directions which sets the precedent of more to come in this film, although the quality in general is rather bland in comparison to modern day bloke-flicks.  And since much of this movie is dialogue driven there isn't much to get excited about between the action sequences.  The use of the rear channel or sub-woofer is mostly dedicated to the high-impact action set-pieces (with a few ambient noises thrown into the quieter sections).  There is some great (if a little artificial) use of rear split-surround activity, with some welcome "after effects" that would not normally be present in the mixes of today but really work for this movie (the music also rates a mention here as well) ... all of which helps to involve you in the action.  The sub-woofer is used liberally throughout although not at the levels I'd really want them to be (with not enough support for the gunshots I reckon) ... however everything really starts firing up in the final act (no doubt to portray the most dramatic portion of the movie).

Lethal Weapon 3 - Generally speaking, this is a more assertive soundtrack than its two predecessors, probably because the volume levels are set much higher this time around.  The sub-woofer brings a greater "rounding off" to the overall soundfield and the split-rears get to talk to each other a lot between my head.  Both of these are allowed more tonal range to spread their wings in which is very welcome indeed.  This movie was released around the time that the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio system was just becoming the new standard in cinemas, so you can expect that we are getting the first taste of a new experiment in sound design.

Lethal Weapon 4 - Yep, you guessed it, we get a great soundtrack for the most dismal movie of the lot.  This soundtrack is probably the most involving of the four for the viewer since it was already recorded in the now perfected Dolby Digital 5.1 audio system - this is what we've come to expect from the major Hollywood blockbusters.  However, since this movie was produced inside an extremely tight schedule (6 months from first shot to final product) the sound engineers must have had their work cut out to provide a consistent aural environment, so they probably didn't have nearly enough time to perfect it.  We are given a very typically powerful audio mix with lots of rear channel and sub-woofer activity to boot (with some obviously overdone bodyhits), but some dialogue ultimately becomes hard-to-hear (even with nothing else going on except on-set recorded environmental sounds).

Note:-  The French and Italian redubs exhibit very little spacial realism because of the unnatural studio recording methods, and for the fact that the new voices never match the characters' personas - but all other music and effects remain intact.

LW3:  Nether Regions  ...  LW4:  Bad Chinese
Extras
Since the original DVDs have been available in R4 for almost two years, it should come as no surprise that the only extras worth speaking of are all found on the Lethal Weapon 4's second side of the DVD.  In fact, the original theatrical releases for the Lethal Weapon 1/2/3 DVDs actually contained the theatrical trailers whereas these Director's Cuts DVDs do not.  The only extra even worth half an iota for the first three D.C. discs are the Scene Selections which (roughly) point out where the extra scenes have been restored.

It's been at least two years since Warner Bros released Lethal Weapon 4 in its original dual-sided DVD, so why they couldn't have taken the same encoding of the movie and extras then place them in a more user-friendly dual-layer single-sided DVD is beyond me!  Still, the limited extras provided here are worth at least a couple of viewings :-

Theatrical Trailers - One for each movie, although the original release of the Lethal Weapon 2 DVD contained another trailer which is not present here.

Cast & Crew - These were probably one of the last text biographies from Warner Bros to be bigger than a single page and they do provide a couple of interesting anecdotes about each major player involved in the movie(s) ... although there's not much of a filmography provided.

Pure Lethal - Narrated by Danny Glover, this is an interesting 30 minute featurette covering the work involved in all four films with footage never before seen ... such as outtakes and funny gags, and even another deleted scene from Lethal Weapon introducing Mel Gibson's character that the director preferred not to be included in the movie proper.

Cut/Extended Scenes: Lethal Weapon 1-3 - A welcome addition to those who already have the original theatrical release DVDs, but ultimately redundant for owners of this new Director's Cut box-set.

Interview Gallery - A collection of what wasn't used in the documentary, which is split up into 8 members' names for individual viewing ... although I could easily do without the pointless ramblings from Chris Rock and the still-in-character Joe Pesci - even Mel Gibson joins in and tells the world how annoying Joe Pesci's character is.

B-Roll Footage - Selected sections of camera shoots from behind the film-cameras proper which only contain on-set recorded sound and really do show that the power of editing can make the ridiculous look almost credible.

Note:-  It must be stated that the R4 DVD does not include the audio commentary that is present on the original R1 DVD of Lethal Weapon 4 ... but unless you're into smalltalk of things that don't always relate to the movie itself then you won't get much benefit out of importing the title from America.

Summary
It's a pity that Warner Bros couldn't have put a bit of effort in developing a "seamless branching" feature to view either version of 1/2/3 if desired.  The way it stands now for people who either have or haven't purchased any of the theatrical versions is whether the Director's Cuts are worth your time or money.  If you already have any or all of the previous theatrical versions of these movies on DVD then there's not much else you will gain by replacing them with the RSDL formatted Director's Cuts (except for improved visual clarity).

In a perfect world (with every DVD exhibiting perfect quality) I'd be perfectly satisfied with having the deleted scenes stay where they are in the Lethal Weapon 4 DVD supplemental section and leave it at that.  It's a toss-up that only the buyer can decide on ... ah, decisions decisions!


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