Punisher: Uncut Special Edition, The (AT - DVD)
Gabe Powers reviews the uncut release of this 1980s Dolph Lundgren feature...
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Five years ago, Lt. Frank Castle's family was murdered by a Mob car bomb meant for him. Assumed dead in the explosion as well, Castle has assumed the role of the Punisher, a heavily armed, sewer dwelling vigilante, and over the last five years he's 'punished' one hundred and twenty five of the Mob's best men. Just when it appears vengeance will be done, the Japanese Yakuza steps into town to take control of the US Mob's assets. Due to Castle's steady stream of attacks, the Mob is incapable of protecting their own, and innocent children of Mafiosos are kidnapped and held for ransom. Will the Punisher overcome his hatred in favour of saving the children from a life of black market Asian slavery?
I still remember growing up in the '80s and early '90s, thinking, even in light of Tim Burton's Batman and its critical and box office successes, that I'd never see a live action interpretation of any of my favourite Marvel universe characters. Youngins' today don't even know how lucky they are to have a great X-Men film, not to mention two great Spider-Man films, a great Hulk film, and even a few descent Blade films. Comic book based films, Marvel's in particular, are so popular today that it's hard to believe that any major studio would hesitate for a second to release a new one. This generation even has its own Punisher movie, and it wasn't nearly as bad as the general public would lead you to believe.
But enough about the kids, back to me and mine. I still remember sitting around in the lunchroom, discussing ideal casting of X-Men characters with my friends. Arnold Swartzenegger as Colossus, Mel Gibson as Wolverine, and of course, Tina Turner as Storm (look, not every nine year old would make the best casting director, and I still say Turner could've done a better job than Halley Berry). I still remember renting the straight-to-video Captain America movie, and feeling as if I'd committed a crime (it was rated, gasp, PG-13). I even remember hearing about the hard R rated The Punisher, staring Dolph Lundgren from my friends with more submissive parents. I was assured that even though he didn't have a skull on his chest this was the real deal. It became legend.
One cannot talk about the Lundgren Punisher these days without bringing up Thomas Jane's 2004 re-vamp. I actually enjoy both versions of the character, and while Jane may have the superior acting chops, I still hold a soft spot for old Dolphy's monosyllabic rendition. In truth, the two films are indicative of the character and comic-dom's ever-changing inclinations. In the late '80s, The Punisher was a one-dimensional character for the most part, and suffered from Marvel's insistence on holding to the Comic Code Authority, insuring that the character was unable to spill the appropriate amount of blood. The live action film was a bit of a revelation, not so much in that it was that much more violent than the comic, but in that it represented the comic's violence in a somewhat realistic light. The modern Punisher was re-written by Garth Ennis, the mad mastermind behind The Preacher, and Marvel finally saw fit to drop the Code. Jane's movie was frowned upon by fans in light of Ennis' ultra-violent work, in that it may not have pushed the boundaries far enough.
Unfortunately for Lundgren, the basic 2-D qualities of the character were carried over into his film, and no one could ever accuse the picture of being anything more than simply entertaining. At least he wins the super-deep voice contest. The funny thing is that if one pretends technology and fashion have taken a few steps backwards over the last fifteen years, Lundgren's film could easily be a sequel to Jane's. Not only does the movie take place five years after the Punisher's reign has been established, but Lundgren plays the character as a much more tired shell, whereas Jane, the younger Punisher, still has a flicker of life behind his eyes.
The idea of a continued story arc is there as well. Jane's film ends with Frank Castle assuming the role of the Punisher, having found satisfaction in his law breaking law enforcement. Lundgren's film introduces (albeit awkwardly) the idea that perhaps brutal blind vengeance may not have been the best course of action, in that it has lead directly to the endangerment of innocent children. I can't help but assume that the follow up to the 2004 film will cover some very similar ground.
Director Mark Goldblatt is most well known for his editing work on various action films since the 1980s, including Terminator 2 and Starship Troopers. Watching this low budget and frankly silly film, it's obvious that the man's an ace editor. The cutting really does save the bargain basement set pieces. Visually, the film lies somewhere between early Sam Raimi and early James Cameron. It has energy to spare. The Jane remake is a medium budget modern studio flick posing as a low budget '70s/'80s era action quickie. Lundgren's original has the good fortune of being the real thing. Sure, it was almost the '90s by the time it came out, but we can let this slide due to the lack of a US theatrical release.
There are quite a few different versions of The Punisher out there, and from what I understand none of them are exactly pristine in the video quality field. This print is serviceable, but falters in quality during the few snippets of previously excised footage (footage cut for rating purposes). The biggest problem with the transfer is not necessarily its heavy grain, or even its veritable darkness, it is the fact that this is a very obviously interlaced version. The interlacing created a nasty combing effect. This combing is accompanied by the herky jerky presence of a NTSC to PAL transfer. Besides this I feel I must be lenient with the overall look of the disc, and have to say that sometimes a lo-fi look will fit a picture better than a perfect transfer.
The film is presented in a dubbed German 5.1 Dolby Digital track (unfortunately Lundgren does not dub his own voice, as I'm assuming the native Swede may have a working knowledge of the German language) and an English 2.0 track. There is an absence of subtitles, so I wasn't able to watch the film in German, but gave the track a listen. It's pretty artificial, is not impressively spaced, and in the end I think I'd actually recommend the original 2.0 track instead. The English track isn't nearly as aggressive as it could've been, and occasionally sounds a bit muddy, but dialogue is centred and clear and explosions loud enough for a STV release. Music, which is surprisingly well crafted (the Punisher's theme is actually kind of catchy) is solid, but like the rest of the mix has a tendency of flatness.
The reason to buy this set over the other 'uncut' versions of the film (though conflicting reports seem to state that this disc contains the only entirely uncut version of the film) is the presence of Goldblatt's original work print. Fans may want to cool their jets, however, as not only is the work print in really bad shape, but it's mostly made up of touchy feely scenes that Goldblatt was right to excise. It is interesting to see these deleted scenes, and there are quite a few of them, about fifteen minutes worth, so most Dolphers ( I just made that up) will probably still be happy.
The bulk of the difference is the film's beginning, which traces Frank's past. When he and his partner (who I may've forgotten to mention is played by everyone's favourite Drac, Louis Gossett Jr.) just barely miss arresting the Mob Boss that ends up offing Frank's family. After the sting fails, we're witness to scene after scene of nice guy Frank Castle loving his family. The idea was, obviously, to make us care more for Frank once his family was iced, but the scenes drag and are plagued by ugly late-eighties décor. The loss of the scenes helps the film, but it is too bad as Lundgren actually has a chance to show some acting range. The guy's really not all that bad.
The rest of the work print is peppered with smidgens of extras here and there, and unless you have the patience for sub-VHS quality video, I'd recommend skipping the rest. This probably could've been just as easily included as a series of deleted scenes rather than the entire working version of the film, but some of the scenes are edited in different order, and the idea of having a work print version at all is an intriguing one. The work print is in 1.33:1, and presented only in English Mono (which for a work print, is pretty impressive).
Other extras include the usual—trailers, picture galleries, and bios. The US and German trailers are identical in every aspect except, of course, their languages. The picture galleries include stills of video releases up to the recent UK uncut DVD release, along with a handful of posters (none of which say anything about being in theatres, adding fuel to my ‘no theatrical release’ assumption). The bios leave a bit to be desired, as Goldblatt is credited as only directing one film. A simply trip over to IMDb will tell you he's directed two feature length films (the other being the Treat Williams/Joe Piscopo vs. zombie opus Dead Heat), and an episode of the lost kids television classic, Eerie, Indiana. It also appears that he directed and produced a short film version of The Punisher in 1988. It would've been nice to see that make this special edition set.
In the end, I'd actually put the Thomas Jane and Dolph Lundgren Punisher films on an equal level. They are both very flawed, but each works entertainingly in its own way. I'm happy to see that even as an adult I find this forgotten little early Marvel gem worth a watching. There may not be a skull on Dolph's chest, but he's all Punisher, and has some of the best action movie lines I've ever heard, a real dry cool wit. The DVD leaves something to be desired, but there's really very little I can realistically complain about.
'You're a good boy, Tommy. Grow up to be a good man. Because if you don't... I'll be waiting.'
You can purchase this, and many other euro imports from my friends at Xploitedcinema.com, and check out their new DVD page graphics designed by yours truly.
For a listing of all differences between this standard uncut version, and the extra scenes in the work print, please visit dvdcompare.net.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 6th July 2006
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 German, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Workprint Version, German Trailer, US Trailer, Photo Gallery, Artwork Gallery, Cinema Promotion Photos, Cast and Crew Bios.
Easter Egg: No
Director: Mark Goldblatt
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Louis Gossett Jr., Jeroen Krabbé, Kim Miyori
Length: 90 minutes
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