Lethal Weapon Review (Blu-ray)

Lethal Weapon is one of four titles comprising Warner Brothers second Blu-ray Disc wave that previously had been released on the competing HD DVD high definition format. Unlike the first Blu-ray wave where Warner Brothers chose to use MPEG-2 codecs that resulted in some image quality issues, this second wave utilizes VC-1 which is the same process used for all Warner Brothers HD-DVDs.

By selecting VC-1 over MPEG-2, the second wave of Warner Brothers Blu-ray Disc titles should – in theory – look identical to their HD DVD counterparts save for any minor playback differences inherent from the players themselves.

Popping in Lethal Weapon for the umpteenth time provides a trip back to Mel Gibson’s acting glory days, a foreshadowing of Gary Busey’s real-life psychosis and affirmation all buddy cop films since borrow heavily from the relationship between one man flirting with suicide and another with growing too old for his job and family. The chemistry Gibson and Danny Glover share spawned a trio of sequels and countless copycats, none of which captured the raw intensity or unpredictability Riggs and Murtaugh’s first assignment together did.

I found the HD-DVD version of Lethal Weapon to be a successful visual update over previous DVD versions despite showing signs of its age at times. On Blu-ray Disc with the new VC-1 codec, it’s virtually impossible to detect any differences between it and the HD DVD version. This is good and bad; good because I found the transfer to be more than passable, but bad in that there are a few excessive grain trouble spots during night scenes and slightly less saturated colors on the original print. I would have loved to see these cleaned up but realistically understand those fixes are better left for a new version down the road.

As with the HD DVD version, those especially bothered by grain will find a 180-degree turn for the better on Blu-ray Disc when daylight breaks after the opening sequence and Murtaugh’s family is introduced. A relatively still camera shows off infinite detail both in Murtaugh’s house and on his face including sweat and pores that have become the signature “see that” expression for high-def video. This clarity and depth continues throughout every daytime scene and especially during close-ups of Riggs, Murtaugh and Mr. Joshua, but then itakes a small step back again when night falls.

On HD DVD, Lethal Weapon did not include the DTS 5.1 soundtrack previously included on the Extended Cut DVD and the same holds true on this Blu-ray version. However, the Blu-ray Disc includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack in lieu of the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix found on the HD DVD. Since “Lethal Weapon” makes no use of the extra surround channels offered by the Plus soundtrack this mix, encoded at an identical bit-rate, is identical to the HD DVD Plus soundtrack.

While some of the sound effects, score and gunfire convey a decidedly and delightfully aged mix, the 5.1 surround field is given a lot of love on all fronts. Rear surrounds are both pushed to the max and tapped with ambient noise and the subwoofer gets a jolt from several over-the-top explosions. Today’s action blockbusters will obviously sound tighter and more processed, but his more grounded mix stands up against the test of time admirably.

The extras features are identical to those found on the HD DVD and are limited to 4:57 minutes worth of additional scenes and the theatrical trailer previously available on the standard DVD version. Because these scenes are presented in 480p anamorphic widescreen, their inferior picture quality ” even up-converted to 1080i or 1080p ” further cements the high definition feature’s superiority.

With the second wave of Blu-ray Disc titles, Warner Brothers has not only shrunk the gap with the competing HD DVD format, but essentially closed it. It’s safe to assume many of the currently available and upcoming HD DVD Warner catalog titles will be re-released on Blu-ray Disc with VC-1 like Lethal Weapon, which is great news for the Blu-ray camp.

– Dan Bradley

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