Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
Released on: September 7th, 2016.
Director: Mark Goldblatt
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Louis Gossett Jr., Kim Miyori
Year: 1989 Purchase From Amazon
Directed by Mark Goldblatt in 1989 from a script by Boaz Yakin, The Punisher begins when Frank (Dolph Lundgren) has been missing for roughly a year. He was believed to have been killed when his family was eliminated in a mob hit but has, since then, been carrying out a long term revenge project of sorts. Castle is now The Punisher - a mysterious and dangerous vigilante who lives in the sewers under the city and kills criminals of all shapes and sizes.
Of course, the cops start taking notice of this, specifically Frank's former partner and pal, Jake Berkowitz (Louis Gossett Jr.). At the same time, the mafia is none too pleased with The Punisher's latest endeavors. Meanwhile, mob boss Gianni Franco (Jeroen Krabbe) essentially declares a turf war with local Yakuza leader Lady Tanaka (Kim Miyori), who in turn kidnaps his son to use as a bargaining chip in the negotiations she intends to force on him. When The Punisher winds up caught in the middle of all of this, with the cops breathing down his neck at every pace, things are bound to get bloody and violent.
This one isn't deep (to be fair to Yakin a lot was cut from the script), but it is a lean, fast paced action movie that proves a good showcase for Lundgren's abilities in front of the camera. If Yakin's script is light on character motivation and realism, it does at least allow Goldblatt, who prior to this had worked as an editor for James Cameron and others, to stage some impressive action set pieces. The movie might be completely predictable and ripe with eighties action move cliches, but it moves at just the right speed and it doesn't skimp out on the sort of cinematic carnage movie fans love. In short, it's a popcorn movie.
But Lundgren is good here. The movie plays to his strengths as an actor, meaning he's cast as the strong, silent type and not asked to do a whole lot of heavy dramatic lifting. He's got plenty of screen presence but little range so casting him in a role like this works alongside his skill set quite nicely. The character isn't mean to show any emotion, he's a merciless killing machine and Lundgren is well cast here. He handles the action and martial arts scenes very well. Supporting efforts from Gossett, Krabbe and the diabolical Miyori are all a lot of fun too but this is basically Dolph's show from start to finish.
Note that this Blu-ray includes three versions of The Punisher. The familiar R-rated cut (running 89:05) is here in full HD, but also included is the unrated cut (which runs 89:20 and is presented in SD) and, on top of that, Goldblatt's workprint version of the movie. The workprint runs 97:44 and is presented in 720p taken from a Beta tape source that is actually in fairly decent shape. Note that because it is a work print there hasn't been any color grading or similar work done, it's basically a straight transfer of the raw film elements. The unrated cut restores a lot of the violence that was trimmed out of the R-rated cut and while it's only a few seconds of difference, it is quite a bit bloodier. The workprint restores the violence but also includes more of a backstory for Frank Castle. It fleshes out the character in interesting ways and it makes him a more interesting person, but it drags down the pace of the picture a bit. Still, it's interesting to see this material here. Ideally Umbrella would have given us an option to watch the film in HD with the footage from the alternate cuts inserted from their respective sources, but that didn't happen.
Umbrella Entertainment brings The Punisher to Blu-ray on a 50GB disc that presents the movie in 1.85.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. The quality of the R-rated cut is decent, but never mind blowing and the transfer looks awfully similar to the UK release that came out some years ago. The film isn't the most colorful affair, most of it takes place in dark interiors and when the action does go outside, it's often times at night, but colors are reproduced well enough. Skin tones look fine and black levels are decent if a step short of reference quality. Detail levels are certainly better than DVD could offer, but you have to wonder if a newer scan might have brought more out in the picture quality department. Thankfully there are no obvious issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement and any compression artifacts that do show up are minor and pretty inconsequential.
English language audio tracks for the R-rated cut are presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 Mono. There are no alternate language tracks offered up, nor are there any subtitles or closed captioning options provided. Again, the quality here seems to mirror the UK release. The 5.1 track does some interesting things with channel separation but lacks the more authentic sounding dynamics of the 2.0 track. Regardless of which option you go for, there are no noticeable issues with any hiss or distortion to note.
Extras kick off with an audio commentary from director Mark Goldblatt that plays over the unrated cut of the film. This is a pretty chatty track with Goldblatt offering up a lot of detail about shooting (mostly) in Australia, adapting the comic book source material, working with Lundgren and the rest of the cast, some of the censorship issues surrounding the film, putting together some of the more intricate action set pieces and quite a bit more. Goldbatt is fairly enthusiastic here, offering up loads of information at a good pace and in a manner that is pretty easy to listen to.
Goldblatt appears again in a twenty-one minute featurette entitled Violence Down Under where he covers some of the same ground as he does in his commentary. Regardless, it's interesting enough that most will want to check it out as he talks about how he came on board to direct the picture, what it was like working for New World on the film, some of the issues that the film has run into over the years and more. In a second featurette, Vengeance Is His, leading man Dolph Lundgren is interviewed about his experiences working on the picture for roughly twenty minutes. Interviewed outside a gym, Lundgren is pretty candid here as he talks about some of the Japanese stunt men he had to square off against in the film's finale, why he remains pretty proud of this picture, his thoughts on the film in general and a fair bit more.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are a gag reel, the film's original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. It's also worth pointing out that this release comes with reversible cover art featuring the familiar one sheet image on one side and some newly commissioned illustrated artwork on the other side.
The Final Word:
Mark Goldblatt's take on The Punisher is not the text book adaptation that some might want it to be but it is a really entertaining ultra-violent low budget action picture. Lundgren is plenty cool in the lead and the supporting cast are all plenty fun to watch. Umbrella's Blu-ray release offers up a decent transfer of the R-rated cut and two alternate versions of the film in lesser quality, as well as a good selection of other supplements. All in all, this is a pretty solid release for a picture that really is an underrated eighties action classic.
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