It's not justice, it's punishment!
The Punisher Film Review
It’s ironic that for a character whose very existence is centred upon meting out his own version of justice, nobody has yet managed to do him any.Indeed, The Punisher would probably argue that it wasn’t ‘justice’ that he was interested in, but ‘punishment’, which, funnily enough, is probably what a great deal of people think about watching one or all three disparate film adaptations featuring him. Punishment. In 1989 the first film adaptation featuring the character was critically dismissed, and commercially a massive failure but, despite its abundant flaws, it’s actually quite enjoyable. The film was surprisingly stylish given the period and the budget, electing to shoot key action sequences in rooms bathed entirely in red, or in blue, or in darkness, with a fantastically thematic score which is in many ways the highlight of the entire piece And Lundgren may not have really been hired for his acting skills but he makes for a halfway decent psycho-vigilante. Far from a hero, he genuinely convinces of being a sewer-rat psychopath, who has lost everything.And that includes most of his humanity, he now exists largely just to execute villains. Of course he also convinces on the action front, and it’s just a shame that they didn’t get to spend a little more time on The Punisher’s trademark improvised torture sequences, although they make up for it with a few nice improvised deaths instead! It was a different era for comic book movies, and few serious outings survived unscathed – the moody atmospherics of Burton’s Batman may have heralded the 12 rating in that same year, but The Punisher did not fare as well, delivering then-BBFC-unfriendly 18-rated violence to an audience that, at the time, weren’t yet of age. Still, none of the outings with the character have quite gotten it right, so it’s hardly all the fault of this doomed-from the start production which, under the circumstances, delivered some surprisingly enjoyable results.
Blu-ray Picture QualityThe Punisher has not had a US Blu-ray release yet, but has been released in plenty of European territories over the last few years, including the UK. The best package, however, is clearly the lavish German 3-disk Mediabook release, that sports 3 different cuts of the film. Almost 2 years ago Anchor Bay gave us a solid, clean but largely unspectacular UK release – it was listed as 1080i on the back but at least that was a mistake in our favour! – and now Zavvi have offered up a Steelbook exclusive which sports great packaging but, surprise surprise, exactly the same disc, with exactly the same, presentation. Rather than take the opportunity to provide us with alternative cuts, or even the uncut version (whilst this is BBFC uncut, it’s still culled from the same R-rated version that the States have had for years), or even a polished variation of the one already released, there’s simply nothing changed here but the packaging.
There’s simply nothing changed here, but the packaging; thankfully, for Steelbook fans, it’s a nice design.
On the plus side, the original 2013 release wasn’t that bad. It’s not like the film was ever going to make for demo material – it was shot on a relatively low budget in the 80s with limited effects and a penchant for dark sequences bathed in shadows. This was never going to look pretty. So having a release which was largely clean and clear, devoid of any overt print damage, and boasting a fair amount of warm, natural detail with no excessive DNR application. Sure, the black levels are far from perfectly calibrated, with the image occasionally unable to contend with the stylistic choices, and ending up with some crush evident here and there, and sure nobody’s going to use this to show off their equipment, but it’s a decent enough release for this 80s actioner. Certainly if this had been the only release available, or even just the first release available in the UK, few would have a reason to be disappointed – but at least we’ve had a release, unlike in the States where, much like the lack of an original theatrical release (as the studio was collapsing), there still hasn’t been a Blu-ray release.
Blu-ray Sound QualityOn the aural front, The Punisher sports a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which is a remixed version of the film’s audio, and does a reasonable – if slightly artificial – job of reworking the original 4-channel stereo array into a broader six-speaker presentation. There’s no doubt that the update allows for some nice separation and directional flourishes, but it’s hard not to be drawn to the alternative: a 2.0 LPCM track which arguably more authentically represents The Punisher’s original audio intentions and delivers them with enough punch to entertain and excite. Whilst they’re not going to knock down any walls, these tracks – which are, as per the video, the same was what was offered on the earlier UK release – are a solid representation of the source material.
Blu-ray ExtrasAs with the prior release, no extras. Where’s the workprint? Where’s the extended cut with re-integrated scenes? You’ll have to look overseas for those.
The Punisher Blu-ray VerdictThey still haven’t gotten Marvel’s The Punisher right and, unless somebody with a bold, and uncompromising vision gets a chance to deliver the goods, it’ll likely never happen. That said, three films about the character is better than none – they all have their flaws, and they all have their positives, and there’s a lot of charm to Lundgren’s quintessentially eighties outing, despite the fact that it happily wears its low budget on its sleeve.
Silly but stylish, hit-and-miss but action-packed, Lundgren’s 80s Punisher outing is a moody and strangely enjoyable little cult blast.
This new steelbook exclusive from Zavvi certainly ticks all the boxes on the packaging front – with some great embossing to the frame and iconic skull, as well as some spot gloss on the writing at the top. Of course the good news largely ends there, as the package contains the same disc that’s been out in the UK for almost 2 years, and still hasn’t got anything included to compete with the excellent foreign releases. The new release offers up decent video and audio for the R-rated US cut of the film, but is completely devoid of the extras available elsewhere, which include the uncut version and the workprint. Steelbook fans will likely not be able to resist, particularly if they don’t already own the title, but there’s no other real reason to double-dip.
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