Release Date(s)1989 (September 7, 2016)
Studio(s)New World Entertainment/Lionsgate (Umbrella Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B+
[Editor’s Note: This is an Australian REGION FREE Blu-ray release – ignore the packaging markings.]
Before Marvel toppled the entertainment world with a slew of fun and successful movies based upon their properties, there was a time when their big screen ventures were quite the opposite. Released in 1989, the same year that DC’s Batman conquered the box office, Mark Goldblatt’s The Punisher got an early reputation as one of those failed attempts. Never managing to make it to theaters and premiering much later in the U.S. on home video, it has since then been touted as being a terrible movie with almost no redeeming qualities. Looking back at it today, it’s clear that, like so many other movies, it wasn’t quite as bad as its unsavory status would lead one to believe.
What The Punisher lacks, first and foremost, is a more solid narrative and pace. Examples of this include the fact that much of Frank Castle’s backstory was filmed but trimmed out almost entirely. More of Dolph Lundgren’s take on Frank Castle as a former cop seemingly back from the dead after a tragedy befalls him and his family could have given the story a bit more impact. As it is now in the theatrical cut, he simply returns with no sense of build up to wreak vengeance by taking out anyone and everyone that he deems guilty. Thrown into the mix is his former partner (Louis Gossett, Jr.), who is on the hunt and wanting to help him before he gets himself killed. It ultimately feels incomplete, because it is.
Much of the action itself is ineffective or not particularly well-edited or shot. Many of the cuts feel too quick in places and the movie feels like it’s trying to rush through its material while dragging through it in other areas. It’s safe to say that if Mark Goldblatt had chosen to cut the movie himself without outside interference, it might have been something else entirely. As is, The Punisher is still enjoyable. It’s a fairly tight story, however clichéd it may be, but it could have benefited from a more seasoned eye during editorial.
Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray release of the movie is meant to be Region B as stated on the cover art, but is actually Region Free. It features a terrific HD presentation of the original theatrical/home video cut. Grain levels are fairly high with decent detailing while depth is often inconsistent, sometimes giving it a flat appearance. Although the color palette is not abundant with a variety of hues, it looks good nonetheless, as do skin tones which appear mostly natural. Black levels are fairly deep with sufficient shadow detailing, and both brightness and contrast levels are satisfactory. There aren’t any signs of digital tinkering on display, nor are there any major film artifacts leftover. It’s a clean and stable presentation that, although likely sourced from a slightly dated master, is still quite strong. The only audio option included is an English 5.1 DTS-HD track. While dialogue is clear and precise, sound effects and score often battle it out in the rear speakers. A stereo or mono track might have been more effective as either would likely represent the movie’s original presentation more accurately. Overall fidelity on the 5.1 track is good, just not perfect. Unfortunately, no subtitle options are available.
As for the extras, a nice package of material has been culled together for this release. Both the unrated and workprint cuts of the movie are included and presented in standard definition. The unrated cut is the same as the theatrical, but with a handful of inserts of some of the more violent moments. The workprint cut features many deleted and extended scenes, including an entirely different opening with Frank Castle before he becomes the Punisher (as mentioned previously), as well as an extended ending. Both are decent-looking in their current form, although one would hope that the original materials could be found for HD upgrades someday here in the U.S. The unrated cut is supposedly available in HD via a German Blu-ray release, but I don’t actually have that disc to confirm this. Regardless, the rest of the extras on Umbrella’s release include an audio commentary with Mark Goldbatt for the unrated cut; Violence Down Under – an interview with Goldblatt; Vengeance is His – an interview with Dolph Lundgren; a gag reel; and the movie’s international theatrical trailer. It’s worth noting that even though this is a Region Free release, the latter two extras wouldn’t play in a Region A machine, so keep that in mind.
Unfortunately, The Punisher hasn’t yet had a cult resurgence here in the U.S. Given the popularity of the current Marvel movies, one would think that anybody owning anything Marvel-related might dust it off and put it out. That aside, Umbrella Entertainment’s presentation of the movie is the go-to on Blu-ray. Some may find it more entertaining than others, but I have a feeling that it will be more appreciated in the years to come.
- Tim Salmons