Umbrella Entertainment is an awesome Australian genre distribution label, and they have released the best version of The Punisher ’89 to-date. It features three cuts of the movie, all of which are different enough to require a viewing. They were nice enough to send a copy over for review, and since my all-region player now sits in my son’s bedroom, I was happy to discover that this Blu-ray is totally region free, so it will play in pretty much whatever player you throw it in. While this version of The Punisher is probably the least comics-accurate version of the character to hit the big screen yet, I have a soft sport for it in my heart, as an blood-drenched Eighties cheesefest starring Dolph Lundgren as he tears his way through hundreds of mobsters, hoping to make the pain of his family being murdered disappear.
Before we get started, yes I said there were three different cuts of the movie included on this Blu-ray. The theatrical cut is likely what anyone reading this would have seen, as the others have been rare up until this point. Also included is the director’s “Workprint” which has floated around on the internet, and other various forms of bootlegged video for years, and the “unrated cut” which is somewhat of a middle ground between the workprint and the theatrical cut. This is what I viewed to review the movie, though I did watch quite a bit of all three cuts, just so I could get a good sense of what is being offered here. Please note that the only cut of this film that is featured in high-definition is the theatrical cut. The unrated cut looks like a pretty good DVD most of the time, unless a quick second has been spliced in from the workprint. And the workprint, well, it looks like a workprint. If you have no idea what that is, it’s generally a very rough cut of the movie that gets passed around among people involved in the decision-making process of the film for reference, and almost always it’s a low-res VHS tape, or some other form of low quality media. So if you can tolerate that, the workprint is a very cool little extra.
While I think this is the least comics-accurate big-screen version of The Punisher, I also think I like it a little better than the 2004 film starring Thomas Jane. I’m not saying that was a bad movie, I don’t know, something about it just didn’t work for me. I like Thomas Jane, and I even like him in that movie, but he’s too scrawny to be Big P, and as cheesy as it was, they got too caught up in the melodrama of it all. This movie, the theatrical cut especially, has no time for such devices. The workprint has much more about Frank Castle’s past, and an entirely different opening that gives a lot of the back story, while the theatrical cut just starts right in after all that has already happened. Even if you’re not a big fan of the film, it’s still fascinating to see it take shape in three different versions. It seems the disconnect here, was that director Mark Goldblatt wanted a more serious, thriller type of film, featuring scenes of action, and the studio wanted straight action. So all of Goldblatt’s back story for The Punisher was removed. If the workprint was in better shape, that would definitely be the preferred version of the movie, but it’s a pretty rough watch. Not unwatchable, mind you, but in this day of 4K and Blu-ray and whatever else, it pales in comparison to even DVD, or a good VHS. The Unrated cut is a nice middle ground, and while it’s still missing all of that back story focusing on The Punisher and his family being killed, and his partner, played by Lou Gossett Jr, it still has a lot of the extended graphic violence that didn’t make the theatrical cut.
Umbrella’s new Blu-ray release of The Punisher is an impressive little package. It’s all on one disc, but like I said, the other two cuts of the film are in standard definition, one of which is in rough shape. You’re going to want to check it out though, for the opening twenty minutes alone. The theatrical cut, which is the only cut presented in HD, looks gorgeous, and even better upscaled to 4k. The sound varies from cut-to-cut, obviously being better on the HD version of the film, but I found no problems with the audio tracks for the other cuts. In addition to multiple cuts of the movie, you also have a director’s commentary on the unrated cut, several featurettes, the theatrical trailer, and a gag reel. The Punisher marks my first exposure to Umbrella, but if this is any indication, I look forward to working with them, and checking out their future releases. For more information about this release, please click this link to visit their website.