The Punisher (1989)
By: Devon B. on July 21, 2013 | Comments
Anchor Bay | Region B | 1.78:1, 1080p | English DTS-HD MA 5.1 | 89 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Mark Goldblatt
Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Louis Gossett Jr., Jeroen Krabbé, Kim Miyori, Nancy Everhard
Screenplay: Boaz Yakin
Country: USA
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There are a lot of different versions of The Punisher out there. There's the US R-rated version, an uncut version and an extended workprint. Previous releases in the UK trimmed some violence from the US R-rated version, but it seems the BBFC have gotten past most of their qualms with the movie because it's relatively unscathed for its high definition release. The few seconds cut to obtain an R for the US release are still missing, but that's probably more to do with a lack of effort put in for this edition than enforced cuts required by the film censors. I've never seen the unrated version, but I'm guessing that a few extra moments won't salvage The Punisher.

Before Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson had a go, Dolph Lundgren brought everyone's favourite unhinged, skull wearing vigilante to the screen – though for some reason he doesn't wear the skull, he just puts it on dagger handles. The Punisher is a man whose family was murdered by some mafia types so he goes and hides in the sewer like he's a mutated turtle, but he still gets out sometimes, like whenever he has to exact brutal revenge on organised criminals. After killing more than 100 gang members, The Punisher starts to run low on targets. The Yakuza enter the scene in a bid for power, and with the gangs weakened they're no match for their Japanese counterparts. The Yakuza methods are ruthless and put the gang members' children in harm's way, so now the Punisher must stop trying to punish the guilty and start trying to save the innocent.

Before the giddy nerd nirvana we've found ourselves in today, movies based on comic books could leave a lot to be desired, and The Punisher is no exception. I'm a fan of Lundgren's, but I'm still not sure I buy him having dark hair, but even taking that into account he'd be my favourite Punisher. He does a good job of seeming washed up and exhausted, an emotionless and run down killing machine. Unfortunately, Lundgren is the movie's only real selling point. The story is a bit muddled, spending a lot of time with cop Louis Gossett, Jr. trying to track down The Punisher, but that's boring because the viewer already knows who The Punisher is. The film is also a bit muddled in its town, because it's an R-rated (US) film, but the script is still at a tween level. It's almost like someone just threw in some extra sex and violence to get an R when the movie had been aiming for a PG-13.

There're a few other things that I found irksome, but I think they can be traced back to the film's comic book origins. Lundgren has a drunk sidekick who often speaks in rhymes, something that's probably less annoying in a comic. There's also some dull narration that may have been taken right out of a splash page of The Punisher, and the movie foolishly opens with The Punisher getting his revenge so the film's about a guy who's lost his focus rather than someone intent on slaying those that done him wrong. It's like that song "Avenger" by Amon Amarth about the dude that seeks vengeance and lets his quest consume him and then when he gets his revenge he's got no purpose in life anymore so he kills himself, except in The Punisher when the character's life begins to lack purpose it's the viewers that'll want to top themselves off.

It was somewhat interesting to be reminded of just how tame some movies had to be to get an R-rating in the States during the late 80s, but that's hardly a reason to watch a movie. It's easily my favourite of the three Punisher films, but that's just because of Lundgren and even Lundgren's fans must admit that this coulda been heaps better.
The Disc
The Punisher is presented at 1.78:1, slightly cropped from its original ratio. There are some spots, but the print is mostly clean. The colours are a little drab, though this may have been intentional, and there's a bit of black crush, but to be fair this is a very dark movie at times. Overall the film doesn't look too bad, but it's not one that pops off the screen and the print didn't have as much detail as I would've liked. The film is erroneously listed as being 1080i, but it is happily 1080p. Another happy surprise for some will be that there's an LPCM 2.0 track that's not listed on the slick. There is also a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio remix for those so inclined, however I didn't find the track highly immersive, though it is clear and some directional touches have been added. The 2.0 LPCM track won't floor anyone but is a good representation of the film's original audio. This Blu-ray has no extras.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
I remember being really keen to see The Punisher when it was first released, and I was a bit let down when I watched it. I'd thought for years that maybe I'd just built my expectations too high, but this revisit just reaffirmed my first impression. It's okay, but it could've been so much more. There's a German Blu-ray release that is reportedly uncut and also has the workprint version, so fans will want to grab that release instead of this barebones UK one.
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