Here, sipping cups of tea, are director Richard Donner, a between-scandals Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.
Recorded earlier this year, the trio are hanging at Donner’s LA house for a heartfelt look back at the franchise that made them. “The reason we’re doing this up here is because our first scene was the girl doing coke in that room and you chained her to that tree,” explains Donner.
“That’s right,” nods Gibson. “And that was before the shoot started.” They both laugh. Glover just carries on clutching his mug. Ah, memories…
With 1987 now feeling like ancient history, this five-disc Lethal Weapon Blu-ray boxset is a reminder of just how fresh the action-comedy saga started out. Looking gratifyingly crisp on HD (if still a little worn in places), each film is loaded with a commentary from Donner (a little soporific but great value) and some measly throwaway features.
But the good stuff is all on that fifth spinner. It doesn’t look much – just four 30-minute featurettes – but what’s here is a real delight. Cutting between vintage behind-the-scenes footage and brand new interviews with everyone who made the films happen, we get the full story behind the quadrilogy.
Writer Shane Black remembers a time when a UCLA graduate could get a script made in Hollywood. “I’d just come out of college and I was looking to write an urban western,” he says.
“The environment that I walked into as a writer in the mid ’80s was very different. There was a market for someone who sat down with an original notion in their head and wrote a script. And if it was good enough, people would buy it for a lot of money.”
Black’s plan? Dirty Harry via William Goldman and Walter Hill. Donner was in bed with his wife when he read the script. “You gotta read this, honey,” he said to her. She did. “You gotta do it,” she told him. Good call.
Told with barrelling pace, anarchic wit, thrilling violence and surprising emotional depth, Lethal Weapon is indeed something special.
Released in an era before Hollywood summers were swamped with impersonal CG-bloated blockbusters, the film cut a template as the definitive odd-couple, cop-buddy action comedy. Real stunts trump special effects, while character chemistry scores as much screen time as set-piece carnage.
Previously known for taking it to the (mad) max, Gibson explodes as Detective Sgt Martin Riggs, a loose-cannon LA cop who’s punching the self-destruct button with everything he’s got.
Dry-witted and genial, Glover is the family man grudgingly partnered with this mulleted maniac. Thanks to those increasingly campy sequels, it’s easy to forget just how dark and dangerous the first Lethal Weapon is. “Torture, kidnap, drugs, suicides,” muses Gibson. “And yet it was hilarious!”
A different kind of movie, a different kind of hero: Gibson’s Riggs is funny, violent and an emotional wreck. And, as proved by the behind-the-scenes footage, the young actor threw himself at the role with an appropriate kamikaze hunger – not least in the heartbreaking scene where Riggs sticks a pistol in his trembling mouth and almost gives himself a hot-lead lobotomy.
“The camera was shaking because I’m crying, the operator’s crying,” remembers Donner. “And I started to get worried about Mel.” Gibson: “Come on, it wasn’t loaded.” Donner barks back at him: “You hit yourself with it! And this was after the take was over...”
Black left after 1989’s Lethal Weapon 2, which is never as good as the scene in which Riggs attempts to talk Murtaugh off a booby-trapped toilet. From there diminishing returns set in, as Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Chris Rock and Jet Li come aboard to fill out the cast and thin out the drama.
Still, there’s great footage and anecdotage from the supporting cast. Russo making a hash of her lines and getting teased by Gibson. Pesci breaking Donner’s balls. Jet Li leaving everyone flummoxed with his fighting speed.
What’s interesting is that everyone sounds surprised that they were cast. “I’m older right now that Danny was when he started Lethal Weapon,” points out Rock. “That goes to show you how much easier it is to be black now. I don’t look as old as Danny Glover did because my America’s just... fucking beautiful!”
Interestingly, Murtaugh wasn’t black in the script, but Glover aced the audition. Rock, however, reveals exactly how calculated the casting became, as producer Joel Silver saw the chance for a string of sequels. “Silver told me they tested a bunch of names on a poster,” he laughs. “Like a focus group. ‘We tested you and the other hot black comics and you tested highest!’”
Elsewhere, everyone from the CEO of Warner Bros to the film’s editor shed light on everything, from the stunts to the lensing. All this, and there’s still time for one more priceless yarn about Gibson.
Watching the irrepressible young Australian turn blue with cold doing a shirtless, soaking wet night fight finale with Gary Busey, Lethal Weapon cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt was becoming seriously concerned the star would get hypothermia.
“I said, ‘Are you alright, Mel?’” remembers Goldblatt. “He just said, ‘I’ll do anything for my m-m-m-mmillion dollars!’”
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