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The Punisher DVD

Date: Monday, September 6, 2004
By: Darren Schroeder

Writer: Jonathan Hensleigh (W, Dir) and Michael France Actors:
Tom Jane as Frank Castle
John Travolta as Howard Saint
Will Patton as Quentin Glass
Samantha Mathis as Maria Castle
Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as Joan

DVD Details
124 min Rated R (US)
One Disk
Languages: English 5.1 Dolby EX, English 2.0 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Audio Commentary with Jonathan Hensleigh
Scene Index
Featurettes: Keepin' it Real - Punisher Stunts (28 min) , War Journal:
On the Set of the Punisher 30 min, Army of One: Punisher Origins (13
min), Drawing Blood Bradstreet Style (6 min).
Delated Scenes: Intro of Saint and Sinners Club, Livia Saint insults
Mickey Duka (both with or without commentary)
Music Video: Drowning Pool 'Step up'
The Punisher Video Game Trailer
(No Easter Eggs that I could find.)

A visit to SBC central always holds the potential for anything to happen - you might end up stacking firewood, gossiping about friends, or in this case watching a DVD that could get you arrested. Sure - the Punisher isn't the nastiest movie ever made - but getting a copy before the New Zealand censor has viewed it takes us onto the wild side of the law. Hopefully we don't end up on the Punisher's hit list.

Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) is an ex-soldier and undercover cop who, during a sting operation, is involved in the death of the son of a local businessman, Saint (John Travolta). Saint and his wife swear vengeance, and so set off a train of events that results in the death of Frank's entire family - wife and son, father, aunts and uncles and so on. I'm sure there was a cap popped into the family dog somewhere along the way. Luckily Frank survives to plot the punishment of those responsible.

The plot is fairly predicable, but the pleasure in this film is the effective execution of the storytelling and some clever acting on behalf of a strong cast. All the actors do a good job in a film that could easily have been cheesier than a dairymaid. Jane seems to have had a ball getting into the role of Frank Castle and it shows in a performance that combines all the required intensive physical performance and knowing humour that makes an effective popcorn film hero. Travolta underplays his usual scenery-chewing villain, which makes the nastiness that he eventually enacts all the more shocking. This low key approach means he is overshadowed for most of the film by Will Patton's chilling turn as Saint's second in command, and seems rather timid compared to Eduardo Yanez's suave cameo as a Cuban drug baron.

It is very, very violent in places, deserving the R rating. That said, a lot of things are suggested rather that shown. There's a pretty excruciating torture scene chillingly played by Ben Foster and Will Patton, which doesn't actually involve any on screen blood letting but will have everyone in the room looking the other way. The fight scene between Frank and the Russian is an exciting and amusing set piece, which should be in the action sequence hall of fame. Not really being a fan of the character, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself warming to the film. It has some nice touches.

The presentation on this DVD is exceptional. The film looked crystal clear on the widescreen set-up with some impressive cinematography on display. The layer change was clean as a whistle on my el-cheapo Hyundai Micro DVD system. The sound effects are effectively spread around on the 5.1 soundtrack, though I found them a bit loud compared to the dialogue.

The DVD is a treat for fan boys and film buffs alike with a nice selection of extras crammed into the one disk with the movie. The menus are nicely designed with clips out of the film. A couple are marred by some overly aggressive sound effects, such as on the special features menu, which gives the viewer a bit of a shock. There are four extra features that cover behind the scenes look at the stunt work, a potted history of the Punisher characters career in comics that mixes extracts of interviews with Gerry Conway, Garth Ennis, Steven Grant with interesting visuals. Aimed at the general audience, this still has enough to keep fans of the characters satisfied. The production documentary is the usual "it was a great experience" puff piece but has some interesting detail of the production and it is presented in a handsome manner.

The director's (director and writer) commentary makes for entertaining listening as Jonathan Hensleigh takes the viewer through the movie with interesting technical information about how the film progressed. He often mentions the criticisms of reviewers, fans and internet folk, so this commentary must have been recorded after theatrical release. He is always diplomatic but gets his opinion across and occasionaly acknowledges the critics’ points might be worth further consideration. The main theme that comes across how he had to deal with a comparatively low budget and the demands and limitations that this put on the creative team. It's hard not to like Jonathan Hensleigh after this commentary - he's serious about the job, name checks some interesting influences (Don Siegel, Sergio Leone) and remains supportive of his cast and crew.

The deleted scenes are a bit of dead loss really. We get some gangsters getting out of their cars and going into a nightclub in the first scene, nice to look at but nothing terribly interesting, and Livia Saint getting into her car and being rather gruff to the manservant who opened the door for her. 30 seconds out of your life that you'll never get back. The dull nature of these is only magnified in light of the almost half an hour of missing subplot mentioned in the commentary.

The music video was a big yawn, with some gravely voiced rockers pretending to be gangsters surround by models in bikinis. The video game just looks plain nasty.

In all, this is a worthwhile package. Oscar winning material it might not be, but every so often a solid and entertaining popcorn film supported with a nifty and watchable collections of extras is just what you need to entertain your mother-in-law.

In a word: Explosive.