Featured Blu-ray Review: The Expendables: Extended Director's Cut
December 31st, 2011
The Expendables is a film that was tailor made for fans of 1980s action films. It was one of most expensive films Lionsgate ever made, and fortunately for them, it was also one of their biggest hits and only the second film of theirs to reach $100 million domestically. A sequel was inevitable, but while fans waited for that, they were given an Extended Director's Cut Blu-ray. Is the film worth checking out? Is the extended cut the better movie? Is it worth the double-dip?
Sylvester Stallone stars Barney Ross, the leader of The Expendables, a group of mercenaries, whom we meet trying to rescue hostages that were captured by Somali pirates. Negotiations fail when one of the mercenaries, Gunnar Jensen, decides to fire a warning shot into the head pirate, blowing him in half. Literally. His legs are even left standing. ... Anyone hoping for a serious movie can leave now. The rescue operation goes well, but after saving the hostages, Gunnar Jensen wants to hang one of the pirates. He's gone a little nuts, obviously, and Barney has to let him go after the mission is over.
Upon returning home, Lee Christmas, another member of The Expendables, and pretty much the only other one that has a character arc, heads over to Lacy's place, his girlfriend, only to learn she has dumped him and moved on. In her defense, she hadn't seen him in a month. And even when he is home, he's not allowed to tell her what he does for a living.
He won't have much time to mope, as Barney immediately gets them a new job. Mr. Church, a CIA operative, hires them to go to the island of Vilena to take out General Garza, who recently overthrew their previous government. Barney and Christmas are going to scout the island first and meet up with Mr. Church's contact, Sandra Garza. If their goal is stealth, they failed at it, as they not only kill dozens of soldiers, but also blow up the dock. They did learn a few tidbits of information. While they were sent in to kill General Garza, the real target was James Munroe, a former CIA agent gone rogue. He and the General are now controlling the drug trade from the island and splitting the cash.
Because this is not what they signed up for, Barney and Christmas are going to leave. They offer to take Sandra with them, but she stays. It's her home and she's going to continue the fight for her homeland. At first Barney accepts her decision, but after speaking to a former member of his team, Tool, he decides he has to rescue her. But he also decides he has to do this alone. His friends disagree with both parts. They think it's a dumb idea to go back to Vilena, as the army will obviously be more prepared for them this time. But they also think they if they are to rescue Sandra, they will go as a team.
So how is The Expendables? I think the easiest way to answer that question is to say it's for people who liked Rambo better than First Blood. It's a pretty mindless action film that takes itself a little too seriously at times. It's a film that tries to do nothing but offer an excuse to showcase a large number of action stars and bloody violence and for the most part, it succeeds. Even in this regard, there are some weak points to the film. For instance, there are six members of the Expendables, not counting Tool, who was retired and therefore saw no action. Plus there were two main villains in action roles (I'm not counting General Garza or James Munroe in this category). However, instead of being an ensemble action film, about half of these main roles are barely more than cameos. I didn't even mention the names of half of the Expendables, because they didn't play enough of a role in the plot of the film. Granted, Jet Li does have a couple of really good fight scenes, while Terry Crews gets to use a gloriously overpowered gun in the finale, but the screen time is unbalanced, to say the least.
The Extended Director's Cut does mitigate some of the problems in the theatrical release, including giving a couple of the characters much better arcs. You actually see some growth here and there. Also, the editing is better and this helps the fights scenes flow better. However, and this is key, while the film is about ten minutes longer, this is the result of more than a hundred changes. I'm not exaggerating. Head over to Movie-Censorship.com to look over the list of changes. And thank you to the folks over there for cataloging them, so I wouldn't have to. So while there are a few bits of additional character development, it's mostly tiny changes made throughout the film. A few seconds are added here, a few seconds are changed there, etc.
It's a better film, but if you really disliked it the first time, you probably won't change your mind now. But if you were mildly disappointed the first time, you might give this version a passing grade now.
The film begins with an introduction from Sylvester Stallone filmed while he was in Bulgaria shooting The Expendables II. (It has Jean-Claude Van Damme, so I'm looking forward to that movie more than this one.) Action: The Expendables was a 30-minute TV special that first aired on Spike TV, so without commercials, it's down to 21 minutes. It's a little fluffy, but worth checking out. There is another 20-minute behind-the-scenes featurette called Sylvester Stallone: A Director in Action, which is exactly what it sounds like. There is also a music video. Ported over from the old DVD / Blu-ray is Inferno: The Making of The Expendables, a 92-minute long making of documentary. It's excellent and definitely worth watching. The total selection of extras is good; however, it's a bit of a pain that the other extras didn't make it as well. It would have been nice to have a new audio commentary track.
Looking at the technical presentation, the film looks good, but not great. There are some scenes with fantastic clarity and amazing details. But there are also some scenes that are a little soft, or scenes that were a little dark so there's not much color to impress the audience. The audio is better with plenty of ambient sounds, directional effects, and a loud base that puts you in the middle of the explosions.
I was going to rate The Expendables: Extended Director's Cut Blu-ray as a rental. It is a little better than the original theatrical cut, but I'm not 100% sold that it is worth the double-dip. I was going to recommend spending $3 for Video on Demand to see if you liked the changes before buying, but the Blu-ray only costs $12.49 on Amazon.com, and it's hard to argue with that price.
- Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge
Filed under: Video Review, The Expendables