The Expendables: Extended Director's Cut Review
With the theatrical release of The Expendables 2 not far away at the time of writing, the inevitable double-dip of the first film has arrived in the form of an Extended Director's Cut. But, to writer/director Sylvester Stallone's credit, this is a substantially recut version and not some bloated edit with deleted scenes lumped in for the sake of it. Having previously reviewed the theatrical version on Blu-ray (click here to read if you want a rundown of the main plot etc), my thoughts on the film haven't changed a great deal. It's still not the saviour of R-rated action films that it was heralded to be, as the reliance on dodgy CG effects and all-too-frantic editing have put paid to that notion.
However, this edition of the film does flow much better when the bullets aren't flying, Stallone reducing some of the spurious action scenes and adding in more character moments. There's lots more Statham in particular, Lee Christmas' girlfriend troubles being the source of additional banter between himself and Barney Ross, which helps to humanise their characters as being more than mere mercs. Ross' fascination with Christmas' love life also further underlines just why he's willing to go back to Vilena for the sake of one woman, which is something that didn't really ring true in the theatrical cut. (It's worth nothing that one of these extended scenes has Statham sounding like a proper Saahff Landaahnn boy, instead of him using his usual mid-Atlantic accent. I guess another ADR session wasn't part of the budget for this version!) Jet Li also gets more face time, as befits his top-billing status with Sly and the Stath.
The humour always seemed rather forced in the theatrical cut, e.g. someone receiving a text message in the middle of a gunfight, and some of the more awkward lines have been replaced with pithier alternatives that are a better fit for the quasi-serious tone of the movie. That feeling is best underlined by the new voiceover on the opening shot of the guys on their motorcycles. Stallone's grim narration posits these fellas as dealers of death - but only if you deserve it.
Even something as simple as the opening credits play much more smoothly; the original placement over the Somali pirates rounding up their captives on the tanker was somewhat distracting, and the addition of a scene-setting montage aboard Ross' plane as they fly home from that mission - complete with message-laden rock song - is the perfect place to put them. That section also allows the film to breathe a little before the main narrative begins, as it contains some brief but precious characterisation for the lesser guys like Terry Crews' character.
Stallone wasn't afraid to cut back on the action with his extended edition of Rambo, much to the chagrin of some fans who wanted to see those Burmese children get bayoneted in full gory detail, and he's done the same here. Expendables isn't as ultra-violent as Rambo so there hasn't been a great deal of trimming, but Stallone has shortened a few scenes (like the guard who gets a knife in the neck, and the prolonged burning of a certain bad guy at the end) and removed one big action beat entirely. Sadly, the demise of one of the key villains looks just as badly done as it did before.
So, while this new iteration of The Expendables doesn't turn the movie into a masterpiece, it adds some much needed heart and soul to balance out the loud noises.
For this Blu-ray we get a 2.35 widescreen image that's nigh on identical to the prior version. The new cut of Rambo exhibited obvious differences in picture quality between the original and added footage, but there are no such problems with consistency this time around, with good detail, deep blacks and the typical modern blue/green colour scheme. There's a very fine layer of grain throughout, and no edge enhancement. The banding that's visible on the opening shot is still there (see my theatrical version review), so that must be an issue with the source rather than an encoding problem, as the rest of the film isn't blighted by such a horribly obvious artefact.
The lossless 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is, again, similar to its hard-hitting forebear but there are some slight differences between the two. Dialogue seems to have been mixed slightly lower than before, making Stallone's mumbling even harder to hear, and I even had trouble picking out some of Statham's lines which isn't a problem on the original version. This is compensated with what seems like a fuller low end, adding just a touch more oomph to the various explosions and whatnot. That said, it's still not as pant-wettingly aggressive as the powerhouse mix that the director's cut of Rambo received.
As for the extras, we start off with a short disc introduction from Sly on the set of Expendables 2, and there's also an intro for the main movie where Sly talks briefly about his motives for the director's cut. There's a loud music video of one of the soundtrack songs which were added to this new version, called Sinner's Prayer by Sully Erna. Much more interesting is Sylvester Stallone: A Director In Action, a twenty-minute interview in which Sly talks you through the movies that he's directed and the thinking behind them. Stallone is very honest with his opinions, making it clear that he thought that Rocky Balboa would be his last hurrah in the movie business, and how the success of that flick opened the door to him once again.
That theme is also explored in the ninety-minute 'making of' documentary called Inferno, which was unceremoniously dumped from the UK Blu-ray of the theatrical cut, and only made it onto a DVD included with the steelbook edition. Here it's presented in full HD as it should've been all along, and it's a fascinating glimpse at the physical and mental toll paid by Stallone as he made the movie. As Sly racks up a series of painful injuries, we see a lot of his family and find out that they're his prime motivation for his rehabilitation as a director and as movie star; his daughters have only seen him in re-runs on the TV and he wanted to show them what daddy used to do for a living. Inferno is a surprisingly intimate piece of work and it's a must-see for any Stallone fan, even more so than the main movie.
Unfortunately Lionsgate couldn't resist leaving off some extras like before, and the twenty-minute Spike TV special seen on the equivalent American Blu-ray has gone walkies. And this release would've been a great opportunity to include the lengthy Comic-Con Panel which was also removed from the UK theatrical Blu-ray (it's even been certified at the BBFC), yet it's still missing in action for some reason. Still, at least the disc doesn't start with some crappy forced trailers this time.
Sylvester Stallone has crafted a superior version of The Expendables with this Extended Director's Cut, resulting in a more even-handed mix of brains and brawn, and the Blu-ray does it proud with very respectable A/V quality. The extras are pretty good (although hardcore fans will have seen the main documentary already), but it's a shame that Lionsgate left something out. Again.