Tech Flashback: The Lethal Weapon series 1987-1998 Part 1

Category: Tech Today

The Lethal Weapon series, once hailed as one of the best movie franchises of all time, has been overlooked in the last couple of years for less worthy movies such as the unimpressive Rush Hour (1998) and the gratuitous Bad Boys (1995). Despite the number of buddy cop characters that have inundated movies and TV over the years, the mismatched couple of Sgt. Murtaugh and Martin Riggs can't be equaled in any current medium - their friendship in the four films was consistent and entertaining even when poor writing crippled the final installment of the series. Perhaps the series would be better remembered today if actor Mel Gibson had aged gracefully out of the limelight and avoided personal altercations and tabloid headlines.

Besides the well-written characters, one of the more visible characteristics of Lethal Weapon is its curious timeline. The first installment was released in 1987. The plot's milieu is clearly identifiable by its very risque opening which features an attractive, scantily-clad and topless blonde jumping off a high-rise building in a largely undeveloped Los Angeles. Despite the poor last act of Lethal Weapon (a laughable and unnecessary backyard brawl), its popularity triggered an excellent sequel in 1989 and then a satisfying third installment in 1992. The final Lethal Weapon movie whimpered in 1998 - a movie that would raise eyebrows today because of its questionable scenes and references to Hong Kong and China.

Martin Riggs shouts as Sgt. Murtaugh realizes Riggs is truly suicidal.
Screen capture from Lethal Weapon (1987)

As the series progressed, the filmmakers of Lethal Weapon took into account many of the developments of technology at the time. The police department in California had more allowances in terms of taxpayer's money way back in the 80s and there is authenticity in the equipment shown in the first two movies, from the firearms to the computers.

Lethal Weapon

The first Lethal Weapon movie was largely episodic but audiences today will see a surprising piece of equipment 30 minutes into the movie after Martin Riggs "discourages" a stressed office worker from committing suicide.
Upset by the suicidal shenanigans of his crazed new partner, Danny Glover's Sgt. Roger Murtaugh uses a short-wave field communicator to call up the police department's resident psychiatrist.

Army enthusiasts would recognize Sgt. Murtaugh's choice of equipment. Today's generation, on the other hand, would jeer at the sheer size and inefficiency of the field communicator. The plastic keypad is installed on the earpiece on a separate circuit board soldered to the handle. The transmitter, antenna, receiver and the power pack (which takes up more than 45% of the weight) is amazing to behold in today's bevy of miniaturized cellphones and incredibly powerful phablets. That scene alone illustrates just how far technology has gone in terms of personal communication - a single smartphone today has more power than all the police equipment in Los Angeles back in 1987.

Midway through the film, Sgt, Murtaugh receives a package containing details about the identity of Amanda Hunsaker, the aforementioned sex kitten who jumped off the balcony. Glover's character finds a VHS cassette tape and pops it into his VHS player and finds out about the lurid and depraved life the young woman had led.

Now, these days, the denizens of the Internet would probably find that sex tape online 3 minutes after it was filmed and Sgt. Murtaugh would probably get a hyperlink instead (he wouldn't even get a SD card or CDR).

Continued in Tech Flashback: The Lethal Weapon series 1987-1998 Part 2


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