Following the success of Lethal Weapon in 1987, Warner Bros. were quick to release a sequel in the summer of 1989, and Lethal Weapon 2 ended up being the third highest grossing film in North America the year of its release, earning
almost $150 million.
BBFC cuts for a 15 rated cinema release
For the film's British release, Warner Bros. were keen to reach the widest possible audience. With Lethal Weapon having received an 18 rating in 1987, Warner Bros. opted to request a 15 rating from the BBFC for the UK cinema release of Lethal
Weapon 2. However, as regular viewers of Cutting Edge will know, the BBFC's Chief Censor James Ferman took a firm stance against violence in Hollywood action films of the 1980s and 1990s, and Lethal Weapon 2 was no exception. Ferman was not
prepared to pass the film uncut on film or video, and in this edition of Cutting Edge we'll be taking a look at what scenes he cut from the film for the viewing displeasure of British audiences.
After viewing the uncut version of Lethal Weapon 2, Ferman decreed that cuts were required for a 15 rating in Reels 5 and 6.
Cut Scenes: Murtaugh's home ambushed
The first scene to be affected was Murtaugh's killing of two South African villains who ambush him at home. The scene in question shows Murtaugh firing a nailgun into one man's forehead, and then firing numerous nails into a second man's body
through a sheet of plastic. For the UK cinema version, Ferman's cuts list to the distributors demanded:
When black hero uses nail gun to fight off two villains, remove lingering close-up of nail in man's forehead before he sinks to floor.
In addition to this change, Ferman also stated that the scene should be darkened, in order to:
...minimise sight of blood.
Cut Scenes: Riggs and Rika's sex scene
The next scene that was cut in the UK cinema version was the sex scene between Riggs and Rika. For the UK cinema version, Ferman demanded:
In intercut sex scene between Mel Gibson and girlfriend, remove lingering slow thrusting shots as he is on top of her.
Cut Scenes: Revenge for Rika
Following Riggs and Rika's escape from the gunfight which follows, Riggs is thrown into a dock to drown at the hands of two thugs. After falling into the water and freeing himself, Riggs discovers Rika's body in the water and emerges on the
surface filled with rage. He proceeds to kill Rika's killers in a brutal assault, breaking the first bad guy's neck, before shoving the second bad guy's head through a car door window and then slamming his neck repeatedly in the same car door
in order to kill him. James Ferman took a particular dislike to our hero's vengeful actions, and issued the following cut to Warner Bros.:
After girlfriend's body is discovered by Gibson under water, remove entire scene of instant revenge when he emerges and kills two men, breaking one's neck and slamming the other's head repeatedly in car door.
As a result, the dock scene was more or less ruined in the UK cinema version. Due to the BBFC cuts, Michael Kamen's musical score jumps noticeably at the point where the two killings were removed, and Riggs is seen picking up a chain that
mysteriously disappears following his appearance on the water's surface.
Cut Scenes: The final showdown
In Reel 6 of the film there were two more cuts demanded by Ferman. At this point in the film, Riggs is aware that the South African villains have killed many of his fellow cops, so his anger and desire for revenge is stronger than it ever
was. As Riggs and Murtaugh storm the villains' ship, the Alba Varden, Riggs empties the entire contents of his pistol's magazine into one unlucky enemy as his voiceover names the cops that the South Africans have killed, climaxing with a
final shout of "Rika!" Once again, Ferman took issue with what he saw as a sympathetic character using more force than was necessary to serve the narrative of the film, with his cuts list demanding:
In gunfight in hold of ship, reduce to minimum number of impact shots to gunman as Gibson advances to finish him off.
With these cuts made, the sequence in the UK cinema version looked horrendous, losing almost all of Riggs' voiceover coupled with a clear jump cut in the positioning of both Riggs and the enemy within the frame.
The finale of Lethal Weapon 2 was the last part of the film to receive cuts. The final showdown between Riggs and Vorstedt shows the latter kicking Riggs repeatedly in the face and body. Ferman was having none of it, however, instead
instructing the distributors to cut the scene thus:
When Gibson fights villain in hold of ship, considerably reduce the number of kicks to Gibson's face.
After Warner Bros. had recut the offending scenes in the film, the BBFC passed Lethal Weapon 2 with a 15 rating on September 20th 1989.
BBFC cuts for 18 rated 1990 VHS
The film was later submitted for a VHS classification in 1990, and the version submitted by Warner Bros. was the uncut American version of the film. The distributors were happy to accept a higher 18 rating on video, but Ferman still demanded cuts
to the film, remarking rather colourfully at the time that:
Some major releases were cut to '15' on film to attract a teenage audience, and then released at '18' on video in a fuller version. With LETHAL WEAPON II, however, the Board refused to reinstate fully the cuts in two scenes in which the hero
indulged his vengeful instincts far beyond the needs of the narrative.
The two scenes that Ferman refers to concern Riggs' killing of the two South African thugs at the dockside and his repeated shooting of the enemy on the ship. As a result, cuts were required, which effectively reduced these two scenes as per the
UK cinema version.
After 32 seconds of cuts had been made, the BBFC passed Lethal Weapon 2 for a VHS release on February 28th 1990.
BBFC cuts for 18 rated 1992 VHS
A slightly less-censored widescreen version of the film was later passed with only 24 seconds of cuts on July 20th 1992. In the widescreen version, the scene where Riggs kills the enemy on the ship was slightly longer in comparison to previous
versions, with the BBFC allowing the reinstatement of around a second or so of the enemy being riddled with bullets. The scene was still reduced in comparison to the uncut version, however.
BBFC cuts for 18 rated 1999 Director's Cut
A few years later, Warner Bros. released so-called 'director's cuts' of the first three Lethal Weapon films on video and DVD; although no evidence exists suggesting that these were officially endorsed by director Richard Donner. It would appear
that Warner Bros. simply reinstated some deleted scenes and marketed the trilogy as director's cuts. With regards to Lethal Weapon 2, the director's cut version was submitted for a UK classification in 1999, and once again Warner Bros. had
reinstated the previously-censored material missing from the previous UK versions. However, the BBFC demanded that the two contentious scenes in the previous UK video versions be censored for the director's cut. In the case of Riggs' scene on the
Alba Varden, the BBFC stipulated that even more footage be removed from the shooting of the villain.
Perhaps realizing that the old cut versions of the sequence played out rather badly, they felt it was better to simply remove the all but the start of the shooting altogether, including the sight of the villain slumping down the wall. The cuts
list sent to the distributors was thus expanded upon, with the BBFC now demanding:
Reduce Gibson's repeated shooting as he advances on man in hold of ship by cutting away after first set of impacts on victim's chest to remove all further impacts and sight of him poking his gun into victim's gut for "coup de grace",
resuming on close up of handle.
The 'handle' in this cut refers to the shot which follows the shooting sequence, when a South African agent opens up a hatch on the ship. In the end, it would appear that Warner Bros. elected to edit the scene as per the 1992 widescreen video
version. The double killing on the docks was edited slightly better with regards to the musical score; the music does not jump as badly as it does in the original UK theatrical version.
The BBFC passed the director's cut of Lethal Weapon 2 in January 1999 after 31 seconds of cuts, and this would go on to be the main version available to British buyers on home video for over 10 years.
Uncut for 15 rated 2010 Blu-ray
2010 saw a UK Blu-ray release of all four theatrical cuts of the Lethal Weapons. With Ferman having long since departed the BBFC, the first two films in the series were submitted to the BBFC for contemporary certificates. Both were downgraded to
a 15 rating, with the added bonus of the BBFC waiving all of its cinema- and video cuts to Lethal Weapon 2. After 21 years, British audiences finally had access to the uncut version of Lethal Weapon 2 on home video, which was classified by the
BBFC on August 20th 2010, with the BBFC stating that the film:
Contains strong language, violence, threat and sex.
With regards to the other films in the series, Lethal Weapon 3 has always been uncut in the UK with a 15 rating, whilst Lethal Weapon 4 received heavy cuts for its original UK cinema release and subsequent home video incarnations.
The cuts to Lethal Weapon 4 have been covered in a
previous episode of Cutting Edge , but the UK Blu-ray release of the film is entirely uncut, despite there appearing to be no official BBFC classification listed for the uncut version of the film. In other words, UK buyers can confidently
pick up the Blu-ray box set of all four Lethal Weapons, happy in the knowledge that they are getting the full, uncensored versions of the films as intended by the filmmakers.
Cutting Edge Video, Season Two, Episode 33: Lethal Weapon 2
All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.