Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter summarizes the best parts of the commentary for Punisher: War Zone.
Lexi Alexander has three feature films to her name, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s seen her most recent, 2010’s Lifted. Even taking it into consideration, though, it’s still been eight years since she’s helmed a feature which is a damn shame. Her two films that people have seen — Green Street Hooligans (2005) and Punisher: War Zone (2008) — are solid, and in the latter case, fun genre efforts that entertain without breaking new ground. War Zone is the third theatrical attempt to bring the Punisher to the big screen, and it’s arguably the best and most true to his comic-book origins.
It’s a fun, attractively shot, and very bloody romp that deserved better than to bomb at the box-office. It’s since found a sincere following on home video and cable, and it’s getting a 4K upgrade release later this month (alongside 2004’s The Punisher). The new package ports over the extra features from the 2009 Blu-ray release.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for…
Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Commentators: Lexi Alexander (director), Steve Gainor (cinematographer)
1. She discovered while filming in Canada that Lionsgate is an actual place — a bridge in Vancouver.
2. They both love the comic-book panels during the opening credits, and she had insisted they be made using footage they actually shot based strictly on the actual comic book pages.
3. The knife was made specifically for the film, and Alexander is now good friends with the man responsible.
4. The opening dinner assault features the Punisher (Ray Stevenson) killing a woman which apparently caused some controversy with executives. “She reached for a gun so I thought it was justified,” says Alexander. “He’s the Punisher! Is he only going to kill male bad people?”
5. She actually saw a kickboxer at a tournament once fix his own broken nose by snapping it back into place, so she figured if he could do it the Punisher could too.
6. The factory base attacked by the Punisher was filmed in a car part plant, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor was filming there too. They joked at the time that the golden horse props they saw while filming were probably worth more than War Zone‘s entire budget.
7. There may or may not be a rule while filming in Vancouver that the actor on camera when the production hits 200 rolls of film has to buy everyone champagne. “I think they made that up, but oh well. Ray bought the champagne.”
8. The police station scenes were actually filmed in the city library.
9. Alexander was unhappy with some non-responsive extras during the police station scene, so she pulled her actors aside and planned a fake fight to get them riled up. It worked.
10. She isn’t happy with the scene where Billy (Dominic West) adopts the name Jigsaw as their original plan — children run screaming from his face, but one child stays saying he’s unafraid because it reminds him of his jigsaw puzzle — had to be cut for budgetary reasons. “It’s expensive to work with kids.”
11. The mental hospital sequence was filmed partly in a facility that didn’t allow visitors with a criminal record. “Half of our crew couldn’t come in.”
12. She’s a Doug Hutchison fan, and while he passed on the role originally she convinced him by suggesting the character was “Hannibal Lector on speed.”
13. Alexander’s “more nervous” working with female actors for fear they can be more dramatic. This is an odd statement — one that no man could get away with, and one I expect she probably wouldn’t repeat these days — and she follows it by saying that Julie Benz was terrific. [Update: Alexander replied via Twitter to this point with the following — “I must have explained #13 at least 20 times in the past 10 years. I did a commentary in German right before this one, so my English was off. Dramatic wasn’t meant in a negative sense.”
14. She recalls walking into a market set during re-shoots in Vancouver and taking a couple candy bars for a snack, and the production assistant ran after her yelling that she wasn’t allowed to do that. “He really almost peed his pants when he found out he was yelling at the director.”
15. “Here’s a pivotal moment in the film,” says Gainor as the parkour-happy thug is blown up by the Punisher’s rocket launcher. Alexander is happy to hear from fans that the moment landed as intended with a big laugh. “Obviously we were aware of the fact that the parkour guys are in every film. We were also sick of them.”
16. It was Gainor’s idea to turn off the lights in the Y and S of the “MORTEYS” sign at 50:22 so it just said “MORTE” or… death.
17. The scene at 51:52 where the Punisher drops the guy on the fence then snaps his neck prompted a female critic to write that Alexander has “a violent fantasy that she should go to prison for.” Alexander took it as a compliment, but she points out that the scene is lifted straight from the comics.
18.The skull visible behind the Punisher and Paul (Colin Salmon) at 54:26 was unintentional luck and a combination of lighting and an existing chandelier.
19. The line about “Wolf fucking Blitzer” at 1:04:21 had to be ADR’d as the actual dialogue was “Tim fucking Russert.” The famed journalist had died while the film was in the editing stage.
20. The recruitment scene with Billy and Jim (Hutchison) looking for new foot soldiers was a spoof of the U.S. Army recruitment scene from Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004).
21. Alexander’s first job in Hollywood was as Princess Katana in the Mortal Kombat Live Tour.
22. She pitched for the directing gig by suggesting the scene at 1:35:18 of the neon-drenched church with the “Jesus Saves” sign blinking out while the Punisher stands in the foreground. The Punisher saves.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“It was a lot of work. You saw all kinds of murder happen.”
“Half of the stuff in this film I thought was the coolest stuff and was totally improvised.”
“Back-light is the cinematographer’s friend.”
“Obviously, you can’t let an actor fall into real glass.”
“The extras we had were fairly challenging.”
“I was very clear about making a very over the top, campy… kind of movie.”
“That was my homage to Reservoir Dogs.”
“I don’t fucking want Rob Zombie.”
Buy Punisher: War Zone on 4K UltraHD/Blu-ray from Amazon.
Punisher: War Zone remains an entertaining romp for fans of vengeance, bloodletting, and cruel quips, and the commentary here offers a solid mix of anecdotes and technical detail on the production. Alexander is filled with compliments and kind words for her cast and crew, and she’s quick to highlight the contributions others brought to the production. Fans of the film will want to give it a listen.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.