Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on July 21st, 2010
In Florida we have some very large bugs. There’s this one particular spider that is quite a problem in my house. It’s real name is a huntsman spider, and it grows to about 16 feet, not including the legs. It sports 27-inch fangs and tends to move the furniture around at night while it stalks its prey. Yes, it stalks its prey at night in my house while I’m trying to sleep. Years ago I coined my own name for these clever, ferocious killers. I call them Rambo Spiders. The name fits these long-legged freaks perfectly as they perform their recon missions throughout our home. When I find them, I terminate them with extreme prejudice. I suspect that if these arachnids happen to be movie fans, they have a name for me, as well. You guessed it: Rambo.
John Rambo was the brainchild of novelist David Morrell. In his novel you’ll find a John Rambo who is very much like the one played by Sylvester Stallone, yet quite different, as well. While he retains that one-man-fighting-machine persona, in the book he is much more of a cold-blooded killer than the man we meet in the franchise’s first film. In that movie, Rambo disables the police and whoever else stalks him, but he never kills one person in that film. The officer who does die does so because of his own actions, not Rambo’s. He’s actually a very innocent man, when we first meet him. There’s a vulnerability that we see in that film’s first five minutes that we never will see again over the course of four films. Credit Stallone for allowing us those fleeting moments that you won’t find anywhere in Morrell’s book. But it is the Rambo as portrayed by Stallone that has become the cultural icon and household word today. The term is in most modern dictionaries, usually to describe a relentless force of strength, which brings me back to those spiders. And before you animal rights people start writing me your displeasure over my spider kills, understand that it’s more than a fair fight. They have those 99 inch fangs, and all I have is a rolled-up newspaper.
Strangely enough, we refer to the franchise as Rambo. This collection bears that very title. But the first three films are actually entitled First Blood. The first film appeared to be a cursed project from the beginning. While plenty of people in the industry saw the film’s powerful potential, they also saw controversy that no one really wanted to touch. It was 1982, and the end of the Vietnam War was still less than a decade ago. So the property went through about 8 studios through options and turnarounds. Almost double that in directors and actors had turned the film down. Kirk Douglas was on board to play Col. Troutman. He did bail right before filming started. Crenna came in last minute and made three films out of that deal. Even after Sly agreed to the project, he was already looking for ways to back out. The night before filming started, he considered breaking his hand to get him out of the production. He’ll admit that it was only the lure of ridiculous money that kept him from bailing. Obviously, he’s glad that he did.
First Blood: (1982)
John Rambo (Stallone) is a Vietnam vet who was part of an elite team of special forces. He was taught to kill instinctively. To live off of the land. To ignore petty nuisances like pain. And John Rambo was one of the best. Back in The United States, he is drifting throughout the Pacific Northwest in search of some of his combat buddies, but they’re gone. He’s the last of his kind. When he finds himself in one of these small Northwest towns, he just wants to stop and eat and maybe rest for a short time. But the local sheriff (Dennehy) takes exception to his army jacket and drifter appearance. When Rambo won’t be persuaded to leave town peacefully, Sheriff Teasle arrests him and takes him to jail where he is mistreated. The treatment brings with it flashbacks to his torture at the hands of the Viet Cong. Instinct and training take over, and Rambo escapes to the mountains where he is relentlessly tracked by the police. When the hunt brings national headlines, the story attracts the attention of Col. Troutman (Crenna) who has come to the rescue. He’s not there to rescue Rambo from the cops. He’s there to rescue the cops from Rambo. Rambo’s survivalist skills allow him to pick off his pursuers one by one. He just wants to be left alone, but we know that’s just not going to happen.
The film ended up being something other than the raging controversy everyone feared. It appeared that just enough time had passed to dull some of the hostility. America was finally in a place where she was willing to look at the plight of the returning soldiers that had been so badly mistreated when they got home. First Blood was likely the first sign that the nation had begun to finally heal. The film pulled in an impressive 1982 total of about $125 million. And while John Rambo is killed in Morrell’s novel as well as the first cut of the film, a last minute decision to spare the life of the hero turned into over a billion dollar move.
Rambo: First Blood II: (1985)
Of course, Rambo got locked up for his actions in the first film. And, that’s where we find Rambo as the movie begins. Enter Troutman, who has a proposition for his soldier. A covert group in the military wants Rambo to go into Vietnam and photograph evidence that there are still American MIA’s being held as POW’s. Rambo gets dropped behind enemy lines where those survival skills come into play once again. When he finds Americans being held under brutal conditions he discovers also that there are elements in the American military that didn’t expect him to succeed and would rather the discovery never be made public. Now it’s up to Rambo to rescue these soldiers on his own and get them home safely.
This is the Rambo most of us have come to remember. It’s here where we get the bow and the mission to rescue POW’s. It is also the most successful Rambo film at the box office, pulling in over $300 million. Crenna also returns as the betrayed soldier who unwittingly gets Rambo into this mess and is helpless to save him once the plug is pulled on the operation. Charles Napier has the great role of Murdock, who tries to sabotage Rambo’s rescue operation from within. It’s also the film that ends with Rambo’s powerful speech: “I want what they want, and every other guy who came over here and spilled his guts and gave everything he had, wants! For our country to love us as much as we love it! That’s what I want!”
Rambo III/First Blood III: (1988)
This time the setting is Afghanistan and their fight against the Russians during the 80’s. Rambo has now been living with some monks at an Asian monastery. He’s visited by Troutman once again. This time Troutman wants him to join him in a covert operation to help the Afghan people, who are suffering under Russian occupation. Rambo refuses. He later learns that Troutman went anyway and is now a prisoner of the occupational Russian troops. Rambo decides to go in and rescue Troutman, finding himself fighting with the Afghan resistance.
This time the timing really wasn’t right. As the United States and the Soviet Union were beginning to end the Cold War and become allies once again, it was not the time for a Cold War poke at the Russians. The film pulled in only about $50 million off a $63 million budget. It would seem that the age of Rambo was finally over. And for 20 years it was…
John Rambo: (2008)
Rambo is still in Asia, working collecting cobras for a reptile tourist trap downriver from Burma. When a missionary group asks him for a ride into the Burmese warzone, Rambo tries to refuse. The group hopes to bring food, bibles, and medicine to those suffering from the decades-long genocide in that country. The only woman among the group, Sarah (Benz), won’t give up, however. She finally wears Rambo down so that he’ll take them. 10 days later Rambo learns that the group is overdue. He’s approached by the religious organization’s leader, Arthur Marsh (Howard) to lead a team of mercenaries back to Burma to rescue the captured missionaries. Little did the team know that their simple boat guide was a one-man wrecking crew.
Stallone long resisted a fourth Rambo film. Perhaps he saw the writing on the wall and decided it was best to let John Rambo finally find peace. He was given an offer he couldn’t refuse. He co-wrote the script and directed the film as well. While Sly and his alter-ego John Rambo might be getting on in years, this is by far the most violent of the Rambo films. The death count is almost impossible to track. CG gore elements have provided incredibly bloody scenes. There’s an overindulgent habit here of blowing off people’s heads. The result is a film more like 300 than First Blood. The whole thing is almost comical and over the top. Perhaps it would have been better to let John Rambo sleep. The box office take was a franchise low $42 million. I think it’s safe to say we won’t see the likes of John Rambo any more.
Each of the films are presented in their original aspect ratios and a full 1080p high- definition image, using either AVC/MPEG-4 or VC-1 codecs. Obviously, the more recent films hold up the strongest to a high-definition level of detail. You won’t find any problems with any of the transfers. They look very much as they did in their original release. The first film suffers from a bit too much DNR. There are areas were the background focus falls apart and detail gets that plastic sheen. The last film is about as crystal clear as an image can be.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks all deliver the goods. Subs are strong, and dialog is always right were you need it to be. The final film is particularly impressive, especially with its very aggressive surrounds. You get a lot of action in that film, and this presentation will put you right in the middle of it.
All of the films feature audio commentaries, the best of which feature Sylvester Stallone.
Each contains a making-of feature. The first three are in Standard Definition and were made at the same time. The last film features a series of 7 features combined for over an hour of HD behind the scenes footage.
Sly finally got to bring both of his iconic characters to some kind of conclusion in recent years. Both Rocky and John Rambo have ridden off into the sunset. It’s been nice to have complete collections on Blu-ray to add that closure to our own collections. If you already have any of these already on Blu-ray, there’s nothing extra here to warrant such soon replacements. If you haven’t yet upgraded, this is likely your best opportunity, your chance to “remember them all“.