The Karate Kid (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

The 80’s, as it would seem, had a variety of films in terms of, well, variety. For every “E.T.”, “Back to the Future” and “Raging Bull” there were about twenty other films that we’d like to have forgotten. Out of all the films of the Reagan-era, a few others do stand out and “The Karate Kid” is one of them. Let’s face it, if someone were to say “Wax on, wax off” to you, you’d probably know what they were saying. Granted, you’d probably want to punch them in the face as well, but you’d undoubtely get the refrence to this movie. Director John G. Avildsen, who helmed the ultimate rags to riches story with “Rocky” a decade earlier, also took the reigns here and it worked. Yes, this movie has it all and here’s what to expect for those of you that haven’t had the pleasure of seeing the movie.

It’s your typical boy moves to a new town, meets a girl, pisses off an ex-boyfriend, gets beat up, learns karate from the friendly old man from Okinawa, and wins a climactic fight to the finish story. We’re not surprised by anything this film throws at us. This isn’t the movie’s fault, mind you. It’s just that there are so many things about the plot twists and turns that are now so formulaic and old hat to us that they seem more projected than inspired. Naturally, we see Mr. Miyagi’s training techniques coming literally miles before Daniel ever catches on. But then, the beauty of a film like this is in its execution of said predictability. I mean, let’s face it: no one back in 1984 actually worried about whether Daniel LaRusso would triumph in the end. It’s not about what happens. It’s about the journey. And in that respect, “The Karate Kid” is further proof (along with “Rocky”) that director John G. Avildsen is a master storyteller when it comes to underdog tales. Sure it’s exactly what we expect in some regard, but it’s also a lot more.

There’s a depth to this story that is rare for a film like this, and I was surprised upon viewing it again how much time is spent on interpersonal relationships. That this film held my interest when I was younger is a testimony to how well it presents itself. In that regard, “The Karate Kid” does in fact stand the test of time rather admirably (well, aside from Johnny’s hair, which can at times seem like its own character). It’s not on par with “Rocky” by any means, but it’s still a great little feel-good flick that does precisely what it sets out to do and does it well. What more can you really ask for?

Video: How does it look?

“The Katate Kid” admittedly looks good, albeit a bit dated. This new Blu-ray release trumps the previous standard DVD offering in terms of image quality and the 1.85:1 AVC HD transfer does breathe a bit of new life into this movie. Colors, on the whole, seem a bit brighter and the detail has benefitted from Blu-ray. Fleshtones are average, though they seem a bit muddy at times (few and far between, though). It’s hard to believe that this movie is twenty five years old and it does show its age, but by and large this is a step up in every aspect, pardon the pun.

Audio: How does it sound?

The DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack has also benefitted and though this isn’t demo quality here, it still sounds pretty good with the surrounds getting new life. Dialogue is pretty well-centered and we don’t have any trouble making out Mr. Miyagi’s mumbling. Yes, “Wax on, wax off” has never sounded quite as good as it does in uncompressed sound. The movie sports a sampling of hits from the 80’s and does manage to enhance the viewing experience a bit. While not the best soundtrack out there, this does sound as good as it ever has.

Supplements: What are the extras?

While “The Karate Kid II” was kind of stiffed in the supplements department, this is the real jewel in the crown and, as such, gets the lion’s share of the supplements. First up is an audio commentary with director John G. Avildsen, writer Mark Kamen and actors Ralph Maccio and Pat Morita. This is a good track that covers all the bases from the shoot and the general problems on the set and such. We get a bevy of featurettes starting off with “The Way of the Karate Kid” (this is divided up into two parts) as we get some information about the production, casting and some behind the scenes with the cast and crew. “Beyond the Form” is a featurette with martial arts instructor Pat Johnson as he tells of the experience and the long-lasting impact that the movie had on the martial arts. “East meets West: A Composer’s NOtebook” focuses on Bill Conti’s score for the film. And lastly we get “The Life of Bonsai” which tells us all we need to know about the care of the plant. For the exclusive content, we get “Blu-Pop” with a picture-in-picture commentary track with Macchio and William Zabka (Johnny) which gives us some insight to the movie. It’s a nice little feature.

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