Plot: What’s it about?
John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is a decorated soldier who served his country in Vietnam, earning a Medal of Honor in the process. But when he returned home, he was not hailed as a hero, since most people disapproved of the U.S. presence in the region, so he became disillusioned about his place in the world. So Rambo becomes a drifter and as he hitchhikes to visit some soldier friends, he finds himself in the wrong place, at the wrong time. He stops in a small town to get some food, only to be approached by the local law, Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy). Teasle asks Rambo to leave town, but when Rambo states he just wants some food and then he will depart, Teasle arrests him as a vagrant. While he sits in the cell, Rambo is abused by one of the deputies and Teasle sees no reason to intervene, so Rambo bides his time. As memories from his prison camp stay swirl in his mind, Rambo decides to break loose and escapes, heading toward a wooded area to find safety, as well as prepare for his attackers. As Teasle and his men prepare to engage Rambo, can Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) stop them in time, or will they discover first hand the extent of Rambo’s abilities in battle?
This is the original, the film that started it all and in most circles, First Blood is considered to be the best of the three pictures. I’d have to agree with that, as it has not only terrific action sequences, but an excellent premise, some well crafted suspense, and characters that are well developed, making it a good movie, not just a good action movie. I’ve seen this film countless times and it never loses its impact, it has all the needed elements to be good and those elements are used well, especially the actors. Sylvester Stallone is excellent as Rambo and he is called on to do some real acting here, not just the action star requirements of the sequels, so his performance is based more on his thespian skills in this picture. Richard Crenna is solid as Trautman and would return for the two sequels, while Brian Dennehy (Silverado, Cocoon) is good as the local sheriff, which is a complex role, without question. I simply cannot recommend First Blood enough, it is a well made movie that refuses to settle for being an action flick, instead striving to be a tense personal drama, which I think it turns out to be.
After his episode with the small town law officials, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) has been placed in prison, where he passes the time by performing hard labor. The work is very harsh, but Rambo takes some solace there, as he has become jaded toward most aspects of life, thanks to his past experiences. So when Col. Trautman (Richard Crenna) arrives and offers him a mission that could lead to his release, Rambo is hesitant to accept. But he does agree, since the mission involves a suspected prisoner of war camp and if Rambo can find prisoners there, it means the government could go in and find them, as well as others. He has an instant distrust for the man in charge of the operation, Marshall Murdock (Charles Napier), but he continues as planned, even though his mission is to take photos, not to engage the enemy forces. After a rough parachute jump, Rambo is able to venture through the jungle and meet up with his contact Co (Julia Nickson-Soul), a beautiful young Vietnamese woman. When Rambo discovers the camp is not empty, he decides to take action, but can he count on the word of Murdock and his men to go through with the pickup, or has he once again been betrayed by those he served?
Although Rambo: First Blood Part II is not as well written or performed as First Blood, it does stand as a top notch action movie, no doubt about it. This film supplies tons of battles, endless weapons, and an immense body count, thanks to Rambo’s nonstop assault on those who hold his fellow soldiers hostage. As with most action driven films, this one has plot holes and gaps of logic, but not as many as most and of course, nowhere near as many as we’ll see in Rambo III. This is kind of like a full blown action picture with some plot thrown in, as Rambo’s mission is well formed and the scenes back at the base are well done. This adds a personal side to the events and even though the main attraction here is the action, the storyline adds depth and impact, even the scenes with Co, which I felt were well executed. The action sequences are very good in this movie, with some great chases, sneak attacks, and of course, all out assaults all to be seen. I like Rambo’s choice of the bow & arrow at times, but the helicopter chase is perhaps my favorite sequence, maybe second only to the boat battle. I can’t imagine an action fan that wouldn’t want this is in their collection, as it is a prime example of how action should be handled.
It seems as though John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) has been fighting his entire life, but these days, he lives a more simpler lifestyle. He has taken shelter with some monks and in exchange for room & board, he works as a handyman of sorts. In addition, he ventures into the urban areas and competes in stick fights, to earn extra funds. He turns most of that cash over to the monks however, as he wants for very little in his new home. When Col. Trautman (Richard Crenna) arrives and asks Rambo to join him on a mission, Rambo refuses and states he is satisfied where he is, and wishes Trautman the best of luck. The mission was to help Afghanistan freedom fighters, who were enduring battles with Russian forces, but needed additional supplies. When the mission goes sour and Trautman is captured by a sadistic Russian commander, word is sent back to Rambo, since the two were so close. This spurs Rambo to embark on an unofficial mission to free his friend, as well as level the odds for the Afghanistan rebels. But with the odds stacked so high against him, can even Rambo overcome the forces on the other side?
The third and final installment in the Rambo series, Rambo III is the weakest of the trio and serves as an example of what happens when logic is tossed out the window. The second Rambo film upped the action ante and provided more thrills than the first, but retained a credible storyline and some balance of logic, but Rambo III takes no such motions. I admit, I do like the action sequences and the endless battles are fun to watch, but come on, this film pits Rambo against the entire Russian armed forces. I can accept that he is a war machine and can overtake immense odds, but when he turns into this kind of one man army, the film’s tone seems out of place. In Commando, Arnold Schwarzenegger does the same kind of thing on a smaller scale, but the movie has a comical tone, so it seems acceptable. But Rambo III plays like a serious film and as such, the excessive bad marksmanship and Rambo’s battle skills seem downright silly, as if this were a parody of action movies, even though it isn’t.
Video: How does it look?
First Blood is presented in This is a step up from the other home video editions, including the import HD-DVD, but the jump isn’t as substantial as I had hoped. There isn’t as much grain this time around, which is excellent, so the visuals don’t suffer from much softness. As far as detail level, you’ll notice an increase in depth, but this isn’t a crystal clear movie, nor will it ever be, more than likely. The colors seem brighter and more natural in this presentation, while black levels are more stark, thanks to the reduced grain. This is by all means a welcome improvement all around, but don’t expect a dynamic leap, as this movie doesn’t offer such a night & day difference.
Rambo: First Blood Part II is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This looks like a brand new movie, with visual depth that rivals even recent releases. The lush jungle landscape comes to life through vivid, bold colors and accurate contrast, while detail level is stunning at times. I expected a boost in the visuals, but Lionsgate has outdone themselves here. This is a prime example of how great catalog titles can look in high definition, simply excellent work.
Rambo III is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is another knockout transfer that makes the movie seem new again, thanks to crisp, detailed visuals. The image shows remarkable contrast, as even the darkest of scenes is able to retain full intended detail, so that is impressive. The colors don’t always dazzle, but the more muted, earthy tones used look as they should. The print is in good condition, so softness is never a concern and depth is terrific in most sequences. In short, another great looking effort that fans will much appreciate.
Audio: How does it sound?
This is where this new Blu-ray releases leaves previous versions in the dust, as the DTS HD 5.1 soundtracks are a sizable improvement in all respects. Even the laid back portions of the audio seem more refined here, as dialogue is crisp and clear, while immersion is more present to boot. So the more subtle sounds of the environments come to life, not to mention the basic elements that you don’t think about, but still add to the experience. Not to discount the action scenes however, as this track has immense power and will put your surrounds into overdrive. This is a terrific soundtrack selection and a nice upgrade over previous versions. First Blood also contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX soundtrack, while the other two films have French soundtrack options and all three films have subtitles in English and Spanish.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Up first on First Blood is an audio commentary with star Sylvester Stallone. He talks at length about how he approached the project, with a focus on how he prepared to bring John Rambo to life. Stallone also discusses other production details, but silence is common in those moments, for sure. We also have a second audio commentary track with writer David Morrell, who discusses the trials & tribulations of bringing his character to the screen, as well as some background on this books, which is highly interesting. Morrell is well spoken and seems to have prepared for this session, so it is well worth a listen. A look behind the scenes is offered in Drawing First Blood, which runs just over twenty minutes and features new interviews with Morrell, stars Richard Crenna and Sylvester Stallone, and members of the production team. Morrell takes us back to the source of his Rambo novels, while the others talk about their own experiences from the production, making for an enjoyable, but brief look behind the scenes. This disc also includes a trivia track option, as well as some deleted scenes.
Rambo: First Blood Part II offers audio comments from director George P. Cosmatos, but he is a little too laid back at times, even if he has some decent information to share. Cosmatos gives a technical slant to his session, such as production snags, the problems of location shoots, and he even details some of the special effects work, which was cool to hear. I think Cosmatos offers a lot of information here and is personable also, so the track never becomes dull in the least. We Get To Win This Time is an all new nineteen minute featurette with assorted cast & crew interview interviews. You’ll hear from Crenna, Stallone, Cosmatos, and others and while this was an informative piece, I felt it ran too short and needed some additional time added. New to this release is a special trivia track.
As for Rambo III, we start off with audio commentary track with director Peter MacDonald. Although MacDonald is candid and provides a lot of information, he seems to take the film too seriously, as if it has no real flaws and the battle scenes are realistic. I think this is rather humorous, but it would have been nice to hear some honest comments about the criticism, although I doubt MacDonald could have defended most of the flaws, to be honest. Afghanistan: Land in Crisis is a new featurette that focuses on the people of that area at the time shown in the film, as well as in more recent times. As we all know, Afghanistan has been put into the world’s spotlight for horrific reasons, but this piece tries to show us the fight for freedom that once took place there. This featurette runs about half an hour is well crafted, a more than worthwhile experience. As with the other films, this new high definition release also offers a new trivia track.