Lionsgate // 1986 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // March 18th, 2006
Anywhere and everywhere the S.A.V.A.G.E. forces of General Warhawk threaten the peace loving people of the world, there's only one man to call...
When violent Vietnam vet John Rambo first made his debut in the 1982 film First Blood, few could have predicted he'd round out his career with a tour of duty on a weekday afternoon cartoon show. An outcast survivalist who used heavy artillery to blow away his army pursuers in bloody revenge for his personal military nightmares, Rambo probably shot up more people on screen than the average 10-year-old has met, but animation studio Ruby Spears still wasted no time in cashing in on his name with Rambo, a 1986 syndicated action-adventure show based on the violent character.
In Lionsgate's fourth DVD of the series, Rambo, Vol. 4: Up in Arms, it's obvious just how much the show was inspired by the success of the G.I. Joe animated show and accompanying toy empire. Forget about plots and characters -- the entire purpose of the show was to turn this shirtless, rocket launcher-toting symbol of American might into a four-inch plastic doll. In an effort to fill out Rambo's world with additional action figures, he was recast by Ruby Spears as the leader of The Force of Freedom, a peacekeeping unit under the command of Colonel Trautman. With his liberty-loving, multicultural cohorts Turbo Johnson, a mechanic and weapons specialist, master of disguise K.A.T., ex-footballer T.D. Jones, and ninja White Dragon, Rambo battles the evil General Warhawk and his S.A.V.A.G.E. organization, including Gripper, Sgt. Havoc, biker Mad Dog, and a terrorist named Nomad.
As part of their ongoing DVD series, Lionsgate's Rambo Vol. 4: Up in Arms presents another 11 episodes of the questionably appropriate show:
* Alpha, Arms & Ambush Part 1
Warhawk hijacks a NATO supply and kidnaps Col. Trautman, throwing then future of the Force of Freedom in jeopardy. But then...
* Alpha, Arms & Ambush Part 2
...Rambo saves the Colonel!
* The Doomsday Machine
A renegade Special Forces agent steals a top-secret warplane, and Rambo has to get it back before it's sold to an unfriendly government -- or to General Warhawk!
* Exercise in Terror
Warhawk takes a group of kids hostage in the Statue of Liberty. He threatens to blow up the monument unless he gets $50 million in ransom. Rambo has other ideas.
* Horror in the Highlands
In one of the few episodes not completely centered on Rambo, T.D. Jones visits his Scottish homeland and finds that a Nessie-like monster is causing havoc. Only when Rambo sees the creature shoot a missile out of his mouth, he's convinced that S.A.V.A.G.E. is behind the scare.
* Deadly Keep
A Nobel peace prize-winning scientist is kidnapped by the evil Count Vladimir, sending Rambo on a mission to Muldavia.
* Terror beneath the Sea
A giant killer whale smashes up an Arctic settlement until the gentle Rambo tames him. Yet another wildly inefficient S.A.V.A.G.E. plot? But of course!
* Turbo's Dilemma
Poor Turbo. After a gang of bikers kidnaps his sweet old mama, he deserts his post to save her, allowing Warhawk to steal an experimental fuel.
A helicopter carrying a boy dying of kidney failure goes down in a heavy blizzard. Rambo arrives on the scene and single-handedly braves the weather to get the boy to the hospital for a transplant.
* Vote of Terror
Rambo returns to Vietnam when S.A.V.A.G.E. tries to sabotage the re-election of President Wang (no, seriously).
* The Angel of Destruction
In South America, Rambo dons skis and enlists the military expertise of a young boy to foil S.A.V.A.G.E.'s latest evil plan.
As in the G.I. Joe cartoon, gratuitous gunfire, explosions, and weaponry definitely defined this series, but here Rambo is a peacenik sissy compared to his take-no-prisoners on screen persona -- the animated star of this show would rather attend peace conferences and talk tenderly to deer than ram grenades down the throats of his oppressors. Even when the big guy gets his war on, the only casualties are jeeps, walls, and the occasional guard tower -- never any living, breathing friend or foe. It's not entirely surprising that death and disaster is downplayed in a kid's show, but it also removes all possibilities for suspense -- we know that Warhawk will do something bad, Rambo will arrive and some vehicles will blow up, and the bad guys will miraculously get away after being soundly defeated.
More importantly, though, Rambo was focused strongly on introducing possible toys for the simultaneously released "Rambo and The Force of Freedom" action figure line. No matter if the plot calls for them or not, the show is insistent about displaying a parade of impractical vehicles like motorcycles armed with missiles, ATVs armed with missiles, flying platforms armed with missiles, and helmets armed with missiles. In one episode, Rambo even flies around in a detachable tank turret equipped with wings (and, not surprisingly, missiles). It's creepy marketing synergy at its most overt. The fat cats in the highly lucrative plastic missile industry must have been beside themselves with glee.
The choppy animation style is pretty typical for a 1980s weekday cartoon, with simplistic but generally well-rendered drawings. Action is handled relatively well, and cash-saving shortcuts are kept to a minimum -- except for a recurring sequence of Rambo suiting up into his bare-chested, red-headbanded "No More Mr. Nice Guy" mode. In a nice nod to the films, they've even given our guerilla hero a Stallone-like Brooklyn twang in his voice.
Instead of releasing all 65 installments of Rambo as a box set, Lionsgate has instead given us multiple volumes of the show with out-of-sequence episodes, surely not the presentation that fans were hoping for. At least the shows look okay, with only minor dirt, scratches, and other source artifacts. Much like the picture quality, the sound is unremarkable but reliable. As a mono TV soundtrack from the 1980s, there are no dynamics to speak of and the music and dialogue occasionally seem a little flat, but Lionsgate has at least presented them clearly, with minimal distortion. Those that have the other Rambo DVDs will find this release much on par with those releases. There are no extras included on the disc, but with 11 episodes, there isn't much room for anything else.
"For ages 5 and up" says the back of this DVD, but I heartily disagree. Though the film pays lip service to peace and understanding, it still distastefully glorifies warfare, and through its accompanying toys, undeniably encourages kids to wage their own major battles. Better to skip this release and buy the kids something constructive like Lego instead.
Review content copyright © 2006 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Not Rated