Lionsgate // 1986 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // March 18th, 2006
"Get me Rambo!"
After the rise of home video and cable TV, enterprising young kids were able to spit in the eye of MPAA ratings and coerce their parents into letting them see otherwise "forbidden" films like Robocop and Friday the 13th in the '80s and '90s. Everyone seemed to be doing it, and before long these ultra-violent franchises were marketed directly to young kids, with debatably appropriate items like A Nightmare on Elm Street video games and action figures based on Alien and Terminator 2.
It should be no surprise that 1982's First Blood, the film that introduced the world to the bazooka-slinging John Rambo, also ended up as fodder for the aisles at Toys 'R' Us when the series was turned into an weekday cartoon show in 1986. Little more than a 22-minute animated toy commercial for miniature plastic warfare, Rambo drew heavily on the competing G.I. Joe show, recasting the disenfranchised Vietnam vet 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.
The final entry in their ongoing DVD series, Lionsgate's Rambo, Vol. 6: Face of Freedom presents the remaining 11 episodes of the show:
* Blind Luck
Rambo loses his sight in a battle with S.A.V.A.G.E., but with the help a young blind girl, he turns the tables on General Warhawk.
Rambo forgets to return his DVDs and must pay the ultimate late fee. No, just kidding, this one's about how T.D. Jones hooks up with the Force of Freedom.
* Change of Face
S.A.V.A.G.E.'s mad scientist Dr. Hyde develops a robot double for the president. Carnage ensues.
* Freedom Dancer
When General Warhawk steals the world's fastest racehorse, Rambo is on the case!
* General Warhawk's Curse
Rambo discovers a secret underground tunnel in ancient Turkish ruins that Warhawk is using to steal priceless treasures.
* Just Say No
The token anti-drug episode may just be the show's finest hour, an unintentionally hilarious look at troubled teen Johnny. When the kid is attacked by vengeful dealers with machine guns(!) Rambo steps in to save him.
* Mind Control
S.A.V.A.G.E. brainwashes a military scientist into handing over a top-secret laser.
How ambitious can you get? While flying to China, the vice president and half the cabinet end up in Warhawk's clutches. Rambo intervenes.
* Quarterback Sneak
Rambo and T.D. play football...for freedom! Going undercover on a professional team playing an exhibition game in a communist country, the guys save a scientist captured by S.A.V.A.G.E.
* Twin Within
Force of Freedom ninja White Dragon's evil twin Black Dragon infiltrates the side of good when he surreptitiously takes his brother's place.
Ignoring the more controversial aspects of marketing violence to kids, I found it surprising that Rambo also deals with some pretty broad ethnic stereotypes. Sure, the Force of Freedom boasts a pretty diverse hiring program, but that's where the show's sensitivity ends. If you want to take on Rambo, you'll tangle with wildly accented Asians, Aryan villains with pronounced German accents (and monocles in check), turban-wearing terrorists, kilted Scotsman, and over-the-top Cajun swamp-dwellers that would make the Kia spokesman blush with modesty.
Even more annoying than the pronounced racial caricatures is Rambo's entirely bland heroism. Though the poorly defined Force of Freedom only really populate the background in Rambo's adventures, the writers should have at least tried to give the titular character some semblance of a personality. As it is, Rambo drives around in a never-ending supply of jeeps and restores order while tossing off blatantly stupid one-liners like "I hope you don't mind if I shoot back" and "Watch where you're point that thing!" And you can forget about Rambo ever really sticking it to his enemies -- as in the G.I. Joe cartoon, every gun blast misses by a mile (even scoped rifles) and every errant grenade results in little more than dusty uniforms as Rambo looks for peaceful (read: boring) alternatives to solve his problems. Hell, the guy even feeds ducks in his spare time! It's not 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. Stripped of all the angst and excitement from the films, this Rambo is definitely lame-o.
Chock full of simplistic but generally well-rendered drawings, Rambo's choppy animation style is pretty typical for a 1980s weekday cartoon. Action scenes are 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.
Quite simply, Rambo is the show you used to watch after school while waiting for G.I. Joe to come on. Now that both series are on DVD, you can make better use of your time. Get me Rambo? Not likely.
Review content copyright © 2006 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 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