Judge David Johnson doesn't think these movies would have been nearly as awesome if Rambo's last name was "Winfrey" or "Hamburger."
Our reviews of Rambo: The Complete Collector's Set (published June 6th, 2008), Rambo: The Complete Collector's Set (Blu-Ray) (published July 26th, 2010), The Rambo Trilogy: First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo III (published June 3rd, 2002), The Rambo Trilogy: The Ultimate Collection (published January 17th, 2005), and Stallone: 3-Film Collector's Set (Blu-ray) (published September 7th, 2012) are also available.
"Do we get to win this time?"
America's post-Vietnam, all-beef action hero returns fire in high-def and the Commies will suffer. Oh yes they will suffer.
Facts of the Case
John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa) is a highly-decorated Vietnam combat vet, skilled in the art of guerilla warfare and supremely lethal when f-ed with.
Just ask the redneck sheriff's department (First Blood), the combined forces of the North Vietnamese and the Russians (First Blood Part II) and the entire Soviet invasion force of Afghanistan (Rambo III). Apparently no one gets the memo, but that's fine because that just means more people to shoot in the nose with explosive-tipped arrows.
John Rambo is an iconic American film figure for good reason. He sports all the characteristics we love in our action stars: he doesn't talk through his problems, choosing to communicate through gunfire and stabbing; he's invincible, repelling even the fiercest attacks from napalm and missiles and trees; he doesn't leave his men behind, no matter what the blubbering Washington bureaucrats say; he stands up for his fellow soldiers even when dickhead hippies call them babykillers; he breaks necks while covered in mud; he jumps off of cliffs; he fights for money; he blows up small towns in the Pacific Northwest; he slaughters the real-life enemies of the United States; he kills wild boars with his bare hands.
His maiden voyage into cinematic lore, First Blood was far from the typical action movie extravaganza. Wandering around with little direction, the John Rambo we see in the first movie is a listless, damaged soul, the horrors of Vietnam festering beneath his façade. He runs into some slack-jawed yokel cops that immediately give him a hard time, pushing and pushing, forcing him to rebel and from then on, the viewer is thrust into a weird situation: the main character engaged in a violent mini-war with small-town-America authorities. First Blood could technically be called an anti-war movie, as we see the traumatic effects combat has had on our hero. Rambo's nervous breakdown at the end is as heartbreaking an anti-war statement as you can get. But what it certainly is not is anti-soldier, unlike much of the "anti-war" sculch that's coming out of Hollywood these days, where America's warriors are psychotic or naïve or pathetic. It is very clear that Stallone and company are making a statement about the shabby treatment of Vietnam vets upon their return home, and judging by the box office numbers and popular reception of the film, it's evident that this redemptive look at the Vietnam soldier was cathartic.
If First Blood was cathartic, then First Blood: Part II was a climactic Howitzer blast of ejaculate. Not content with moving beyond the horrors of Vietnam, Rambo opts to go back and do things the right way—the Rambo way. And that means undertaking a covert mission to bring back American POWs. When Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) approaches a now-incarcerated Rambo about the mission, dangling a Presidential pardon as incentive, John agrees, asking "Do we get to win this time?" Oh, hellz yeah! So into the lion's den Rambo goes again, and promptly finds himself engaging the North Vietnamese and a special, surprise guest—Soviets! All the pent-up angst over the Tet Offensive and the fall of Saigon and the peacenik-spitting erupts into a flurry of bullets and bazooka fire and yada yada yada the Commie body count is in the triple figures and America's bravest are back home and Rambo's triceps are nearly the size of the Catskills. Rambo II is a great action picture, jammed with big set-ups including a chopper chase, one-man guerilla warfare, RPGs to the face and the world record for most exploding huts in a feature film.
Then along marches Rambo III, with our hero now biding time in a monastery and earning some extra coin on the side through no-holds-barred stick-fighting. Trautman once again reappears in his life and invites him on a mission into Afghanistan, to covertly join the Afghans in their fight against the invading forces of the Soviet Union. Rambo passes, but after Trautman is captured by the Russkies, decides to go in and get him out. He meets some Afghan freedom fighters, who aid him in his quest to blow the @#$% out of their country. The political subtext of the Soviet massacre of the Afghan people is here, but overwhelmed by the sheer amount of carnage that goes down. Rambo infiltrates a Soviet fort and kills a bunch of guys, commandeers an attack helicopter and kills a bunch of guys, squares off with an entire legion of the USSR's best troops with only a rifle and a grenade thrower and kills a bunch of guys and jumps in a tank, rams a helicopter and kills a bunch of guys. The action is glorious, but I'd be lying if I said this third chapter didn't start to slip into the realm of self-parody.
For a 26-year old film, First Blood looks surprisingly good in its new Blu-ray outfit. The Pacific Northwest setting offers a woodsy, gritty setting, but the 1080p upgrade renders the surroundings well. Much of the action takes place in the forests and the earthy color levels stay strong throughout. When the mayhem shifts to the town in the final act the color palette changes and gives the HD transfer more to work with. Explosions, gunfire, police lights, it all looks great—for an older movie. The audio (DTS HD and 5.1 Dolby Digital EX) is clean but not hugely dynamic. The mix gets more active when the major action kicks in.
Extras: Two commentary tracks, one with Stallone and one with author David Morrell, a trivia track, deleted scenes and, the highlight, a terrific documentary called "Drawing First Blood."
First Blood: Part II
Wow, what a difference three years makes. If the original film looked moderately better on Blu, the sequel is an evolution that can only be measured in light years. Thirteen years old, but rivaling the picture quality of more modern HD releases, Rambo II is a feast for the eyes. And with the jungle setting of the film, that feast is rich. Lush foliage, contrasted with giant balls of pyrotechnics makes for an absolutely beautiful display. Really, this video treatment is off the charts. The DTS HD Master track has a lot more to do this time around, and when Rambo gets cooking, the sound work is aggressive.
Extras: A laid-back commentary track with director George Cosmatos, trivia and the second part in the documentary series, titled "We Get to Win This Time."
Another excellent-looking bump in picture quality gives the films 2.35:1 treatment some real sizzle. With the deserts of Afghanistan as the backdrop, the bright, arid colors are rich in all of their 1080p glory, and the beaucoup military hijinks that unfold pop from the screen. Detailing holds up admirably in darker sequences (the prison infiltration and seer escape). This DTS track (5.1 HD Master) is more active than in the other two discs. Then again, the level of things happening on-screen is upped as well.
Extras: (Sporadic) commentary from director Peter MacDonald, a fine documentary called "Afghanistan: Land in Crisis" and the trivia track.
Rambo's high-def debut is a shotgun blast to the crotch…in a good way. The films looks great, sound great and, as far as Reagan-era hardcore shoot'em up action bonanzas go, are great. Grab your ammo belt and roll out.
What the @#$% do you think, you damned dirty hippie?!
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• Two Commentary Tracks
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