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Case Number 19355

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Rambo: The Complete Collector's Set (Blu-Ray)

First Blood
1982 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Rambo: First Blood Part II
1985 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Rambo III
1988 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Rambo
2008 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Released by Lionsgate
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // July 26th, 2010

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All Rise...

For Judge Dan Mancini, killing's a lot more difficult than breathing.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Rambo (Blu-Ray) (published May 27th, 2008), Rambo Collection (Blu-Ray) (published June 2nd, 2008), Rambo: Extended Cut (Blu-Ray) (published July 27th, 2010), Rambo: The Complete Collector's Set (published June 6th, 2008), 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.

The Charge

"You don't seem to want to accept the fact you're dealing with an expert in guerrilla warfare—with a man who's the best with guns, with knives, with his bare hands. A man who's been trained to ignore pain, ignore weather; to live off the land; to eat things that would make a billy goat puke. In Vietnam his job was to dispose of enemy personnel: to kill. Period. Win by attrition. Well, Rambo was the best."—Colonel Sam Trautman

Opening Statement

The film franchise known for over-the-top violence, greased up muscle posing, mullets, headbands, outsized survival knives, and needlessly baffling titles arrives with a high definition bang in this Blu-ray box set!

Facts of the Case

This four-disc Blu-ray edition of Rambo: The Complete Collector's Set contains the entire Rambo tetralogy, or quadrilogy, or whatever it is the kids are calling four-part series these days:

First Blood
A long-haired drifter named John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone, Rocky) wanders into the town of Hope, Colorado. He is immediately stopped by Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy, Ratatouille), who escorts him to the city limits and sends him packing. When Rambo returns to town, Teasle arrests him. At the stationhouse, Teasle's deputies get rough with Rambo, prompting the prisoner to beat the hell out of all of them and flee, first on a stolen motorcycle and then on foot. Teasle and his men pursue Rambo into the woods on the outskirts of town, but find their quarry incredibly resourceful and dangerous. The National Guard steps in to help, but Teasle's day is ruined by the arrival of United States Special Forces Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna, The Sand Pebbles), who informs the sheriff with whom he is dealing: John Rambo is a Congressional Medal of Honor-winning Green Beret, a Vietnam combat veteran who specialized in guerilla warfare. He's also the last living member of his unit. The atrocities of war and his poor treatment upon returning home to America have left Rambo traumatized, angry, and extremely dangerous.

Rambo: First Blood Part II
Sentenced to hard time after the events of First Blood, John Rambo is visited in a prison labor camp by Colonel Sam Trautman. The colonel has an offer: a presidential pardon in exchange for a mission that will take Rambo back to the jungles of Vietnam to confirm the existence of American prisoners of war still held in jungle camps. Though told by government stooge Marshal Murdock (Charles Napier, The Blues Brothers) that he is only to bring back photographic evidence of operational prisoner camps, Rambo takes it upon himself to carry out a rescue mission when he locates a group of emaciated American POWs. With the help of a covert American operative named Co-Bao (Julia Nikson, Sidekicks), our hero lays a smackdown on the North Vietnamese prison guards as well as the Soviet officer (Steven Berkoff, Octopussy) aiding them.

Rambo III
Having found a measure of peace as a construction worker and freelance stick fighting champion in Thailand, Rambo takes a pass when Colonel Trautman comes calling with another mission. It seems the colonel and his team plan to sneak across the border into Afghanistan in order to arm the Mujahedeen with stinger missiles to be used against their Soviet occupiers. When the mission goes squirrely, Trautman ends up the prisoner of a sadistic team of Soviet commandos. Without a second thought, Rambo strips off his shirt, oils up his pecs, slaps on a headband, grabs his trusty survival knife, and is off to Afghanistan to save his mentor and inspire the indigenous peoples of that dusty country that Soviet asses can, indeed, be kicked. Gunfire, explosions, and tank-versus-helicopter mayhem ensues.

Rambo
Twenty years after the events of Rambo III, John Rambo is still burned out and living in Thailand, though he's given up his career in stick fighting for a gig wrangling poisonous reptiles for the local snake charmers. A group of Christian missionaries approaches Rambo to take them upriver into war-torn Burma so that they can deliver medical supplies to the oppressed Karen people. Rambo thinks they're fools, but finally agrees to ferry them to their doom because Sarah Miller (Julie Benz, Dexter), the group's lone woman, is pretty hot. Ten days later, Rambo is paid a visit by the missionaries' pastor, who informs him that the team has disappeared. Rambo agrees to take a tough-talking group of mercenaries upriver to the spot where he dropped off the missionaries. It turns out that the missionaries were taken captive by a seedy Burmese military unit and are being held in a jungle camp. When the mercenaries prove ineffective against the hardened Burmese, all hope appears lost…until Rambo gives in to his preternatural talent for killing, grabs a .50-caliber machine gun, and proceeds to turn wave after wave of Burmese soldiers into ground chuck.

The Evidence

When I was a kid, thanks in large part to the Rambo movies, my friends and I placed Green Berets somewhere between ninjas and Jedi knights on the continuum of ultimate badasses. We earnestly believed they were unstoppable killing machines, capable of devastating entire foreign armies with little more than their wits, ability to ignore pain, MacGyver-like skill at building deadly booby-traps out of whatever happened to be handy, and vicious looking survival knives. Our faith in the prowess of Special Forces soldiers began with First Blood, a flick that gets a lot of props for being the most subtle and realistic of the Rambo movies. In fact, it is an over-the-top actioner that only appears subtle and realistic when compared to the escalating cartoonishness of subsequent entries in the series. Released only seven years after the end of the war, the flick is filled with the psychological angst that saturated American culture in the post-Vietnam era. Rambo is presented as a man who lost his soul during combat, and then lost his country upon his return (references are made to protestors spitting on soldiers and calling them baby killers).

First Blood is based on David Morrell's pulpy but tragic action novel of the same name. Directed by Ted Kotcheff (North Dallas Forty) and lensed by Andrew Laszlo (The Warriors), the movie has an appealingly rough-around-the-edges look and feel. Rambo and Teasle are a cookie-cutter hero/villain set whose conflict with one another arises so quickly and with such white-hot passion that it comes off as absurd to anyone paying too close attention, but Stallone and Dennehy play the characters so well that it's easy to look past the incongruities of plot. Dennehy's performance is particularly crucial to the movie's success. Unlike the cartoon villains in the subsequent films, Teasle is a hard-headed jerk who is also easy to like. Dennehy's easy-going charm makes the audience hope for a resolution to the story that spares both the protagonist and antagonist from tragedy, while subsequent movies in the series devolve into simple revenge fantasies in which one just wants to see the bad guys blown to smithereens. Kotcheff and his screenwriters (including Stallone) bypass Morrell's original downer ending, but still deliver emotional catharsis in the form of Rambo's gushing confession to Trautman that he feels betrayed by his country and left with no place in the world. I wouldn't exactly call First Blood a subtle, nuanced statement about the Vietnam War, but it is a gritty, charmingly low-budget, and effective action movie with likable characters played by capable actors and just enough political commentary to make it something more than run-of-the-mill.

Rambo: First Blood Part II, the second movie in the series, makes its intentions clear in the first reel when, faced with the prospect of returning to Vietnam for a covert mission, Rambo asks Colonel Trautman, "Sir, do we get to win this time?" The movie acts as a sort of one-man do-over of the war, allowing American audiences to experience the joy of (fantasy) victory. A quarter of a century after the release of the film, it's easy to forget that the trauma of Vietnam wasn't exorcized from the American psyche until Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard was subjected to the full force of U.S. military hardware during the first Gulf War. In 1985, the cultural after-effects of Vietnam were still tangible and immediate. By massaging that raw nerve, Rambo: First Blood Part II—a live-action cartoon revenge fantasy—would become the most successful film in the series and make John Rambo a bona fide pop culture icon. The movie is beyond ridiculous, but still fun for fans of mindless, over-the-top action. In it, Rambo frees a desperate POW, is captured himself, escapes, and then devastates his enemies first with explosive arrows and then with a highjacked helicopter. It's a simple, predictable storyline (written by none other than James Cameron of Avatar fame), but effective for those who like to see stuff (and people) explode into orange, red, and yellow balls of flame. George P. Cosmatos' (Tombstone) direction lends the film a graceless, utilitarian visual design; Stallone plays Rambo as a superhero stripped of much of the pathos from the first film; and the Vietnam setting isn't as potent as it was back in '85. Still, Rambo: First Blood Part II remains an entertaining piece of escapist action.

The big surprise of this set is the inexplicably titled Rambo III, which holds up much better than I'd expected. When I saw it in the theater, I despised it for being so outrageously inane that it made Rambo: First Blood Part II appear nuanced and thoughtful. Viewed in our current post-9/11 milieu, there's something delightfully skewed about one of America's most beloved cinematic action heroes aiding the Mujahedeen in their battle against the Soviets. The movie's plot and characterizations are stripped to the bone to make way for action, yet there's still room for out-of-left-field sequences as when Rambo plays an Afghani sport involving riding around on horseback clutching a goat skin. Peter McDonald's (The NeverEnding Story III) direction is (slightly) more elegant than Cosmatos' work in the previous film. The Israel desert locations (standing in for Afghanistan) are rich, textured, and a refreshing change of pace from the jungle settings in the previous movies. Though Rambo III once held a Guinness World Record for the movie with the highest body count, most of its action is concentrated in two scenes: the first, a Soviet helicopter attack on a Mujahedeen village that finds Rambo commandeering a machine gun in order to destroy the choppers; the second, the movie's climax in which our muscle-bound hero somehow manages to take down an airborne helicopter by ramming it with a tank (I'm not kidding). The entire movie is so utterly ridiculous that it absolutely demands that you not think and simply let the violence wash over you, but the limited number of references to Vietnam means that it feels less dated than the first two pictures (though, don't get me wrong, it's nowhere near as good as either—particularly First Blood). Revisiting the movie after over two decades, I was surprised by how tolerable it was as disposable (and nostalgia-filled) entertainment.

As with Rambo III, I really disliked Rambo the first time I watched it. Seeing it again, in the context of the entire series, I better appreciate what Stallone was going for, though it's still a fundamentally flawed movie. To its credit, the movie revisits the character of John Rambo much as he was in the original First Blood—sullen, angry, and lost. Perhaps the flick would have been a more satisfying return to form had it not come so closely on the heels of Rocky Balboa, a movie that was far more successful in recapturing the tone and spirit of its popular predecessor. But even absent Stallone's sleeper boxing hit, Rambo would be undermined by Sly's choice to veer into the bloody excesses of exploitation cinema (Stallone wrote and directed the picture, as well as starring in it). Maybe his intent was to reinvent the Rambo franchise for the no-holds-barred post-Saving Private Ryan era, but the gore is so extreme that it becomes unintentionally funny. As Rambo tore out a dude's larynx with his bare hand, or literally disintegrated his adversaries with a .50-caliber machine gun, I was laughing hysterically. I doubt that was Stallone's intent. Still, the movie was beautifully shot by Sly and cinematographer Glen MacPherson (Trick 'r Treat) (it's easily the best-looking movie in the series), and there was something surprisingly comforting about seeing that the aged former Green Beret was still fond of mullets and red headbands.

This Blu-ray edition of Rambo: The Complete Collector's Set is basically a high definition port of the previously released DVD box of the same name. Inside the single keepcase is a stack of four Blu-ray discs identical to the previously released Ultimate Edition Blu-rays of the first three movies as well as the BD of Rambo (sans the digital copy included in the stand-alone release). First Blood and Rambo are presented in 1080p/AVC transfers at their original theatrical aspect ratios of 2.35:1 and 2.40:1, respectively. The image for the earlier film is clean and impressive. Colors are cool and natural, detail is reasonably solid, and grain structure is consistent with the age of the source. Rambo sports a stylized, hyper-saturated color palette that comes across well in high definition. Detail is razor sharp. Black levels are inky without succumbing to crush. Rambo: First Blood: Part II and Rambo III are presented in 1080p/VC-1 transfers at their original 2.35:1 aspect ratios. Part II looks decent, but is surprisingly the softest of the four films and has the weakest black levels—though it looks like the deficiencies in the image may be rooted in the way Cosmatos shot it. Being the most brightly lit of the films, Rambo III delivers excellent detail (especially in its desert landscapes). Digital manipulation is controlled throughout the image, and the grain structure is tight and attractive.

Audio for the first three films is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio mixes in 5.1 surround that get brighter and more dynamic as the series progresses and benefits from larger budgets and more sophisticated recording technology. Rambo absolutely thunders with a DTS-HD Master Audio mix in 7.1 surround that delivers bright, clean dialogue as well as every subtle and not-so-subtle detail of explosions and gunshots.

In the extras department, First Blood receives two commentary tracks—the first by Stallone, and the second by David Morrell. There's also an alternate ending, a deleted scene, a Blu-ray exclusive trivia track, and a 22-minute making-of documentary called "Drawing First Blood." Rambo: First Blood Part II is served up with an audio commentary by George P. Cosmatos, a Blu-ray exclusive trivia track, and a 20-minute making-of called "We Get to Win This Time." Rambo III is accompanied by a director's commentary, eight deleted scenes, and a 30-minute feature about the Afghan-Soviet War, called "Afghanistan: Land in Crisis."

Rambo is provided with the most extravagant supplemental treatment. It includes a commentary by Stallone; a BonusView version of the commentary that allows for in-movie sidebars about the production; four deleted scenes; seven featurettes covering everything from Burmese history to the movie's editing and music; and trailers for all four of the Rambo movies.

Closing Statement

The Rambo movies are, in their own way, American movie classics. If you're a fan who doesn't already own any of the movies on Blu-ray, Rambo: The Complete Collector's Set is a great way to nab them for a budget price. These discs are identical to the previously released stand-alone Blu-ray releases, and offer little in the way of HD-exclusive content. Still, the upgrade in video and audio quality over the old DVDs is significant enough to warrant a double-dip.

The Verdict

God would have mercy. Rambo: The Complete Collector's Set won't.

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Scales of Justice, First Blood

Video: 90
Audio: 82
Extras: 85
Acting: 88
Story: 88
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile, First Blood

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, First Blood

• Commentaries
• Trivia Track
• Deleted Scenes
• Featurette

Scales of Justice, Rambo: First Blood Part II

Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 75
Acting: 85
Story: 75
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Rambo: First Blood Part II

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Rambo: First Blood Part II

• Commentary
• Trivia Track
• Featurette

Scales of Justice, Rambo III

Video: 90
Audio: 88
Extras: 80
Acting: 80
Story: 70
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, Rambo III

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Rambo III

• Commentary
• Trivia Track
• Featurette

Scales of Justice, Rambo

Video: 98
Audio: 98
Extras: 90
Acting: 85
Story: 75
Judgment: 77

Perp Profile, Rambo

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (French)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Rambo

• BonusView
• Commentary
• Deleted Scenes
• Featurettes
• Trailers








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