Judge Bill Gibron likes his '80s action heroes covered in blood...LOTS of blood.
Our reviews of Rambo (Blu-Ray) (published May 27th, 2008), Rambo: The Complete Collector's Set (published June 6th, 2008), and Rambo: The Complete Collector's Set (Blu-Ray) (published July 26th, 2010) are also available.
The Fight—and GORE—Continues…
Back in 2008, when it was announced that Sylvester Stallone intended on revisiting his iconic '80s action star John Rambo, contemporary audiences couldn't help but snicker. The then 62 year old actor was viewed as too 'weathered and worn' to play the role of a beefed up, butt-kicking Vietnam Vet with a vendetta the size of Saigon sitting on his steroid-pumped shoulders. The view maintained by many in the business was that the character—and its main champion—were past their prime and unable to resonate with a cynical, post-ironic demo. While a few held out hope, many wondered how a world which saw terrorists destroy twin symbols of American enterprise and a raging war in the Middle East would house such a hulking hero. And the questions about age and agility haunted the former superstar. The answer, apparently, was splatter. Stallone turned the simply titled Rambo into a 90 minute gore fest, complete with flying body parts, gallons of arterial spray, and more clever kills than a army of Jasons and Freddys put together. Crowds clamored.
Now, after a semi-successful relaunch, the artist inside the HGH artifice offers an "extended cut" of the original film. Fleshing out some of the character's motives and adding just a few moments of additional interaction, the new version of the film (retitled John Rambo) is effective, but not quite as gratuitously satisfying. The first time around, Stallone was only interested in blood and guts—and a sh*t load of them. Now, it appears he wants to give the brutal proponent of headband fashion a proper send-off, something perhaps inspired by recent reports that Part IV was indeed the last time we'd see his take on Rambo on the big screen (he's apparently nixed demands for Part V—though the studio may go on without him). With nine more minutes and a few reconfigurations, this does feel like a new experience—and not necessarily in a wholly proper or positive way.
The story remains the same. A group of missionaries looking for access to battle-weary (and genocide happy) Burma track down Rambo in Thailand. Currently rustling poisonous snakes for a tourist show and shuttling supplies up and down pirate infested rivers, the jaded shell of a man refuses to lend his boating skills and help. But then Sarah (Julie Benz, Dexter) explains the plight of the poor Karen people, a decent race being systematically wiped out by a corrupt General using the Burmese Army as his own assassination squadron. Reluctantly, he ferries the group to their location. When they go missing, the leader of their church (Ken Howard, Michael Clayton) asks Rambo to help a group of mercenaries find them. Newly inspired, he joins the soldiers for hire and begins to almost single-handedly save the day…again.
The best aspect of the original Rambo was how serious and sluice-covered it was. Stallone set up the premise with some quick new footage of Burmese atrocities, got the group of innocents in big John's boat, dragged them up river and placed them in danger. With a bunch of Central Casting grunts cursing a blue streak by his side, Rambo walked into Hell, opened up the pilot light, and turned the gas on H-mofoing-HIGH! The next thing you know, random military pawns are being parsed in half by a spray of heavy artillery shells, limbs (and in some cases, whole limbic systems) are flying in the Asian breeze, and clouds of concentrated vein juice are filling the sky. To paraphrase the great drive-in critic Joe Bob Briggs, "heads roll, arms roll, intestines roll, brains roll…there's snake fu, arrow fu, submachine gun fu, knife fu, rock fu…bare handed throat ripping, suggested sodomy, and man eating pig action. Check it out!"
Now, the new John Rambo is more concerned with a solid send-off than offal. Sure, the violence is still over the top and anarchic, pushing the envelope between outrageous and realistic. Yes, there are more than enough explosions and bodily harm bombast to keep Big Jim McBob and Billy Saul Hurock happy for weeks. Stallone is still stone-faced and stoic, doing things for his own interpretation of nobility and his goal is still easy to explain. But by complicating his case, by backloading the bloodshed into what seems like the last half hour, John Rambo goes a bit schizoid. It's somber and sobering at the start, a little goofy in the middle (including a weird franchise encompassing flashback bit) and then suddenly slides directly into balls-out and ballistic at the end. Even the credit sequence finale, meant to bring the character full circle, seems inherently dour, as if we are supposed to get our gratuitous thrills this time around, and then basically give up on the man. Rambo was a gory delight. John Rambo is a tad more solemn, if just as splattery.
Now, the bad news. No, nothing regarding the image or audio. More on that in a moment. For fans of the film (and previous DVD/Blu-ray releases of same), this shockingly sparse edition of John Rambo will send you reeling. Gone are commentary tracks and major Making-of featurettes. In their place? A 83 minute Production Diary (decent, but not great) and some trailers. Toss in the standard high definition froufrou and you've got a disappointing digital rerelease. Something like this MANDATES a new alternate narrative, if only to hear Stallone muse on the changes he made. Without it, the package seems half complete. Visually, the MPEG-4 AVC 1080p image looks excellent, the only problem being how harsh the format can be on simplistic CGI. During a memorable bow and arrow assault, many of the hits look incredibly fake. Still, the 2.40:1 transfer is terrific—clean and crisp. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is also impressive, filling your speakers with the low guttural growl of Stallone's speaking voice or the amazing blast BOOM of the various high powered weapons. Your rafters will definitely be shaking after this sonic experience.
For any fan of the final Rambo (at least, the one starring an aging Italian Stallion), this new version will be both enlightening and aggravating. The delight will come from Stallone's obsession with engaging ultra-violence. The irritation will come from a Blu-ray release that skimps on the supplements.
No Guilty. As a movie, it's an amazing, if now slightly more stern slay-ride. As a high end format presentation, it's a little less defensible.
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