Our reviews of Rambo Collection (Blu-Ray) (published June 2nd, 2008), 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: The Ultimate Collection (published January 17th, 2005), and Stallone: 3-Film Collector's Set (Blu-ray) (published September 7th, 2012) are also available.
"Who do you think this man is? God?"
Is there any cinematic character from the 1980s as iconic as John Rambo? Not content to just be a loud action hero, Rambo instantly clicked with audiences as a solider, an American symbol and a guy who makes things go "ka-boom." Rambo became such an American icon of patriotism and freedom that he was even used in a speech by then-president Ronald Regan. 1982 saw the beginning of Rambo's adventures with the violent First Blood. In 1985, Rambo returned for another round of carnage in the hit sequel Rambo First Blood Part II (co-written by James "Titanic" Cameron). The final installment, Rambo III, brought everything full circle as Rambo heads into Afghanistan to rescue his friend and mentor Col. Trautman. In the early days of DVD, all three Rambo movies were released by Artisan in mediocre editions. The studio has decided to make amends with fans by releasing a new four-disc DVD set that features all three Rambo movies with newly produced extra features, sound and video, along with a fourth disc of supplemental materials (available only in the box set). Raise your flags and polish your guns…John Rambo is back!
Facts of the Case
Upon finding out that his entire platoon of buddies have been killed due to the ravages of war (cancer, et cetera), Vietnam vet John Rambo (Stallone) drifts into a small American town and wages a one man battle against the town's sheriff (Brian Dennehy, Tommy Boy) and his entire fleet of deputies! After being thrown into the town prison for loitering (he's not very welcome around these parts), Rambo is beaten and abused by a few of the local officers (including a very young David Caruso). Escaping into the foggy mountains, Rambo is hunted by a battalion of men…or is it Rambo that's doing the hunting? When his old war mentor Col. Trautman (Richard Crenna, Sabrina) is called in to help get Rambo under control, Rambo must make a gut-wrenching decision: continue his fight or find his inner peace.
Needless to say, Mr. Rambo is a prime candidate for some serious analytical therapy.
Rambo: First Blood Part II
Sylvester Stallone is back as one man killing machine John Rambo in Rambo: First Blood Part II! While spending his days chipping away rocks at a local prison quarry, Rambo is once again confronted by his old friend Col. Trautman (Crenna). It seems that there are still some POWs in central Vietnam that are in need of rescuing. In exchange for possible freedom, the United States has asked Rambo to go in and find the missing men. Rambo reluctantly agrees and meets up with Murdock (Charles Napier, The Silence of the Lambs), the gruff leader of this dangerous mission. After a rocky start in the jungle [Editor's Note: I think there was an unintended pun there somewhere.], Rambo meets up with Co Bao (Julia Nickson-Soul), an attractive ally who helps Rambo kick some ass. When Rambo finds out about some double-crossing by Murdock and his men, Rambo decides that it's once again time for a one-man war against the evil forces of the American government!
The final installment of the Rambo series finds John Rambo (Stallone) working with a group of monks as a handyman in Thailand. It seems that Rambo may have finally found the peace of mind he's been looking for all these years. But wait! Who's that in the distance? Why, it's Rambo's good friend Col. Trautman (Crenna) back to enlist Rambo into yet another mission overseas! This time, Trautman and intelligence officer Griggs (Kurtwood "Bitches Leave" Smith, Robocop) want Rambo's help in saving Afghan Mujaheddin from the Russians. Afghanistan in turmoil? Who'da thunk it? Seeing as Rambo has already given enough to his country, he respectfully declines. However, when something on the mission goes wrong and Col. Trautman is captured by the Russians (oh, those naughty Russians!) led by the vicious Colonel Zaysen (the late Marc de Jonge), Rambo once more takes up arms to save the one man he truly calls "friend" and Afghanistan from the clutches of the Russian empire!
Sylvester Stallone will always be known for two characters: Rocky Balboa and John Rambo. While both characters sound as if they're chewing marbles, the two couldn't be more different: one is a down-on-his-luck boxer, while the other is a down-on-his-luck Vietnam vet. Wait! Well I'll be…maybe these guys DO have a lot in common (aside of being played by the same sleepy-eyed, stone-jawed actor)! John Rambo is a film icon that everyone knows; you may not have seen the films, but when someone blurts out "I'm your worst nightmare!" you know exactly what movie series they're quoting.
I'm still a bit giddy after watching all three of these films in a row (too much caffeine? You be the judge). While I'm a passive guy and wouldn't harm a fly, I did have the sudden urge to blow something up real good. All three of the Rambo flicks are pure adrenaline popcorn movies: it's Sly vs. mankind via rockets, machine guns, and hunting knives. I was pleasantly surprised at how much action each of these films contained (especially the explosively exhilarating Rambo: First Blood Part II). I think for some odd reason I expected there to be plenty of action, but mostly on a small scale. Well hot damn, was I wrong! Cars blow up, helicopters blow up, people blow up…by the end of Rambo III, I was waiting to see if Stallone would finally produce an explosion out of the kitchen sink!
Not surprisingly, the three movies work best in descending order: First Blood is a taut, tough thriller with great performances throughout; Rambo: First Blood Part II is not quite as tight though it produces even more explosive action scenes; and Rambo III, while exciting, is the weak link in the trilogy's chain. In the first film, Stallone already has the tone and ticks of Rambo down to a science; at first, he's a quiet loner, then a silent hunter, and by the end, we see John Rambo break down like a three year old who's lost his lollipop. I was a tad bit shocked to find myself warming up to the guy. Rambo: First Blood Part II finds Rambo…umm…well, doing the same thing he did in First Blood, except this time…uh…it's three years later. Rambo III then finds Rambo…well, creating more havoc. You get the picture. These movies don't require in-depth characterization. The wrinkled, beady eyed Richard Crenna makes up the supporting cast, walking in and out of each movie spouting such truthful wisdoms like "Rambo will find you, then pull arms and legs off. We made him that way!" and "Hell is his home, the Devil is his buddy, and brimstone his meal of choice!"
If you really feel like taking a probing eye to these films, you'll notice an anti-establishment theme running throughout—yes, Rambo won't be pressed down by "the man" or our evil government. While there is some rhetoric about the evils of our government, the Vietnam war, et cetera, most of it is sidelined for Rambo looking really sweaty and cracking people's skulls. At one point during Rambo: First Blood Part II, the script even tries to interject a love story between Rambo and his female counterpart, played by the adorable Julia Nickson-Soul. Sadly, it doesn't work out: some relationships just don't stand up to long distance or frantic work hours…or in Rambo's case, heavy artillery.
I wholeheartedly recommend all three Rambo movies for those of you who enjoy your action in plentiful doses. Some may feel these films are relics of the 1980s; I think they're just a big old bag of good natured, gun toatin' fun. I wouldn't have it any other way.
First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III are all presented in newly anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfers. Having never seen Artisan's original DVD releases, I can't really compare the two. However, I was impressed with how good all three of these films look. Not surprisingly, Rambo III is the best of the transfers since it is far newer than the original two and was also given a much larger budget ($65 million, which was $25 million more than the studio wanted to spend). Each of these transfers sport a small amount of dirt and edge enhancement, though overall I didn't find it to be distracting to the viewing. The color schemes and flesh tones all look bright and natural while the black levels appear solid and well saturated. While no one will mistake any of the Rambo transfers for reference quality, fans should be pleased with how nice all three discs look. Also available on side B of each disc is a 1.33:1 full frame version of the film, though the widescreen version of the film is highly recommended.
Each soundtrack for the three films has been remixed in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Alas, the sound mixes on these three films didn't grab me quite as hard as the video presentations. While there are some nice surround sound elements in these mixes (especially in Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III), overall the soundtracks are filtered mainly through the front and center speakers. Ambiance and background noises are the biggest benefactors of the mixes, though in a few fun action sequences you'll hear some great ricocheting bullets and overhead choppers. Thankfully, all aspects of all the soundtracks are clear of any hiss or distortion. If I had to pick one I'd go with the DTS mixes; they just sound a bit richer. Also included on each disc is the original Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround soundtrack, as well as Spanish subtitles.
And now we get to the extra features, which is where this set really shines. First off, the four DVDs come in a handy book-like fold out case which is wrapped up in a fancy metallic sheath (bowie knife not included). Each Rambo disc has been updated with new extra features, including:
First Blood: a commentary track by writer David Morrell, "Drawing First Blood: Creating John Rambo" all-new documentary, production notes, cast and crew information, and a theatrical and teaser trailer. The commentary track by David Morrell is knowledgeable and very enticing. His thoughts on the story, characters, and production make this commentary well worth the listen. "Drawing First Blood: Creating John Rambo" is a great look at how the film came to be along with interviews by the cast and crew, including Mr. Rambo himself, Sylvester Stallone. This very engaging 20-minute documentary is sadly all too brief.
Rambo: First Blood Part II: commentary track by director George P. Cosmatos, "We get to win this time: The Rambo Phenomenon" all-new documentary, production notes, cast and crew information, and a theatrical trailer. The commentary track isn't quite as exciting as First Blood's due to Cosmatos' dry delivery and fairly mundane storytelling. However, there are some nice nuggets of information packed away in the track making it an above average listen. "We get to win this time: The Rambo Phenomenon" is a well produced documentary that features cast and crew interviews discussing why Rambo was (and still is) so popular, where he fits in the cultural landscape of cinema (and America), and how Sly feels about seeing his face on a kid's Thermos. Another well produced documentary if I do say so myself.
Rambo III: commentary track by director Peter MacDonald, "Afghanistan: Land in Crisis" all-new documentary, production notes, cast and crew information, and a theatrical trailer. This commentary track by director MacDonald is officially the least exciting of the three tracks. MacDonald sometimes comes up with engaging production stories, though the truth is there are far too many gaps of silence, making this commentary pretty bland. On the other hand, "Afghanistan: Land in Crisis" is a neat little documentary that tends to focus more on the Afghanistan region than it does the movie, making this an entertaining and informative featurette (and relevant because of the events on September the 11th).
The fourth bonus disc on this set if filled with all kinds of "Rambo" bits and pieces for the war nut in all of us. Artisan has made this fourth bonus disc available only in the new collector's set (i.e., it isn't available anywhere else). The supplements on the fourth disc include:
• "The Real Nam: Voices from Within": a fascinating documentary on the real Vietnam, including interviews with peace activists, congressmen, veterans, and more. This is probably one of the best features on this disc and is well worth your time.
• "Guts and Glory": yet another look at Rambo and his impact on America, including interviews with Los Angeles professor Douglas Kellner, author Susan Jeffords, producer Andrew Vajna, Sylvester Stallone and others. This feature focuses not only on the films and their impact on society, but also the marketing of the character (Rambo masks! Rambo toys! Rambo lunchboxes!). President Ronald Reagan's famous Rambo "we get to win this time" speech/quote is also included for you staunch Republicans.
• "The Forging of Heroes: America's Green Berets": a fairly bland look at…duh…America's fighting force. This feature includes some interesting footage of the war and the berets in action.
• "Rambo-nomics": a look at the Rambo budgets, grosses, money laundering, et cetera. Interestingly, American audiences had cooled to the Rambo character and films far before the overseas audiences had. The wacky Germans, always behind on the times.
• "Suiting Up": a quick montage of movie clips and information on the weapons and arsenal from the series. Recommended only for drooling weapons experts and psychopaths.
• "Selling a Hero": a fun piece on the history of the Rambo toys, including the original figures and their prices. For those of you who always wanted to see the Rambo films reenacted via action figures, here's your chance. Goofy, but fun.
• "First Blood: A Look Back" and "Rambo III: Full Circle": two montage sequences featuring clips of the films put to music. A pointless rehash of the films.
• "An American Hero's Journey: The Rambo Trilogy": yet another look at the films, their impact, production, history, et cetera. More interviews, more clips, more of everything. Can you say the word "redundant"?
Finally, there is a Rambo Trivia game for fanatics, and some sneak peeks (AKA trailers) for a few upcoming Artisan DVD titles.
"God must love crazy people! He makes so many of them!" I love that line…and isn't it just so true? I must be insane to say this, but I really had a ball watching all three of these flicks. While each film is available individually, I recommend this box set for those who like their action shaken, stirred, and in large doses. The bonus disc should placate fans who thirst for even more Rambo knowledge and history. Artisan's work on this set may not be perfect, but it's pretty darned good.
You can't lock up Rambo. No one can. He will always have a long hard road ahead of him…which is why he's free to go. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice, First Blood
Perp Profile, First Blood
Distinguishing Marks, First Blood
• Commentary Track by Writer David Morrell
Scales of Justice, Rambo: First Blood Part II
Perp Profile, Rambo: First Blood Part II
Distinguishing Marks, Rambo: First Blood Part II
• Commentary Track by Director George P. Cosmatos
Scales of Justice, Rambo III
Perp Profile, Rambo III
Distinguishing Marks, Rambo III
• Commentary Track by Writer Peter MacDonald
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