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Case Number 06000

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The Rambo Trilogy: The Ultimate Collection

First Blood
1982 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Rambo: First Blood Part II
1985 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Rambo III
1988 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Released by Lionsgate
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // January 17th, 2005

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All Rise...

Judge Joel Pearce drew first blood, not me!

Editor's Note

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: First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo III (published June 3rd, 2002), and Stallone: 3-Film Collector's Set (Blu-ray) (published September 7th, 2012) are also available.

The Charge

"Let me just say that Rambo is the best combat vet I've ever seen. A pure fighting machine with only a desire—to win a war that someone else lost. And if winning means he has to die, he'll die. No fear, no regrets. And one more thing—what you choose to call hell…he calls home." -Col. Trautman, Rambo: First Blood Part II

Opening Statement

The shirtless image of Rambo firing a machine gun with one arm is one of the biggest icons of 1980s Hollywood. He was an all-American soldier, the toughest badass in the world, who could stand up against any number of communists without fear. That image has often blocked out the truth: First Blood was a genuinely thoughtful anti-war film, which only afterwards developed into as bloodthirsty a franchise as has ever existed. This new "ultimate" edition of the trilogy doesn't help us to delve into that reality, but it offers a nice way to watch everyone's favorite lone wolf Green Beret in action.

Facts of the Case

A Vietnam veteran named John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone, Rocky) wanders into a small town called Hope, where he has a run-in with a sadistic sheriff named Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy, Presumed Innocent). Their encounter brings back some horrible memories of the war. When Rambo snaps and escapes, it begins a manhunt that will almost certainly end in tragedy. When the small sheriff's department realize they are up against a highly trained killer, more people are called in to deal with the threat, including Rambo's old commanding officer, Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna, Body Heat).

In Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo is pulled from prison to return to Vietnam. It seems that some American POWs are still trapped, guarded by the North Vietnamese and some truly evil Russians. Rambo is only supposed to do reconnaissance, but when the Americans leave him to die, he decides to just kill everyone instead.

Rambo III doesn't succeed as well at being politically conscious. Rambo is sent into Afghanistan when Trautman is captured by the even-more-evil Russians. Bringing his exploding long-bow arrows, his knife, and the glorious ideals of democracy, Rambo declares war on the Russian base with the help of a few "gallant Afghanis." Much carnage ensues.

The Evidence

• First Blood
When thinking of the Rambo Trilogy as a whole, it seems hard to believe that only one man is killed in First Blood. Many more are wounded and maimed, but this is a much more thoughtful film than either of its sequels. The question of what to do with veterans has been a serious problem in the past century, and this is one of the better looks at that phenomenon that has ever been filmed. Although Rambo's response is more extreme than most of us see in an average day, it seems perfectly plausible considering his past and the way he's been treated. In fact, for an action movie, it seems to avoid the standard structure. We aren't introduced to Rambo through violence, but rather through his quest to find the rest of his company; his friends from the war. Although Trautman warns that Rambo could cut his way through hundreds of police officers, it never happens. The result is a film that remains both exciting and thought-provoking, even years later.

• Rambo: First Blood Part II
In some ways, the second in the Rambo Trilogy stays true to the first while offering the explosions and deaths that were becoming more popular as the 1980s wore on. Rambo is given a chance to make a positive difference where he had failed before, and finds that bureaucracy is exactly the same in wartime and peace. With the North Vietnamese and Russians as enemies, he was able to shed a lot more blood without losing the respect of his patriotic American audience. While the first works better as a serious anti-war film, this one is a rip-roaring action-adventure, which at the very least works as a great example of mindless blockbuster entertainment. If First Blood is the story of Rambo battling his own demons, then Rambo is his heroic struggle against the evil "other" of the communists.

• Rambo III
The stated goal of Rambo III is to bring the series full circle; to bring Rambo back to being a great combat soldier. The end of the second film marks his great disillusionment with and rejection of the American military system. Here, he once again becomes the ideal American fighter: virtually indestructible, heroic, self-sufficient, noble, and wily. He's the contemporary equivalent of the Greek heroes. Unfortunately, the political situation into which he is placed isn't the right backdrop for this type of story. The situation in Afghanistan is far too complicated, and the Russian army seems even more out of place here than in North Vietnam. The portrayal of the Afghanis as noble warriors is similar to the way that the "noble savage" was depicted when Europeans arrived in the New World. Their solution doesn't exist inside their own actions, but rather through the involvement of a great warrior from America. This whole aspect of the film seems even more obvious than it did when the film was first released. The joking tone between Rambo and Trautman towards the end really undermines the feel of the whole series, and the conclusion is too ridiculous for words. And so, the Rambo Trilogy never does come full circle, even if that's what they wanted.

Not many people need to know how I feel about these films. What you do want to know, I'm sure, is what the discs are like. The transfers on all three are quite strong. The anamorphic widescreen images look excellent considering the age of the films. At times, all three are a bit washed out and desaturated, but the detail is great and they have been cleaned up nicely. The DTS tracks from the previous Special Editions are gone, but the Dolby 5.1 tracks have plenty of clarity, punch, and activity in the surrounds.

Where the discs really fall apart is in the extras. The real appeal of the set is supposed to be the "survival mode," an enhanced viewing mode that interrupts the film with annoying non-interactive distractions. These consist of Metabrief, which explains a bit about the characters. Clever viewers will realize that these are just like menu "character bios," except for the interrupting the movie part. Then, there is Metascope, which gives some quasi-military sounding jargon about the weapons and vehicles used in the film. There is also Metasight, which ironically just puts a green translucent target sign over the film image. And it beeps when a character is on the screen. Clever. The Metapoint mode shows a tiny overhead map of the area, showing movement of the characters. Finally, there is the Metamap mode, which builds a fake satellite image of the surroundings during action scenes. I can't speak for anyone else, but the last thing that I want in the middle of an exciting action scene is something this pointless breaking up the suspense. None of the information is very useful: those interested in the military specs will already know more than this, and other people won't care. It was a very poor choice to replace the DTS tracks with this lame survival mode.

Aside from that, there aren't many extras in the set. The first film features a newly recorded commentary track by Sylvester Stallone, which may be the highlight of the set. It's easy to forget that he is as intelligent and coherent as he is, and it's a great track to listen to. If it hadn't been for his additions to the script and input during filming, First Blood may have been a long-forgotten B-movie. The commentary track on the second disc, from director George Cosmatos, is not as strong. He has some amusing anecdotes, but generally just uses the time to explain the meaning of the film—something that most of us won't need to enjoy Rambo. The commentary track on Rambo III comes from director Peter Macdonald, who was brought in to helm at the last minute after starting as the second unit director. He is not a charismatic speaker, but the track offers some insight into why this film turned out weaker than the others.

In addition to the commentary tracks, there are some deleted scenes on the first and third films. These are fairly standard fare, but will be worth checking out for fans of the series. Of course, there were a lot more extras on the former special editions, including a full fourth disc of features that don't appear here. Perhaps this represents some confusion on the part of the studio as to exactly what "Ultimate Edition" means. Does this mean that it is meant to be the best release of this trilogy on DVD, or that it will be the last version of the films in our beloved format? Either way, this doesn't seem to be the preferred release of the trilogy on any level. The packaging isn't even as cool.

Closing Statement

The Rambo Trilogy is still great action entertainment. That said, the decision to call this disappointing delivery the "ultimate" DVD edition is more than a little deceiving. If you still don't have a copy of the trilogy on DVD, this is not the worst way to go. The transfers are solid and the commentary tracks have some value. That said, the previous edition has been discontinued, but it is still possible to find, and it's a much better value overall. If you do own the special editions, don't even consider grabbing this as a double dip.

The Verdict

I'm not stupid enough to try to detain the mighty John Rambo. I wouldn't want to be in the shoes of Lions Gate when he sees their latest money grab using his franchise, though. It's the kind of thing he would be against.

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• Action
• War

Scales of Justice, First Blood

Video: 90
Audio: 87
Extras: 65
Acting: 92
Story: 90
Judgment: 89

Perp Profile, First Blood

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, First Blood

• Survival Mode
• Deleted Scenes
• Commentary with Sylvester Stallone

Scales of Justice, Rambo: First Blood Part II

Video: 88
Audio: 84
Extras: 20
Acting: 85
Story: 86
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Rambo: First Blood Part II

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Rambo: First Blood Part II

• Director Commentary

Scales of Justice, Rambo III

Video: 85
Audio: 92
Extras: 60
Acting: 80
Story: 60
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, Rambo III

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• None
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Rambo III

• Director Commentary
• Deleted Scenes
• Survival Mode

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