In town you're the law, out here it's Judge Paul Corupe. Don't push it. Don't push it or he'll give you a war you won't believe. Let it go. Let it go.
Anywhere and everywhere the S.A.V.A.G.E. forces of General Warhawk threaten the peace loving people of the world, there's only one man to call…
When violent Vietnam vet John Rambo first made his debut in the 1982 film First Blood, few could have predicted he'd round out his career with a tour of duty on a weekday afternoon cartoon show. An outcast survivalist who used heavy artillery to blow away his army pursuers in bloody revenge for his personal military nightmares, Rambo probably shot up more people on screen than the average 10-year-old has met, but animation studio Ruby Spears still wasted no time in cashing in on his name with Rambo, a 1986 syndicated action-adventure show based on the violent character.
In Lionsgate's fourth DVD of the series, Rambo, Vol. 4: Up in Arms, it's obvious just how much the show was inspired by the success of the G.I. Joe animated show and accompanying toy empire. Forget about plots and characters—the entire purpose of the show was to turn this shirtless, rocket launcher-toting symbol of American might into a four-inch plastic doll. In an effort to fill out Rambo's world with additional action figures, he was recast by Ruby Spears as the leader of The Force of Freedom, a peacekeeping unit under the command of Colonel Trautman. With his liberty-loving, multicultural cohorts Turbo Johnson, a mechanic and weapons specialist, master of disguise K.A.T., ex-footballer T.D. Jones, and ninja White Dragon, Rambo battles the evil General Warhawk and his S.A.V.A.G.E. organization, including Gripper, Sgt. Havoc, biker Mad Dog, and a terrorist named Nomad.
As part of their ongoing DVD series, Lionsgate's Rambo Vol. 4: Up in Arms presents another 11 episodes of the questionably appropriate show:
• Alpha, Arms & Ambush Part 1
• Alpha, Arms & Ambush Part 2
• The Doomsday Machine
• Exercise in Terror
• Horror in the Highlands
• Deadly Keep
• Terror beneath the Sea
• Turbo's Dilemma
• Vote of Terror
• The Angel of Destruction
As in the G.I. Joe cartoon, gratuitous gunfire, explosions, and weaponry definitely defined this series, but here Rambo is a peacenik sissy compared to his take-no-prisoners on screen persona—the animated star of this show would rather attend peace conferences and talk tenderly to deer than ram grenades down the throats of his oppressors. Even when the big guy gets his war on, the only casualties are jeeps, walls, and the occasional guard tower—never any living, breathing friend or foe. It's not entirely surprising that death and disaster is downplayed in a kid's show, but it also removes all possibilities for suspense—we know that Warhawk will do something bad, Rambo will arrive and some vehicles will blow up, and the bad guys will miraculously get away after being soundly defeated.
More importantly, though, Rambo was focused strongly on introducing possible toys for the simultaneously released "Rambo and The Force of Freedom" action figure line. No matter if the plot calls for them or not, the show is insistent about displaying a parade of impractical vehicles like motorcycles armed with missiles, ATVs armed with missiles, flying platforms armed with missiles, and helmets armed with missiles. In one episode, Rambo even flies around in a detachable tank turret equipped with wings (and, not surprisingly, missiles). It's creepy marketing synergy at its most overt. The fat cats in the highly lucrative plastic missile industry must have been beside themselves with glee.
The choppy animation style is pretty typical for a 1980s weekday cartoon, with simplistic but generally well-rendered drawings. Action is handled relatively well, and cash-saving shortcuts are kept to a minimum—except for a recurring sequence of Rambo suiting up into his bare-chested, red-headbanded "No More Mr. Nice Guy" mode. In a nice nod to the films, they've even given our guerilla hero a Stallone-like Brooklyn twang in his voice.
Instead of releasing all 65 installments of Rambo as a box set, Lionsgate has instead given us multiple volumes of the show with out-of-sequence episodes, surely not the presentation that fans were hoping for. At least the shows look okay, with only minor dirt, scratches, and other source artifacts. Much like the picture quality, the sound is unremarkable but reliable. As a mono TV soundtrack from the 1980s, there are no dynamics to speak of and the music and dialogue occasionally seem a little flat, but Lionsgate has at least presented them clearly, with minimal distortion. Those that have the other Rambo DVDs will find this release much on par with those releases. There are no extras included on the disc, but with 11 episodes, there isn't much room for anything else.
"For ages 5 and up" says the back of this DVD, but I heartily disagree. Though the film pays lip service to peace and understanding, it still distastefully glorifies warfare, and through its accompanying toys, undeniably encourages kids to wage their own major battles. Better to skip this release and buy the kids something constructive like Lego instead.
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