Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy, Bill McKinney, Jack Starrett, Michael Talbott, Chris Mulkey, Alf Humphreys, David Caruso
David Morrell (novel), Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim, Sylvester Stallone
One war against one man.
Sylvester Stallone stars as ex-Green Beret John Rambo, a shell-shocked Vietnam vet adrift in the Pacific Northwest. Harassment by an unsympathetic small-town sheriff brings on nasty flashbacks of torture at the hands of the Viet Cong; after busting out of the jail where he has been unjustly imprisoned, our psychically-scarred hero vows to get revenge on the ungrateful sheriff. Before blowing the sheriff and his town away, however, Rambo must use his jungle smarts to elude the relentless posse of state troopers and National Guardsmen who pursue him through the forest.
$6.642 million on 901 screens.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS-HD HR 5.1
Runtime: 96 min.
Release Date: 2/6/2007
• Audio Commentary With Co-Writer/Actor Sylvester Stallone
• Audio Commentary with Writer David Morrell
• “Out of the Blu” Trivia
• Deleted Scenes
• “Drawing First Blood” Documentary
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Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.
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First Blood [Blu-Ray] (1982)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 7, 2012)
With 1982’s First Blood, Sylvester Stallone started to expand his repertoire beyond the world of Rocky Balboa. After 1976’s Rocky, Stallone did well with its sequels in 1979 and 1982, but non-Rocky films did less well.
First Blood changed that. As John Rambo, Stallone created another American icon who would gain notoriety beyond the screen. Eventually Rambo would become analogous with John Wayne as the concept of a stereotypical gung-ho, shoot-first, think-later American.
That idea wouldn’t take root until 1985’s sequel, however. First Blood seems at odds with the notion of Rambo as American avenger, as the movie dealt more with the pain of the Vietnam vet.
At the start of First Blood, we meet former Green Beret John Rambo (Stallone), a drifter who visits Oregon to see an old war buddy. However, he soon learns that this pal died from cancer he contracted due to chemicals used in battle. Rambo starts on his way to nowhere in particular when a local sheriff named Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy) hassles him and tries to make John leave town. This doesn’t sit well with the proud veteran, and he resists Teasle’s prompting.
Though Rambo did nothing wrong, Teasle arrests him and problems ensue. In this situation, Rambo flashes back to his treatment in POW camps, and this causes him to react violently. Eventually Rambo breaks out of the jail and heads from the woods. Obviously, the cops head after him, and one particularly zealous officer named Galt (Jack Starrett) tries desperately to nail Rambo with his rifle. Galt eventually falls from a helicopter and dies.
Though Galt died due to his own aggressiveness, Teasle blames Rambo, and he comes after John with full force. Eventually the National Guard arrives, but they don’t do much better. A full war situation develops with Rambo against the forces. To assist, Rambo’s former commander Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) arrives on the scene; he tries to assist with the situation and let the folks know what they’re up against, but the gung-ho cops pay little attention to the reality of the situation.
First Blood offers an odd experience due to the way it views the Vietnam War. On one hand, it comes during the first wave of acceptance for the Vietnam vets. Both public and governmental groups treated those soldiers poorly when they returned. During the early Eighties, public awareness of this issue increased, and popular sentiment finally tried to redress those wrongs. At least at the start, First Blood acts as a metaphor for that situation. Rambo encounters public indifference and censure that echoes the treatment of the vets.
However, once Rambo runs from the police, the metaphor shifts and it more strongly reflects the actual war experience. Rambo doesn’t take the role of the American soldier, though. Instead, he fits the status of the Viet Cong! Rambo takes to the woods and uses the environment to his advantage, whereas the cops and National Guard come across as boobs; despite their superior numbers and firepower, they can’t beat one determined and resourceful foe.
This seems like an oddly muddled approach, but it works fairly well for the most part. As an action film, First Blood provides a reasonably tight experience that follows the “Rambo against the world” story. The film features little plot, but it maintains a good sense of drama as it progresses, at least until it runs toward its conclusion. The last act contains some improbable and excessive acts, especially in the way Rambo turns against the whole town. Why did he decide to blow up a gas station and some other spots? This makes no sense; his beef is with Teasle and his ilk, so why go after the general population?
Stallone does well in the role, at least to a degree. As with most of his work, Stallone handles the physical demands of the part nicely. He makes Rambo an aggressive and believable personality who we easily accept as a one-man army.
However, when Stallone needs to deal with more subtle moments, he fares less well. His flashback reactions seem excessive, and his emotional breakdown at the end looks almost laughably overwrought. Stallone really belongs in the silent era; he’s great when he doesn’t talk.
A modest hit, First Blood deserved that status. The film provides a reasonably compelling and engaging affair, but I don’t think it exceeds that level. It offers a fairly taut action tale that has some slow spots but generally works well.
The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B / Audio C/ Bonus B
First Blood appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though usually good, this was an inconsistent presentation.
Sharpness varied. Some shots demonstrated terrific definition and detail, while others could be somewhat smeared and soft. I thought the transfer used a bit too much noise reduction at times, and that may have caused some of the tentative shots. Overall clarity remained good, though, and I noticed no shimmering or jaggies. Edge haloes were absent, and source flaws were minor; I detected a handful of specks but nothing more.
First Blood featured a subdued, naturalistic palette, and the disc replicated those hues nicely. The colors came across with good accuracy and depth, and they showed no signs of noise, bleeding or other issues. Black levels came across as dark and dense, while shadow detail seemed appropriately heavy; though some shots could be a bit thick, that was clearly due to the original photography. Only the issues with noise reduction and softness made this a “B” image, as it had more strengths than weaknesses.
As for the film’s DTS-HD HR 5.1 soundtrack, it provided a fairly solid soundfield. The forward spectrum dominated the proceedings and offered reasonably good spread across the front. Music showed nice stereo presence, while effects moved cleanly and accurately across the channels. The surrounds added occasional reinforcement, and they also became more active during a few scenes; helicopters would zoom from front to rear, and dogs barked in the back. However, the front presented the strongest presence, and the track seemed to offer a reasonably involving soundfield.
Audio quality turned into a weak link, though. Speech sounded slightly thin on occasion, and a little edginess appeared. However, dialogue generally was distinct and natural, and I discerned no problems related to intelligibility. Effects displayed minor distortion at times, mainly due to gunshots, and those elements tended to seem somewhat feeble; even explosions and “big bang” sequences lacked much heft. The score also failed to deliver good range, as the music sounded thin and weak. The soundfield was fine for its age, but the quality of the audio seemed mediocre at best.
The Blu-ray mixes extras from a couple of different DVD release. We find two separate audio commentaries, the first of which features novelist David Morrell. According to the credits, Morrell had no direct involvement in the movie; they based it on his book, but that was that. Because of this, I didn’t expect much from the commentary other than a comparison of the two, and I thought this would be a bland piece.
I was wrong on both accounts. Yes, Morrell does tell us many differences between novel and film, but he also adds a slew of great production notes and anecdotes about the film. He possesses a wealth of knowledge about the movie - and the rest of the series, it appears - and he offers an engaging and lively personality. Almost no dead spaces appear, and Morrell only occasionally tells us what we see on the screen. Usually he interjects a quick statement in that regard but then quickly returns to his story. Folks who like commentaries that stick heavily to the onscreen action might not like this one, but I think it provides a consistently entertaining and informative track.
The second commentary presents co-writer/actor Sylvester Stallone. He provides a running, screen-specific chat that looks at the “curse” of the project and his reluctance to take the role, aspects of the character and his performance, the other actors, their work and their parts, stunts, action and fights, the script and rewrites, location and sets, and some tensions during the shoot.
Though he plays many monosyllabic characters, Stallone proves very chatty in real life. He gives us plenty of good information about the flick and his work throughout this discussion. Stallone throws in many entertaining anecdotes such as how Kirk Douglas almost played Troutman, and he’s not above telling potentially embarrassing tales about himself. Stallone fades a bit as the track progresses, but he offers more than enough nice material to make this a winning commentary.
Three Deleted Scenes come next. We find “Alternate Ending” (2:06), “Saigon Flashback” (2:30) and “Humorous Ending” (0:59). “Alternate” would’ve concluded things in a dark manner that could’ve prevented sequels, while “Flashback” shows Rambo on R&R. The latter is most notable due to its use of a song that sounds a whole lot like Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” – but not enough for a lawsuit, I guess. It also offers some very nice nudity from an unnamed Asian actress, but it would’ve felt out of place in the final film. “Humorous” is really just an outtake; clearly the filmmakers never considered it for use. (Note that these titles come from a prior DVD; the Blu-ray doesn’t offer specific names for the different scenes, but it includes the identical deleted sequences.)
After this we find Drawing First Blood, a 22-minute, 35-second documentary about the movie. The program mixed shots from the film, production stills and other archival materials, and recent interviews with participants. In the latter area, we hear from director Ted Kotcheff, novelist Morell, executive producers Andrew Vajna and Mario Kassar, producer Buzz Feitshans, and actors Sylvester Stallone and Richard Crenna. Despite its brevity, the program offers a very nice look at the production. It traces the film from its origins as a novel through early attempts to make it, casting, and various aspects of the shoot. We see some stills from an unused ending, and also check out a poster that featured Kirk Douglas in Crenna’s role, but unfortunately, we don’t watch any actual footage of either. Nonetheless, “Drawing” provides an entertaining and informative piece that seems consistently enjoyable.
Out of the Blu offers a trivia presentation. With this activated, pop-up windows will tell you about the original novel, changes made for the screen, production notes, survival facts, wounds incurred by movie characters, and some other elements. The pop-ups don’t appear with much frequency, but they add some decent information, and the presentation is unobtrusive enough that you can watch the movie and not mind the presence of the windows.
The disc opens with ads for The Descent and Crank. These also show up under Blu-ray Trailers, which actually launches the Blu-ray again. No trailer for First Blood appears here.
Although its sequels made Rambo a household name, I think only the original film stands up after all these years. First Blood has its flaws, but it generally offers a vivid and compelling action flick that also includes more depth than usual. The Blu-ray provides positive picture and some interesting supplements but the audio seems thin and lackluster. Despite the soundtrack concerns, this was a fairly nice release.
To rate this film visit the original review review of FIRST BLOOD