George P. Cosmatos
Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Charles Napier, Steven Berkoff, Julia Nickson-Soul, Martin Kove, George Cheung, Andy Wood
Kevin Jarre (story), Sylvester Stallone, James Cameron, David Morrell (characters)
What most people call hell, he calls home.
Although the Vietnam War is officially over, Rambo remains the perfect fighting machine. But his survival skills are tested with a vengeance on a top-secret mission that takes him back to the jungles of Vietnam in search of American POWs. For when Rambo is double-crossed, this "expendable" hero, armed with just his bow, arrows and knife, must defeat savage enemies equipped with deadly firepower.
$25.520 million on -unknown- screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Runtime: 95 min.
Release Date: 11/24/2004
• Audio Commentary With Director George P. Cosmatos
• “Survival Mode” Interactive Feature
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Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.
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Rambo: First Blood Part II (Ultimate Edition) (1985)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 15, 2008)
1982’s First Blood finally broke Sylvester Stallone’s long streak of duds. If he starred in a movie that didn’t contain the word “Rocky” in the title, it stiffed. While First Blood didn’t break any box office records, it made a nice piece of change and allowed the actor to finally earn some fame as someone other than the Italian Stallion.
However, Stallone wouldn’t become a superstar until the 1985 release of the sequel, Rambo: First Blood Part II. Most sequels make substantially less money than their predecessors, but ala Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Rambo greatly outdid the original. However, Shagged’s success was a foregone conclusion; everyone expected that heavily hyped sequel to make a fortune. The same didn’t occur for Rambo, which essentially crept up on everyone. Almost out of nowhere, it became a major hit that earned a solid $150 million in the US, which marked a huge increase over the original film’s $57 million or so.
And so a new cultural icon was born, and a very different one than the character seen in the original film. In the movie, Rambo suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and went over the edge due to flashbacks from his experiences in the Vietnam War. For the sequel, however, it seems that Rambo conquered all his demons and now can become the new John Wayne.
At the start of Rambo, we encounter the title character (Stallone) in a prison chain gang. (Note that Rambo offers one of the most abrupt openings I’ve ever seen. The film begins with no credits of any sort; it jumps right into a shot of the work camp. At first I thought my DVD was defective and it skipped a chapter, but it soon became apparent this wasn’t the case.) As Rambo does his time, former commander Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) comes a-calling to ask for a favor. There’s pressure to find out if any POWs remain in Vietnam, and since the territory in question covers Rambo’s old stomping grounds, he seems to be the best man for the job.
With the promise of a potential pardon for a successful mission, Rambo appears wary - he asks if he’ll be allowed to win this time - but he accepts anyway. Rambo and Trautman head to Southeast Asia, where they meet the command team that runs the operation. Headed by Special Ops commander Marshall Murdock (Charles Napier), this group seems a little seedy and suspicious. They equip Rambo and send him into the jungle to meet his local contact named Co Bao.
After some drama when Rambo almost doesn’t survive the parachute jump, he connects with Bao, but gets a shock when he turns out to be a she (Julia Nickson). The two head to the allegedly abandoned prisoner camp and soon discover it’s not quite as empty as the authorities thought. Although ordered just to snap some pictures of the compound, Rambo takes action and rescues one of the prisoners.
With this man in tow, Rambo heads to the pick-up spot, but the chopper refuses to help him. When Murdock hears that Rambo actually found someone, he immediately aborts the mission and leaves Rambo and the others on their own. The Vietnamese troops - who we soon learn get substantial assistance from the Soviets and their boss, Lt. Colonel Podovsky (Steven Berkoff) - immediately capture Rambo and the POW, but Co Bao manages to escape.
Podovksy tortures Rambo to get more information about his mission and to convince the others to stay away, but of course, our favorite former Green Beret manages to escape with the aid of Co Bao. The two regroup in the jungle but trouble finds them again, and Bao doesn’t make it. This intensifies Rambo’s sense of revenge - he already swore to go after the treacherous Murdock - and he literally becomes a one-man army.
From there, the movie turns into nothing more than one long body count. Not that the preceding scenes offer much that seems different. No one will ever refer to Rambo as a subtle film, though in a weird way, whatever charm it possesses stems from its blunt manner. Without the psychic pain evident in the first movie, this Rambo is such a simple and archetypal character that despite the movie’s flaws, he still makes an impact.
But make no mistake: Rambo suffers from many problems. The latter half of the Eighties provided a surfeit of exceptionally violent and mindless action movies, and Rambo created the basic template for those. Personally, I think this trend reached its nadir with Schwarzenegger’s Commando; even as a young adult, I recall how truly bored I became with the flick’s never-ending parade of slaughter.
That area offers one of Rambo’s main concerns. The film features such a thin plot and characterizations that it gives us little more than death on a stick, and its second half really consists of little more than mayhem. In the hands of John Woo or James Cameron, this might have become watchable, but George Cosmatos lacked the skill to make the violence anything other than banal and tiresome.
Speaking of Cameron, he actually wrote the film’s original screenplay; Stallone later rewrote it. I don’t know which man to blame for Rambo’s persistently laughable dialogue. Does it get much worse than Rambo’s assertion that “I’ve always believed that the mind was the most dangerous weapon”.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers also decided to saddle Rambo with some moments of alleged humor. After Rambo barely escaped a parachuting snarl, he explains his tardiness to Co Bao with “I got hung up”. Not only does this line seem insanely predictable and lame, but also it appears badly out of character for our strong, silent hero. The series would further degenerate during 1988’s Rambo III, which presented a ridiculous degree of comedy, but I still didn’t care for this film’s poor attempts at humor.
Rambo mildly benefits from some good actors like Berkoff and the usually interesting Napier. However, none of them can overcome the flat and stereotypical origins and make their roles work. Rambo featured Nickson’s cinematic debut; based on her performance, I’m surprised she ever got another job. She got stuck with some bad pigeon English dialogue and did nothing to bring any life to the part. Her romantic scene with Stallone remains one of the least convincing ever filmed.
I never really understood the popularity of Rambo: First Blood Part II back in 1985, and I can’t say I get it any better now. The movie possesses a certain heroic energy usually lost in this sort of effort, but it remains a bland and formulaic action flick.
The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio B / Bonus C-
Rambo: First Blood Part II appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. After the strong visual presentation of First Blood, I expected an attractive image for its sequel, and it didn’t disappoint me too much.
Overall, sharpness seemed fine. On a few occasions, some wide shots displayed a little softness, but this never became a significant issue. The picture usually looked nicely crisp and detailed. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, and I saw only minor signs of edge enhancement. In regard to print flaws, a little grit popped up at times, but this remained minor and the picture seemed nicely clean and fresh most of the time.
The palette of Rambo favored greens and tans, and the disc showed these tones well. The hues seemed accurate and distinctive, and they presented no signs of noise, bleeding or other issues. Black levels came across as deep and rich, and shadow detail usually seemed appropriate. A few scenes - such as those at dawn - looked a little hazy and murky, but in general, the low-light sequences appeared clean and clear. Ultimately, Rambo presented a strong picture and earned a solid “B+”.
While fine for its era, I thought the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Rambo offered the weakest audio of the three movies. The soundtrack provided a decent soundfield. The forward spectrum dominated the proceedings and offered reasonably good spread across the front at times. However, those elements seemed erratic. During some scenes - like an early one with a jet engine - the front channels showed good breadth and activity. On other occasions, though, they reverted to almost monaural despite the presence of effects and music that could spread across the front. Surround usage seemed minimal, as the rear speakers contributed little more than general reinforcement of the front spectrum.
Audio quality appeared acceptable but not great. Dialogue seemed a little flat but the lines generally sounded reasonably distinct and they lacked any signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music lacked much range, as the score consistently came across as moderately thin and lifeless. Effects varied. At times they packed a solid punch, but on other occasions, they seemed wan and failed to deliver much low-end material. Loud sounds kicked the bass to life, but the rest of the track seemed less vivid. In the end, Rambo: First Blood Part II presented audio that appeared decent for its era, but it lacked the force of the other two movies in the series.
This release of Rambo: First Blood Part II provides a modest mix of extras. We get an audio commentary from director George P. Cosmatos, who delivers a running, screen-specific piece. Boy, does this track stink! For one, vast amounts of time pass between many of the director’s remarks; the commentary suffers from tons of dead space. When Cosmatos does provide information, it tends to be very rudimentary and technical; he generally talks about some simple camera techniques and he rarely tells us anything of substance. I doubt that even die-hard Rambo fans will enjoy this boring track.
An interactive feature called Survival Mode offers some additional options. Periodically during the film, an icon appears onscreen to notify you that you can access “Survival Mode” components. Hit “enter” and check out the material as the flick progresses.
I don’t care for features that make the movie stop and start like that, so I’m happy the DVD includes a “Direct Access” area that gathers the “Survival Mode” pieces under one roof. “Access” breaks into five domains. “Metabrief” shows us “intelligence dossiers” for five characters: John Rambo, CO, Whitfield C. Hamilton (The POW), Michael Reed Ericson, Lt. Colonel Podovsky, Marshall Murdock and Colonel Trautman. These contribute fairly interesting – though stat-oriented – biographies for those personalities.
“Metascope” provides info about a mix of topics that crop up during the film. It tells us a little about Rambo’s court martial, weapons issued for the military, Rambo’s knife, Russian rocket launcher, how Rambo got his scar, the North Vietnamese prison camp, Rambo’s bow and arrows, leeches, electrocution as torture, Buddhist monks, Rambo’s explosive arrow tips, Hind MI-24 Russian assault helicopter, and Rambo’s machine gun. Though these are presented as running clips, they mostly consist of text; they appear as video footage so we can see the movie sequences in which they appear. As with the “dossiers”, these are rudimentary but enjoyable.
Over in “Metasight”, we get a weird look at some of the threats posed to Rambo. It views these concerns as though seen through the eyes of the Terminator and analyzes the various dangers. It’s an odd feature and not one that adds anything to the package.
Next comes “Metapoint”, a similarly strange effort. It displays a bizarre – and not useful – topographical grid to track Rambo’s movement. As with “Metasight”, it seems like a waste of time to me.
“Survival Mode” ends with “Metamap”. It follows in the same path as the prior two components as it shows an awkward global satellite view of two segments. Maybe someone will enjoy it, but I think it’s useless. Really, “Metabrief” and “Metascope” are the only moderately involving “Survival” features – and even they aren’t anything special. The whole “Survival Mode” feels like a silly gimmick much of the time.
Rambo: First Blood Part II stands as one of those time capsule movies; when asked to define pop culture in the Eighties, it must come up in any discussions. However, that doesn’t actually make it a good movie. Rambo lacks the depth and heart to make it a success, as it mostly just runs up a big body count. The DVD provides good picture along with adequate sound and a weak mix of extras. For Rambo fans, the DVD merits a purchase, as it presents the film well. I can’t recommend the dated and silly movie to anyone else, though.
Note that this “Ultimate Edition” DVD of Rambo: First Blood Part II can be purchased on its own or as part of a three-disc set. The latter also includes First Blood and Rambo III. Each of the three films can be found individually, but the collection saves you some money if you want all of them. Bought separately, they’d go for a total of about $30, but taken as a package, they list for $22.98. That’s a good price if you do like all three flicks.
To rate this film visit the original review review of RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II