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LION'S GATE

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Ted Kotcheff
Cast:
Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy, Bill McKinney, Jack Starrett, Michael Talbott, Chris Mulkey, Alf Humphreys, David Caruso
Writing Credits:
David Morrell (novel), Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim, Sylvester Stallone

Tagline:
One war against one man.

Synopsis:
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.

Box Office:
Budget
$14 million.
Opening Weekend
$6.642 million on 901 screens.
Domestic Gross
$47.212 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:
None
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $9.98
Release Date: 11/23/2004

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary With Co-Writer/Actor Sylvester Stallone
• Deleted Scenes
• “Survival Mode” Interactive Feature


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
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.

RELATED REVIEWS


First Blood: Ultimate Edition (1982)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 14, 2008)

With 1982’s First Blood, Sylvester Stallone started to expand his repertoire beyond the world of Rocky Balboa. After the 1976 film of that name, Stallone did well with its sequels in 1979 and 1982 sequels, but other characters fared 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 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 him 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 from 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. However, Rambo doesn’t take the role of the American soldier. 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 schizophrenic 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 elements? This made no sense; his beef was 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 DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio B/ Bonus C+

First Blood 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. I didn’t expect much from this picture, as many flicks of the era haven’t held up well. To my surprise, the movie often looked quite good, with only a few problems along the way.

Sharpness seemed solid for the most part. At times, 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, but I did notice some light edge enhancement at times. Those haloes never seemed severe, but they were apparent on occasion.

Print flaws were a bit more of a distraction. Throughout the flick, I witnessed a moderate level of specks. Though I didn’t think these seriously marred the presentation, they were the transfer’s biggest problem.

First Blood featured a subdued, naturalistic palette, and the DVD 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. First Blood dropped below “A” level mainly due to the edge enhancement and the source defects, but overall, this was a solid image.

As for the film’s Dolby Digital 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 showed its age at times but seemed pretty solid for the most part. 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. Otherwise they seemed fairly clean and accurate, and some elements like explosions and thunder showed good low-end response. Music seemed acceptably bright and dynamic, as they score also displayed decent bass. This was a more than acceptable mix for an aging flick.

In terms of extras, the biggest attraction comes from an audio commentary with 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” (2:01), “Saigon Flashback” (2:28) and “Humorous Ending” (0:54). “Alternate” would’ve concluded things in a dark manner that could’ve prevented sequels, while “Flashback” 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.

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, Sheriff Will Teasle, Deputy Arthur Galt, Deputy Mitch Rogers, 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 Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Rambo’s knife, Punji stakes, Vietnamese booby trap, wild boars, triangulation, M16 rifle, MI36 rocket launcher, and M60 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.

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 DVD features good picture and audio as well as a strong audio commentary that highlights the otherwise pretty insubstantial extras. Action fans should definitely give First Blood a look, and this DVD creates a good version of the movie.

Note that this “Ultimate Edition” DVD of First Blood can be purchased on its own or as part of a three-disc set. The latter also includes Rambo: First Blood Part II 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 FIRST BLOOD

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