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John G. Avildsen
Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue, Martin Kove, Randee Heller, William Zabka, Ron Thomas, Rob Garrison
Writing Credits:
Robert Mark Kamen

He taught him the secret to Karate lies in the mind and heart. Not in the hands.

Presenting the complete Karate Kid Collection, a rousing collection of four uplifting, coming-of-age adventures that will leave you cheering! Two teenagers learn important lessons in life, friendship and the art of self-defense from their wise mentor, Mr. Miyagi. Starring Ralph Macchio, Oscar®-nominated Noriyuki "Pat" Morita (Best Supporting Actor, The Karate Kid, 1984) and Academy Award®-winner Hillary Swank (Best Actress, Boys Don't Cry, 1999).

Box Office:
Domestic Gross
$90.800 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 127 min.
Price: $36.95
Release Date: 2/1/2005

• Commentary with Director David Avildsen, writer Mark Kamen, actors Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita
• “The Way of The Karate Kid Parts 1 and 2” Featurette
• “Beyond the Form” Featurette
• “The Way of Bonsai” Featurette
• Trailers

Available only as part of The Karate Kid Collection


Mitsubishi WS65315 65" TV; Pioneer VSXD409 Home Theater Receiver; Sony DVP NC665P 5 Disc DVD player; KLH Home Theater Speakers


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The Karate Kid: The Karate Kid Collection (1984)

Reviewed by Brian Ludovico (February 17, 2005)

The Karate Kid starts with young Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio), moving from Newark, New Jersey, to sunny southern California, as his mother Lucille (Randee Heller) has gotten a job in the computer industry that she couldn’t turn down. When he arrives just before the first day of his senior year, Daniel’s outgoing nature helps him get invited to an end-of-summer beach party where he first encounters comely Ali (Elizabeth Shue).

Daniel doesn’t know he’s flirting with the wrong girl until her bully ex boyfriend Johnny (Bill Zabka) shows up with his gang of thugs. When Johnny becomes confrontational with Ali, Daniel steps in even though he’s far smaller than Johnny. A fight ensues, and when the dust settles, Daniel finds himself in a heap on the beach with a black eye, and his new “friends” leave him that way.

That’s just the first of several beatings at the hands of Johnny and his gang of thugs, all of whom are students at Cobra Kai Dojo, where Sensei Kreese (the masterful Martin Kove) teaches his students a special brand of martial arts: “strike first, strike hard, no mercy.” No matter how many beatings he gets at the hands of the blond mob, Daniel doesn’t back down. In fact, he plays a prank on Johnny at the school’s Halloween dance and ends up at the receiving end of a particularly brutal attack. Beaten to unconsciousness, a mystery hero saves Daniel from a coma or worse by jumping the fence and taking out the five Cobra Kais all by himself.

That hero, of course, is Mr. Miyagi (Oscar-nominated Pat Morita), the maintenance man at the apartment complex where Daniel and his mother live. With Miyagi’s help, Daniel strikes a deal with the Cobra Kai: he’ll be left alone to train in Miyagi’s karate, so long as he enters the All-Valley tournament and faces them in the ring. Daniel and Miyagi undertake some now famous unorthodox training, mostly Daniel doing manual labor around Miyagi’s bucolic home in a salvage yard. Daniel learns the spiritual value of karate as well as how to defend himself from bigger and stronger bullies like Johnny. When All Valley comes around, Daniel uses the rudimentary moves and the Miyagi values to conquer his demons.

I wish there were more to say about The Karate Kid from a narrative standpoint, but the fact is that while this movie has become many things to many people, it certainly isn’t is complicated or original. The Karate Kid is another iteration of the most recognizable themes in all of storytelling: the David and Goliath story. A smaller, weaker person stands up to incredible odds and overcomes because of heart and mind rather than brute physical force has been seen many times. Be it the On the Waterfront or Rocky, everyone can recognize the skeleton of these stories, but what differentiates the good from the bad is the meat of the films and the characters.

Starting with Daniel, they aren’t overly detailed characters for the most part. We connect with him immediately because at some point in our lives we’ve all been that fish out of water, just like Daniel, a paisan lost in a sea of blondes, riding his Huffy rather than a Honda. Daniel doesn’t let his circumstances get him down, even after getting beaten like a drum for the first few weeks of school. He is defiant to a fault, chivalrous, respectful and funny. He’s a kid with a lot of qualities we all had, plus a few of the qualities we may wish we’d had. His mentor, Miyagi, produced the film’s lone Oscar nomination. Morita’s Miyagi is basically a real-life Yoda, playing the dignified master with wisdom, grace and perhaps most importantly, humor. Toshiro Mifune was originally supposed to play the role with a more militaristic and austere style, but Morita’s funny and human character works far better.

The villains are almost hilariously broad-stroked. Johnny is the bully we all hated and feared in high school, the boy who was more physically developed than the rest, stronger, athletic, good looking and arrogant. He seems driven by pure rage around Daniel and complete haughtiness around Ali. At every chance, if he isn’t beating Daniel up, he’s embarrassing and insulting him. His cronies, the Cobra Kai kids, are caricatures of the high school pack mentality, so much so that they’re almost laughable. There’s only one instance in the film where a Cobra Kai says “okay, that’s enough” to Johnny. At some point, I think at least one of these kids would just say “Why do we care?” Their master, though, is perhaps even shallower.

Shallow though he may be, the inimitable Martin Kove plays Kreese just a hair shy of having him twist the end of his moustache and laughing in a foreboding crescendo as he ties Ali up on a railroad track. He represents the Dark Side of karate, the aggressive and seething anger of martial arts. The Kove also makes some of the most hilariously evil faces in movie history throughout the film. I often wondered why Kreese was so concerned over Daniel and Miyagi…the guy has a successful business and a lot of students who pay a pretty good penny to learn his style of karate. What does he care if Miyagi or Daniel want to live their lives? And isn’t he worried at least a little about the legal ramifications of teaching this way? If five of these kids put someone in a coma, how long until Cobra Kai Inc. is held liable? The Kove’s Kreese doesn’t care one whit. Good for you, Marty.

In the last ten or so years, the Eighties Movie has become a genre unto itself, boasting such classics as The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Weird Science. Indisputably, The Karate Kid belongs in that same pantheon of film. Even though it’s not an original or unpredictable story, it’s a fantastic underdog movie that continues to draw audiences in and gets them to respond emotionally. With its core of good morals like ‘walk away if you can’ and ‘last resort only,’ some fantastic characters, a classic ‘final showdown’ scene and some fine direction, The Karate Kid is true family entertainment. It’s fun enough to make you have mercy on it for giving rise to questions like “Why did Daniel’s mom go to California to work in computers without checking out the benefits package first?” and “If she went to work in computers, why does she now want to be a waitress?” Take the advice of Magical Marty Kove: sweep the leg of this movie right into your collection.

Do you have a problem with that, Mr. Lawrence?

The DVD Grades: Picture D+/ Audio C/ Bonus C+

The Karate Kid appears in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD and has been anamorphically enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Frankly, having waited so long for a decent edition of this film on DVD, I have to say I’m pretty disappointed in the transfer. There appears to have been absolutely no restorative effort put into this picture at all. In fact, this picture quality is hardly better than broadcast.

We’re not talking about problems with edge enhancement, artifacting or any other technical nitpick that comes up in this portion of reviews. In The Karate Kid, it doesn’t take a critical eye to spot the problems: we’re talking about color and clarity. From the very beginning, The Karate Kid is completely overwhelmed by picture grain, and there are no signs of improvement over the running time. Though the problem is more obvious on larger displays, it’s certainly evident even on a 27” monitor. It’s not some slight issue that can just be ignored, it really mars the entire presentation.

Colors are so tired and beaten that it appears the film stock is covered in a layer of dirt. There isn’t a single sequence in the film where the picture qualifies as “vibrant,” an accomplishment considering color schemes weren’t exactly subtle in 1984. The most egregious examples of both problems are particularly noticeable during scenes in Miyagi’s office, and the interior of his home, and the final fight scenes just look horrible. Black depths are tested most during the scene where Johnny and his crew of cronies chase Daniel down after the Halloween dance, and respond reasonably well. Overall, this looks more like an episode of The A Team than a special edition DVD.

The audio fares a little bit better than the video, which is to say that the Dolby Surround 2.0 track is more a victim of its own time than of lassitude. With the format as it is, we do have a couple of instances of lateral directional effects, particularly when the Cobra Kais are riding around menacing people on their dirt bikes. Localization is limited mainly to Bill Conti’s musical direction, specifically the orchestral (or “good”) portions. The non-orchestral rockish elements are plain offensive, but that’s because they’re horrible pieces of music, not because the DVD fails them in some way. Clarity is the main issue here, and for the most part, The Karate Kid is pretty successful, with clear character interaction throughout.

In the three disc set The Karate Kid Collection, the original The Karate Kid is the standard bearer for bonus materials, which is only right considering it’s easily the best of the films. We start out with a two-part featurette called The Way of The Karate Kid. For some reason, it’s divided into two parts, both about twenty-two minutes long. I watched them back to back, and the result is a fantastic retrospective that’s basically everything a Kid fan could ask for. It reunites everyone in the film of interest, discussing the experience of production from casting to impact on their own daily lives, to what their roles in Karate Kid meant to them. The best parts of the featurette are the interviews with the actors: Pat Morita, Ralph Macchio, Billy Zabka and the man himself, The Kove. They all seem to relish rather than shrink from the film that’s the highlight in all four of their careers. The Kove, of course, is the pinnacle of the featurette, talking about calling John Avildsen an “asshole” before getting cast, and how Avildsen didn’t want the smiling, happy go lucky Kove. He wanted dark, brooding Kove. The Kove delivers.

The featurette also contains heavy content from director John Avildsen and writer Mark Robert Kamen. Avildsen, who directed Rocky, talks a lot about the process of making the film while we see a disturbing number of production stills featuring him directing in Daisy Duke shorts and nothing else. I wasn’t a big fan of the overly-self-impressed writer, either. He’s also one of those annoying people who actually use the Asian pronunciation for “KAH-da-tay.” I appreciate the desire to be multicultural and authentic, but if you’re a white guy, just stick with the English pronunciation, “kuh-RAH-dee.” It’s like those annoying people who go into Dunkin’ Donuts and ask for a “kwah-SANH.” It’s ‘cross-ONT’ on this side of the Atlantic.

The next featurette, Beyond the Form, is a thirteen minute interview with martial arts consultant - and the referee in the final match - Pat Johnson. He talks very passionately about the martial arts and their relation to his life as well as to the film. Particularly interesting are Johnson’s details on his methodology when training each of the participants. He wisely used the training time to instill in the actors some of their characters’ values. For example, he wanted Ralph and Pat to form a friendship and to show the relaxed, spiritual values of karate. He trained them together in a very calm, relaxed environment. For the Cobra Kai kids, he was very rigorous and regimented, but trained them all together so they developed a little of the pack mentality. It’s an interesting piece.

East Meets West: A Composer’s Notebook is an eight-minute interview with the film’s composer and musical director, the famous Bill Conti. Conti is another guy who comes off as entirely self absorbed, talking about how he “can control your emotions” and the like. Don’t get me wrong, Conti writes a great sports-film theme, but he’s no John Williams. He talks about developing cues for every character and mixing Eastern instruments with Western style, but he gives the impression he wrote Beethoven’s Fifth.

I much preferred the final featurette on the disc, Life of Bonsai. This runs about ten minutes and features California bonsai expert Ben Oki. He’s an easy-going elderly Asian man who discusses his many years working with the trees made famous by the film. It’s an interesting piece as Mr. Oki details several different styles of bonsai trees, methods of making bonsai, his influences, and tips on how to make a nice one for yourself.

The most anticipated feature on the disc has to be the feature length commentary track with director John Avildsen, writer Mark Robert Kamen, and actors Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio. The four of them have a lot of fun together, avoiding too much technical information and sticking mainly with anecdotal material. As a result, it’s a very easy listen, but at times can be a little busy as the participants try to step over each other. The whole track has the feel of a bunch of friends reminiscing about a really great time in each of their lives. Pat Morita’s consistent references to Elizabeth Shue’s nubile young body are a little bit disturbing, but overall it’s a track worthy of the film. Strangely enough, Kamen splits at about the ninety five minute mark; what kind of schedule does this guy have?

We wrap the disc up with trailers for The Karate Kid as well as its sequel, but the trailer for the original draws some serious ire from this viewer. It’s got perhaps the worst case of Zemeckisitis this side of anything directed by Robert Zemeckis. Can we leave something to discover in watching the film?

Note that The Karate Kid is only available as part of the three-disc set “The Karate Kid Collection”, which also includes The Karate Kid Part II, The Karate Kid Part III, and The Next Karate Kid. Though I normally frown on studios forcing inferior sequels on a movie fan who enjoys only one movie in a series (also known as “Back to the Future Marketing”) - particularly when those sequels are as shoddy as parts three and four of this saga - I have to recommend the set. At the rock bottom online price of under $30, I have to recommend the set based solely on the strength of The Karate Kid. Despite its sub-par technical marks, it’s simply a fantastic movie with a whole lot of heart on a disc with a solid bonus package.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3703 Stars Number of Votes: 27
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