Most of this disc’s extras appear under the category of “Mission Files”. You can access them individually or together via the helpful “Play All” option. The domain starts with a surprisingly strong documentary called The Real Nam: Voices From Within. The 26-minute and 54-second program focuses on the war with no discussion of the Rambo films. It combines archival footage and stills with new interviews. In the latter category, we hear from former Senator Robert K. Dornan, author Howard Zinn, former California Senator Tom Hayden, Republic of South Vietnam Colonel Le Khac Ly, and US veterans Michael McDonnell, Major Mark A. Smith Sr. (Ret.), Harold Bell, and S. Brian Willson.
Despite the relative brevity of the program, “Voices” offers a genuinely terrific examination of the war in Vietnam. We get a quick history of the conflict, but the emphasis focuses on actual experiences of veterans and their reactions. It mixes a range of perspectives from hawks to doves, and it does so in a fair manner. Moderately graphic, the program pulls no punches and it offers a hard-hitting and extremely compelling documentary - it genuinely impressed me.
Next we get another new documentary, the 27-minute and 10-second Guts and Glory. This piece mixes movie clips and some historical footage - like a few soundbites from President Reagan - with new interviews. We hear from Sylvester Stallone, professor Douglas Kellner, author Susan Jeffords, executive producer Andrew Vajna, First Blood author David Morrell, First Blood director Ted Kotcheff, former Senator Robert K. Dornan, “LA Weekly” executive editor John Powers, Gender Violence Prevention educator Jackson Katz, professor Ella Shohat, Media Research Center founder and president Brent Bozell, and author Howard Zinn
”Guts” focuses upon the societal impact of Rambo and offers a historical perspective on the era. We hear difference interpretations of the character and what he meant to Eighties America. The material provides a fair amount of insight and depth. Some blather occurs, but overall “Guts” seems like a compelling and reasonably serious examination of the topic.
The Forging of Heroes: America’s Green Berets provides a nine-minute and 55-second look at the soldiers from whose ranks John Rambo came. The program combines histrical footage of Green Berets and war material as well as interviews with veterans SFC Daniel Fetterly, CSM Ramon Rodriguez (Ret.), Major Jim Morris (Ret.), and Sgt. Ted Fleser (Ret.). The show covers the history of the group and focuses on their general experiences, with some focus on anecdotes from the interview subjects. The piece never feels like a recruiting tool, as it offers some negatives as well, and it gives us a short but concise look at this branch of the service.
Rambo-nomics focuses on the money made by the three films. It lasts three minutes and 17 seconds and features a chat with Michael Goodridge of Screen International. The fast-paced piece provides a very brief look at the subject; about a minute of its running time is filled by credits. Still, it packs a lot of info into that short period, as we hear from Goodridge and see various charts and graphs with additional information. I can’t call it a deep program, but it’s a moderately interesting examination of the series’ financial success, even if it fails to look at the failure of Rambo III in America.
For Suiting Up: Rambo’s Survival Hardware, we check out an eight-minute and 42-second examination of the weaponry used in all three films. No interviews appear, as we just watch a montage of movie clips and see occasional overlays with details about the different implements. This seems like a good way to present the information, since it clearly places the notes in the perspective of each film. It even includes a description of Rambo’s preferred weapon: the mind!
During Selling a Hero, we get an amusingly cheesy look at the Rambo action figures. The “animated” piece manipulates the toys into some intentionally overblown vignettes - complete with sound effects - and we also see identifying notes about the toys, including prices. It’s mildly funny and clever, and it seems like a creative way to show this side of things. However, I must admit I’d prefer a still gallery of this information.
I never owned any of the original October 1998 DVD releases of the three Rambo films, but from what I’ve read, all the materials above didn’t show up on any of them; apparently, all of those are exclusive to this set. However, the rest of the “Mission Files” could be found on the original DVDs. We start with First Blood: A Look Back, which offers a three-minute and 58-second featurette. I use the term “featurette” very loosely, as it actually provides nothing more than a montage of First Blood film clips accompanied by some music. It’s extremely lame and doesn’t merit any attention. Rambo III: Full Circle provides the same kind of feature, except since it lasts longer at five minutes, 57 seconds, it stinks even worse.
An American Hero’s Journey: The Rambo Trilogy finishes the “Mission Files” on a much more positive note. The 25-minute and 27-second documentary combines many movie clips with remarks from First Blood novelist David Morrell and author of The Writer’s Journey Christopher Vogler. The former provides some good background and anecdotes about the movie; a few of Morrell’s comments repeat material heard elsewhere, but they seem decent in general. Vogler takes more of a symbolic and interpretive view of Rambo. He traces the path followed by our hero through all three movies and connects it to mythology and other basic story-telling notions. “Journey” manages to end the documentaries in a reasonably rich and useful way.
A few minor pieces round out the fourth disc of The Rambo Trilogy. Apparently lifted from the original 1998 DVDs, a Trivia Game provides a mix of questions about all three films. At the end, you receive a rank based on your success; these range from private to general. Some of the questions can be a little tough, but if you’ve watched all the supplements, they’re much easier. (According to DVD Easter egg sites, on the original discs, you got a little treat for a perfect score, but that doesn’t appear to show up here.)
In the Sneak Peeks area, we get a mix of advertisements. This single running program offers trailers for the upcoming DVD releases of Reservoir Dogs Tenth Anniversary Special Limited Edition, Frank Herbert’s Dune Director’s Cut, and National Lampoon’s Van Wilder.
Lastly, the booklet found inside the package provides some information. It includes some interesting notes from novelist David Morrell. He covers the origins of the book and the film projects and gives us some useful comments, even though many repeat his statements elsewhere. Note that the DVD case indicates the set offers a featurette called “Those That Wanted More”, but unless they hid it as an Easter egg that I couldn’t find, it doesn’t appear here.
As you’ll know if you read my comments about the movies themselves, I enjoyed First Blood but didn’t care for either of its sequels. However, I really liked what Artisan did with these DVDs. All three movies look and sound quite good for the most part, and this four-disc Rambo Trilogy set ensures a copious amount of interesting supplements. Fans should feel exceedingly happy to have it.
But what for what fans do I recommend it? If you dig all three of the flicks, it’s a no-brainer to get this set; with a list price of $59.98, it costs the same as the individual issues, so it’d make no sense not to get the package. If you only like one of the three films, it also seems silly to consider the Rambo Trilogy; the set includes some good materials, but not enough to warrant such a high extra cost.
As for those folks who enjoy two of the three movies, I think they should take the plunge as well. The price differential doesn’t seem extreme, and the quality of the materials on the fourth DVD makes the full set worthwhile. In the end, Artisan did the Rambo franchise proud with this very solid package.