The Rambo Trilogy

The Rambo Trilogy (1982)
Artisan Entertainment
Cast: Sylvester Stallone
Extras: Commentaries, Featurettes, Trivia, Trailers

If, like me, you survived the 1980s then Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo is more than just another big-screen action hero to you. With his rugged visage co-opted by such disparate organizations as Vietnam veteran groups and the Republican Party, Rambo went on to become something of a cultural icon and touchstone for that vapid decade. It’s probably not much of a stretch to say that the Rambo character is now better remembered for his extracurricular uses than for the actual films in which he appeared.

For those who prefer to remember Rambo as more than just another pop culture trivia answer, Artisan has released a four-pack containing ’First Blood,’ ’Rambo: First Blood Part II,’ ’Rambo III,’ and an entire fourth disc of bonus features. As is to be expected, the three films vary widely in quality according to their release date.

The first movie is actually a very well-made action film that explores the sense of betrayal felt by our nation’s Vietnam veterans upon their return home while the two sequels are just your run-of-the-mill shoot ’em ups with very little of the first movie’s social message left intact. John Rambo became a sad victim of his own popular success and morphed from a solid and sympathetic character into a G.I. Joe action figure with kung-fu grip.

All three films have received new transfers and are presented in 2.35:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>. These are vast improvements over the earlier DVD releases and look quite good for their age. The overall image is sharp with much fine detail while colors are vibrant and accurate. Black levels suffer a bit in some of the darker scenes but are usually more than adequate. These transfers have also been cleaned up leaving only a few very minor nicks and blemishes. There is an unfortunate amount of edge enhancement employed but that’s my only major gripe.

Each disc also contains a <$PS,full frame>, <$PS,pan and scan> transfer on the other side for those who prefer their entertainment sliced and diced.

Audio comes in English <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0, 5.1, and <$DTS,DTS> <$5.1,5.1 mix>es. Both of the <$5.1,5.1 mix>es display great dynamic range with an aggressive low end and clear highs. Surrounds are also used to maximum effect. These are nicely balanced soundtracks that sound surprisingly natural given the amount of manipulation needed to transform them into <$5.1,5.1 mix>es. The DTS track is certainly louder than the Dolby Digital but that’s about the only difference I noticed.

’Rambo III’ suffers from a subtitle encoding error that leaves a bit of Russian dialogue untranslated but for a movie like this chances are the viewer will get the gist of it.

Now, on to the extras. Each of the three movie discs contains a <$commentary,commentary track>. Unfortunately, Sly Stallone is not a participant so it’s left to writer David Morell, director George Cosmatos, and director Peter MacDonald to wax poetic about their respective films.

Each disc also contains a featurette of about 20 minutes in length that focuses on that particular film’s place in the Rambo pantheon. And yes, Stallone does pop up in these pieces.

The individual DVDs also contain their own respective cast and crew bios, filmographies, and theatrical teasers and trailers.

The fourth disc offers up even more extras for the discerning fan. First up are promo pieces entitled ’First Blood: A Look Back,’ ’Rambo III: Full Circle’ and ’An American Hero’s Journey: The Rambo Trilogy.’ None of these are terribly informative but the last one does offer a nice summary account of the issues covered more in-depth by the other extras.

Of much greater interest are the many featurettes created expressly for this new DVD set. ’The Real Nam: Voices From Within’ runs for 26 minutes and offers a very emotional look at the Vietnam War and those who fought. ’Guts & Glory’ is another 26-minute piece that explores the not inconsequential cultural and political impact of the ’Rambo’ films. ’The Forging of Heroes: America’s Green Berets’ is a 9-minute bit about, well, the Green Berets. ’Rambo-nomics’ is a bizarre 3-minute look at the financing for the three films. ’Suiting Up’ offers an 8-minute montage of film clips detailing John Rambo’s vast arsenal.

Far and away the best of these featurettes is the 4-minute ’Selling a Hero’ that utilizes Rambo action figures and toys in ways that pre-teen boys could only have dreamed.

Rounding out the extras are a trivia game and a few trailers for other Artisan releases.

The ’Rambo’ films have certainly taken their fair share of lumps over the years. I’m not sure that they would have been so roundly despised if the whole Rambo motif hadn’t been co-opted for various political purposes. There’s no denying that these aren’t great cinema by any stretch of the imagination but they’re really no worse than the myriad other action flicks that come and go on an almost weekly basis.

Fans of the films will be more than pleased with Artisan’s new 4-DVD set. Featuring solid video transfers, superb new audio mixes, and a wealth of varied and interesting extras, the ’Rambo’ films have at last found their definitive DVD release after a few less than stellar previous efforts.