Director's or Special Editions have been around for decades, luring audiences back into cinemas and Best Buys to experience new versions of movies they already love. It was highly successful for films like 'The Lord of the Rings Trilogy' and we’ll see what happens when 'Avatar' returns later this summer. Sometimes, though, added material can disrupt the tone and flow of a movie (for an example of this, please see the Special Edition of 'The Lion King', where the extra song in act one brings the story to a dramatic halt).
Coming out the same day as the ironically titled 'Rambo Complete Collector’s Set' (which omits this cut!) we have 'Rambo - The Extended Cut' (a.k.a. 'John Rambo' per the film’s revised opening title sequence, and as trivia buffs will proclaim, the film's original working title) to immediately disprove Lionsgate's claim that they have provided consumers with a complete collector’s set.
As a cinematic, action-packed, character-driven capstone to this almost thirty-year-old one man war franchise, 'Rambo' is already highly successful, though it remains a distant second to the classic 'First Blood.'
Surprisingly, the changes are not all that dramatic. 'Rambo' remains the same story of John Rambo, a former Vietnam Vet whose war never really ended emotionally (see films one through three for why). Hiding out off the grid, we meet the aging Rambo as a snake handler/fisherman, trying to ignore his past, and find peace. Enter Christian Missionaries who wish to bring aid up the river to the devastated war-torn regions of Burma. Rambo eventually agrees to drive them up the river thanks to the connection he makes with the passionate Sarah (played by Julie Benz of ABC’s new fall drama 'No Ordinary Family'). When the missionaries are kidnapped by the violent Burmese military, Rambo joins a team of mercenaries going upriver for a rescue. Spoiler: He then kills everyone. Twice.
In addition to what audiences have already experienced, we get a few extra Sarah/Rambo scenes. There are some interesting themes discussed, but overall the scenes are repetitive and a bit heavy handed. It’s easy to see why they were featured as Deleted Scenes on the original standalone 'Rambo' Blu-ray, as well as in the 'Complete Collector's Set.' They’re not necessarily bad, but for my time, the theatrical and extended cuts achieve the same emotional resonance, only the theatrical version does it more efficiently.
I for one was nervous when 'Rocky Balboa' and 'Rambo' were initially announced. Both franchises just seemed old and tired, but now I’m quite glad Stallone went back to them, because whether or not everyone here is a fan of Sly the director, in a cinematic world where most action films are cynical or don’t take themselves seriously, its refreshing to return to earnest film making. Though nearly impossible to reach the classic stature of 'First Blood', the fourth (and final?) film concludes the entire story on a fantastically bloody high note, one where Rambo the character's journey is again at the heart of the film. For another opinion, here's an excerpt from Peter Bracke's review of the original theatrical edition:
To be fair, as a technical exercise, the film delivers. The cast, though largely forgettable, is competent, with Benz in particular doing the most she can with a limited role. Likewise, the sheer pace of the action is often breathless. Though I wish Stallone could have mastered a better sense of screen direction by this point, he still manages to create a palpable level of cat-and-mouse suspense. And for those wondering just how many ways there are to cut, eviscerate, shoot, stab and obliterate the human body, 'Rambo' is a crash course. That the film got by with an R rating is astounding.
The biggest shame about 'Rambo' for me is how Stallone continues to veer away from the original intent of the John Rambo character. It's easy to forget that the original 'First Blood' was a very restrained film, one less about visceral thrills than it was a serious examination of the cost of Vietnam on both America and the soldiers who fought it. In comparison, this latest 'Rambo' is nothing more than unpleasant bloodshed and numbing action -- a cipher of a movie that wastes its chance to make a statement about the character and how the cinematic (and real) world he occupies has changed in the last twenty-odd years. That may be just fine for die-hard fans of the franchise, but it ended up leaving me cold.
Palmer here again. Though I felt it was important to share Peter's review here, I respectfully disagree with his conclusion. He's very correct in stating that 'Rambo,' as a film and a series climax, can't be dissected without dissecting its uber-violence, but it seemed to me a he wasn't fully reviewing the film for what it was trying to be. Yes, 'First Blood' is by far the best in the series, but why 'Rambo' works so well for me personally is that it brings out the best of parts two and three, while diving back into Rambo's character. By restoring his quiet "thousand yard stares" and again giving him something personal to fight for, I'd argue that this film is much more resonant and identifiable for audiences.
I also appreciate the full circle ties to 'First Blood.' Rambo attempts to rid himself of violence by burning his transgressions, by throwing away The Knife. But much like Col. Trautman said some 28 years ago, Rambo won’t ever be happy until he comes to terms with who he is. In accepting himself, Rambo's final act of violence sets him free and allows him to go home. As the cliché goes, it's not Shakespeare or high drama, but Stallone and his filmmaking team made smart choices, and passionately succeeded in capping off a character journey alongside hard hitting and kinetic thrills.
Overall, no franchise is perfect, but in the era of reboots and remakes, 'Rambo -Extended Cut' is an exciting ride, where audiences can escape for a few hours into a world in which bad guys not only lose, but are fully decimated by a 50 caliber machine gun. Suck it, terrorists!
For the technical portions of this review, I’m in full agreement with Peter's video and audio reviews. As Deleted Scenes of the previous Blu-ray release, the new material was subpar high definition and in stereo sound. For the Extended Cut, all new material intercuts seamlessly from both a video and an audio perspective. As an example, there is an early scene on Rambo's boat, shot at night during the rain, which looks and sounds fantastic. For the rest, let's go to Peter's review:
Lionsgate offers 'Rambo' in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video (at 2.35:1), and this presentation is quite excellent. It's detailed, lush, and often demo-worthy material.
The source is predictably pristine for a new release, with rich blacks and robust contrast. Some scenes go a tad overboard on the stylization with bright whites, but it certainly gives the image pop. Colors are somewhat muted to give an intentionally gritty look, but the palette is consistent and stable. There is a bit of grain, but otherwise the image is very detailed and quite three-dimensional. Drawbacks include night scenes that can be a tad dark (lessening shadow delineation a notch below the ideal). There are a also few moments of apparent posterization and noise (usually on long wide shots and slow dissolves), but all in all, 'Rambo' looks great.
Peter still: 'Rambo' gets a full-blown DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 7.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit), and it's fantastic. [Peter] may have found most of the violence in 'Rambo' extremely off-putting, but it sure sounds great.
The power of the track's dynamics are immediately apparent. Low bass is often a stunner, with the subwoofer actively engaged throughout. Gunfire, explosions and the score pound consistently and aggressively, with clear differentiation between highs and lows. Dialogue (if you can call it that) is not overwhelmed by all of the din and is well-rooted in the center channel.
Surround implementation is also a pleasure, with the 7.1 spread offering a wonderfully immersive experience. The rear soundfield is so seamless I could rarely locate specific sounds -- it simply feels as if sound is all around you. Front to back pans are also transparent. Score bleed is similarly impressive. 'Rambo' is certainly a demo-worthy soundtrack.
Unlike the theatrical release of 'Rambo,' this 'John Rambo' drops every previous special feature available. There are no commentaries, no high-def featurettes, no trailers. But, there is a feature-length documentary.
It’s a real bummer this 'Extended Cut' and the new documentary aren't available on the improperly titled 'Complete Collector’s Set.' This certainly seems like a slap in the face (a quintuple dip?) for fans and collectors alike, making the decision very hard as to what to do and what to buy. Apparently it wasn't some Lionsgate F-U/grab for money, but rather, Stallone initially didn't want to re-cut the movie, then changed his mind too late for the Extended Cut to be included in the incomplete "complete set."
It's a shame, because the true (perhaps coming in a few years) Complete Collector's Set should include both versions of the final film. That being said, here's the key difference between 'Rambo' and 'John Rambo': the extended footage can all be seen as Deleted Scenes on the theatrical cut, here they are integrated into the film. They are mainly comprised of character moments. The Extended Cut isn’t necessarily that different as a film. For my money, it wasn’t leagues better, nor did the extra slow scenes in the first act kill the pacing.
I initially wanted to suggest that fans and collectors purchase the Trilogy Boxed Set and the Extended Cut, though as it turns out, the Extended Cut drops most of the special features from the stand alone Rambo / the disc featured in the Complete Collection. As such, here are a few options:
Fans / serious collectors who already own the trilogy boxed set and possibly the original 'Rambo' release: you will want 'Rambo – The Extended Cut' for the director's video diary. If you don’t own any 'Rambo' films, I would personally purchase the 'Complete Collector's Set' and RENT 'Rambo – The Extended Cut' as I prefer Rambo’s theatrical cut to the extended one, and while the brand new documentary on 'Rambo – The Extended Cut' is great, I don’t really see anyone but die hard fans watching it over and over again.
Bottom line, this is a head-scratcher of a double dip. The new cut isn't a wholly different film experience, but the director’s video diary will put you on that set in a detailed way. Of course, as of now this edition is going for less than $10 on Amazon, so it may be worth a purchase, especially for fans. Plenty to think about, Rambo fans!
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.