Rambo: The Complete Collection
- Street Date:
- July 27th, 2010
- Reviewed by:
- Michael S. Palmer
- Review Date: 1
- August 12th, 2010
- Movie Release Year:
- 0 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Release Country
- United States
This set does not include the recently released 'Rambo' Extended Cut.
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Watching four and a half Rambo films (the half being the Extended Cut) in a week is a fascinating experience. One must mentally and nostalgically balance different film genres, directing styles, and the eras in which these movies debuted. Yet, when viewed back to back to back to back, four stand alone adventures combine into a singular, epic story that almost feels like a truly expensive mini-series. Within that same metaphor, like any "series" John Rambo's journey is uneven, with some "episodes" being better than others. Though near impossible to reach the classic stature of 'First Blood,' in the end, the final fourth film and character that it represents concludes the entire story on a fantastically bloody high note, one where Rambo's character journey is again at the center.
The question we ask ourselves over the course of this review is simple: is this actually the Complete Collector's Set as the box implies, and is it worth the double dip? Since this is the second Rambo Collection, and the discs appear to be the same prints as previous Blu-ray release let's revisit what my High-Def Digest colleagues have said about these films. First, from the Boxed Set review, we have Kenneth S. Brown on the first three films:
The name Rambo is as ingrained in our cultural consciousness as the names Superman, Luke Skywalker, and Indiana Jones. In fact, mention the '80s R-rated action hero to anyone, young or old, anywhere, here or abroad, and you'll find that nearly everyone knows the name. Developed and propagated by series star and producer Sylvester Stallone, the character has become an American icon to people, regardless of whether they've actually watched the 'Rambo' films or not. To be honest, I can't think of many other cinematic mainstays whose names are as instantly identifiable.
It all began with 'First Blood.' Based on the novel of the same name by writer David Morrell, the film opens as veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) returns home after his involvement in the Vietnam war. Passing through a small town on his way to visit old friends, the quiet soldier is harassed and arrested by the local sheriff (Brian Dennehy). When abuse at the hands of the police triggers severe flashbacks, Rambo escapes and leads the pursuing authorities on a statewide chase. Relying on his survival skills, military training, and war experience, he evades the police at every turn and brings the fight to their doorstep. As Rambo struggles to regain control of his own mind, a visit from his former commander, Colonel Trautman (series regular Richard Crenna), is his only hope.
In my humble opinion, 'First Blood' is an action masterpiece. Director Ted Kotcheff understood that intense action requires an investment from its audience -- one that's only achieved when viewers connect to the characters at the heart of the tale. From the opening moments of the film to the first lyrical appearance of Rambo's theme, it's clear that human tragedy is fueling the pace of the film rather than its procession of action scenes. Quiet conversations between Rambo and the men who despise him reveal a warrior longing for peace and a society that fears its own soldiers. The story's resultant tone doesn't rely on the eventual eruption of violence between Rambo and the townsfolk, but rather on the brother-vs-brother conflict of a society divided. It delivers compelling social commentary about a country that sent its soldiers to war only to rebuff them upon their return.
In that regard, 'First Blood' is one of the more effective Vietnam films Hollywood ever produced. It doesn't focus on the war itself, but on the consequences of turning ordinary men into killing machines. It also doesn't take a pro-war or anti-war stance -- it merely presents the attitudes and convictions that were brought to the surface when the veterans returned home. Unlike its sequels, 'First Blood' presents Rambo as a victim of unjust circumstances forced to come to terms with his new role in the world. By the time the story reaches its final minutes, our battleworn soldier is subjected to a heart-aching psychological catharsis that caught me off guard. The raw emotions swirling behind Stallone's character pour onto the screen and intimately capture the frustration of an uncertain era.
As far as I'm concerned, 'First Blood' should be on everyone’s shelf. Regardless of your enjoyment of the sequels, this series opener tells an incredibly poignant tale of a society's unwarranted rejection of a reluctant hero. It deftly combines drama and action in a manner that's often been copied, but rarely been reproduced. Despite my distaste for the 'Rambo' sequels, I wholeheartedly recommend this first entry in the series.
'First Blood Part II' finds Rambo serving out a prison term for his role in the events of the first film. Soon after his incarceration, Colonel Trautman arrives and offers him a full pardon if he'll join a rescue mission in Vietnam. Instead of fighting for himself, Rambo is tasked with investigating a POW camp to see if the straggling Vietcong are still holding US soldiers against their will. After gaining entry to the jungles of Vietnam, Rambo teams up with a female freedom fighter (Julia Nickson-Soul) and uncovers an alliance between the Soviet military and the Vietnamese army that not only threatens the surviving POWs, but the stability of the entire region. Armed with more firepower than God, a full set of exploding arrows, and enough testosterone to breed a small army of his own, Rambo must free his American brothers, defeat overwhelming enemy forces, and confront the corruption of the operation's US commander, Marshall Murdock (Charles Napier).
'Rambo: First Blood Part II' is all about one thing -- proving it's got bigger cojones than its dramatic predecessor. Explosions come easily and frequently, lighting the night sky and splaying corpses across the jungles of Vietnam. Rambo coats himself in mud to kill a soldier, drops from a tree to kill a soldier, shoots arrows to kill a soldier, uses his knife to… well, you get the idea. From beginning to end, director George Cosmatos ('Cobra,' 'Tombstone') seems uninterested in any scene that doesn't involve the blood-n-guts hilarity the series has become famous for. Quiet conversations between Rambo and his potential Vietnamese love interest are interrupted by violence, brief developments in the character are halted by ambushes, and a stirring speech at the end of the film is undermined by wild gunplay. In all, the film racks up a body count and a collection of spent cartridges that seems to outnumber the words spoken by the principal characters.
I know there are plenty of '80s action junkies who eat this sort of thing up, but I can’t get over the differences between 'First Blood' and this grating sequel. Taken on its own accord, I might be more forgiving -- but viewed as a follow-up to a classic actioner, 'First Blood Part II' seems out of place and out of touch. Everything that made the first film so special is abandoned in favor of ridiculous scenarios that involve Rambo charging into plain sight to mow down literally legions of baddies. Almost every scene devolves into a predictable parade of death that prevents Stallone from having any legitimate resonance as an actor. By the time the credits roll, the film has established itself as an exercise in banality that will only appeal to those looking for a good laugh or a nostalgic Friday night.
Hopped up even further on the series' new cocktail of adrenaline and absurdity, 'Rambo III' continues the saga as Colonel Trautman approaches our reclusive hero in a Bangkok monastery. Trautman asks Rambo to join him on a mission to deliver weapons to Afghani rebels resisting hordes of invading Soviet forces, but the world-weary warrior refuses. However, when Rambo learns of the mission’s failure and Trautman's subsequent capture, he makes his way to Afghanistan to rescue his friend, assist the rebellion, and administer his particular brand of justice to the Soviets responsible for a number of heinous atrocities.
Suffering from an anxious pace, unintentionally hilarious gore, and a ludicrous series of action beats, 'Rambo III' feels more like a parody of the series than a genuine entry. Stallone's character hasn't evolved in the slightest -- early glimpses of his new life in Bangkok are little more than a setup for the fighting skills utilized later in the film. He still relies on explosive arrows, reams of bullets, and pure, unadulterated brawn to save the day. Even the strategies he employs in his assault are paper thin -- the cavernous terrain of Afghanistan could have provided a wealth of new battle scenarios, but the filmmakers merely recycle familiar scenes we already caught in 'First Blood' and 'First Blood Part II.' Worst of all, the film's underdeveloped script strives to generate empathy for the Afghani rebels, but never really develops their role in the story. They're only used as a means to rekindle a bit of Rambo's humanity, dying on cue and offering stories of their struggles that allow him to invest in their plight.
Ironically, I found myself enjoying the historical conflict at the core of 'Rambo III' more than the film itself. I was terribly amused to watch Rambo participate in a slice of history I only recently learned about in 'Charlie Wilson’s War.' While I doubt Charlie had a one-man killing machine to thank for driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan, it does add an entertaining layer to an otherwise tedious, repetitive actioner. That being said, I can't imagine my reaction to the film had I simply evaluated it on its own merit. Fans of the series and other '80s action extravaganzas may revel in the film's gratuitous bloodbath, but I felt the experience was dated, preposterous, and unworthy of its association with 'First Blood.'
All in all, each entry in this uneven series will appeal to completely different people. 'First Blood' is an action masterpiece that will appeal to fans who enjoy drama with their explosions, 'Rambo: First Blood Part II' is an over-the-top comicbook that shoot-em-up action junkies who don’t care about plot will embrace, and 'Rambo III' will register with anyone who thought the second film needed more carnage. It's tough to reduce an entire series into one score, but I personally think the 'Rambo' saga as a whole is a disappointment. I'll stick with 'First Blood' and leave the rest of the sequels to the people who actually enjoy them.
Palmer here again. I think Ken did a great job exploring the first three films, though I personally wouldn't go as far as to call the whole series a disappointment – I think the second and third films are fun examples of 1980s action movies. The physical reality of stunt work and Mr. Stallone's musculature ensure an experience that despite cartoonish action feels more grounded than much of the digital wizardry on display in modern films. They're certainly not great, but to me they are exercises in wish fulfillment. About a character who actually can take on an entire army. About the one man who makes a difference. That said, if the series had ended in 1988, it would have been a shame. I know I was nervous when 'Rocky Balboa' and 'Rambo' were announced as projects. Both franchises were old and tired, but now I'm quite glad he went back to both, because whether or not everyone here is a fan of Stallone as a director, in a cinematic world where most action films are cynical or don’t take themselves seriously, its refreshing to return to earnest filmmaking. Here's what Peter M. Bracke had to say about film four:
Welcome to the slaughterhouse. 'Rambo' is a film that's impossible to digest without digesting its violence. And although that may come as no surprise given the thematic trajectory of the second and third Rambo flicks, this time around not only does the film seem to revel in its empty carnage, but at the same time it asks us to take it seriously, preaching a moral "message" that violence is a necessary evil of the world, or even more troubling, sometimes the only real way to get things done. That 'Rambo' also serves as a uncomfortable epitaph to the career of Sylvester Stallone (who looks like an aging drag queen pumped up by a few too many muscle-enhancing drugs) is particularly unfortunate, as the film's hamfisted attempts at political statement make it impossible to pass off as simply a nostalgic lark.
Having finally dispensed with the roman numerals (when you're an icon, who needs numbers?), the minimally-titled 'Rambo' finds ole softie opting for the warm confines of Thailand rather than the Shady Pines retirement home. The plot is classic Rambo nonsense, after a group of missionaries stumbles upon a group of refugees from the Burmese military. Pressed into service by the pleading Sarah (Julie Benz), Rambo overcomes the harsh terrain and wages a one-man war to save the good guys and kill all the evil baddies.
Taken at face value, 'Rambo' is really just an excuse for Stallone to end his career with a one-two box office punch, following the fairly well-received 'Rocky Balboa.' Long before it hit theaters, it was a foregone conclusion that 'Rambo' would be a cobbled-together plot rehash of the '80s John Rambo sequels, one that wants to tap into Reagan-era patriotism, even if Rambo seems to be fighting less for American values than for Darwinian ones. It's also no surprise that the good and bad guys are painted with such one-dimensional broad strokes as to initially neutralize the harsh violence. What's unexpected, however, is how determined Stallone (who also directed) seems to be to rub our noses in the bloodshed to the point where it seems we're being asked to see it as some sort of cathartic redemption for the character.
The problem here is that unlike Rocky Balboa, John Rambo occupies a much more troubled place in cinema history. This is no puppy-faced boxer looking to make one last comeback in the ring. It's always been hard to justify the one-man-war, gung ho mentality of the later Rambo flicks, especially since they so pandered to the base sensibilities of a larger macho, bloodthirsty audience at the expense of complexity, humanity and narrative logic. 'Rambo' feels more like a coda, intended to prove to Hollywood that Stallone he can still fire guns and blow shit up and stuff, than it does a genuine continuation of Rambo's spiritual journey.
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 again, I respectfully disagree with his conclusion. He's very correct in stating 'Rambo' as a film and a series climax can’t be dissected without dissecting its uber-violence, but it seemed to me as though he wasn't fully reviewing the film for what it was trying to be. Yes, 'First Blood' is by far the best in that 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. His quiet "thousand yard stares" and something personal to fight for; both an endangered "people" and a chance to reunite an engaged couple, which could be argued as 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 on silver screens some 28 years ago, Rambo won’t ever been 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 a perfect one, but in the era of reboots and remakes, the Rambo Complete Collection is an exciting ride where audiences can escape for a few hours into a world where bad guys not only lose, but are fully decimated by a 50 caliber machine gun. Suck it, terrorists!
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
The Rambo Complete Collector's Set video transfers range from strong to excellent, especially when taking into consideration their various ages. I remember renting 'First Blood' a few years ago and being blown away with such high gloss clarity for an aging thriller, and it just gets better from there. It's amazing when it comes to preservation how some films are lucky to be treated so well. No scratches, no damage, no discoloration. I say well done all around. Encoding wise, the first three films are 1080p/VC-1, and the fourth is 1080p/AVC-MPEG4. All films are displayed in a 2.35 or 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Though I may have differed critically from my colleagues in regards to the films themselves, their technical reviews remain on point. Here are Ken and Peter again with individual ratings for each transfer:
The oldest entry in the 'Rambo' series could have been an outdated eyesore, but I can't imagine 'First Blood' looking any better than it does here. While the palette is as bleak as the story itself, the print has held up well over the years and the BD image is more stable than its DVD counterparts. The first twenty minutes are a little rough around the edges as Rambo strolls into town under the gray hues of an overcast sky, but the darkness that dominates the rest of the film isn't hindered by the sort of oppressive artifacting, source noise, and black crush I thought I'd encounter. As it stands, 'First Blood' benefits from a natural, filmic picture that offers fans a welcome level of depth and plenty of detail. I could read the posters in the police station, see the stitching on Rambo's duffle bag, and practically feel the coarse underbrush in the forest. The transfer excels at navigating the typical pitfalls associated with the lighting conditions of the murky cinematography -- the film's darkest shots look crisp and its interior scenes are often stunning.
Aside from a few soft scenes and a bit of wayward contrast wavering, the only considerable problem I had with the transfer was that it occasionally resorts to heavy-handed DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) to patch up noisier shots. While it eliminated inconsistencies in the grain field, it also reduced clarity and hindered the on-screen textures. I would love to see 'First Blood' without such artificial makeup, but I doubt another remaster is in the cards for at least a few years. All in all, 'First Blood' looks good enough to ensure a new generation of high-def action fans will uncover this '80s classic.
Ken's score: 3.5 (out of 5).
Palmer's only edit in the video section: for me, personally, after watching every version of this franchise, I would bump 'First Blood' up to 4 stars.
Rambo: First Blood Part II
The second entry in the 'Rambo' series is almost as remarkable as the first, boasting vibrant colors and fantastic fleshtones. Stallone only appears flushed when exerting himself, the orange bloom of explosions is impressive, and the varied greens of the dense jungle allow foreground objects to pop. The level of fine object detail really caught my attention as well. I could easily count the leaves in most shots, the miniscule air bubbles in the mud, and the smallest indentations on the Vietcong's tattered weaponry. In fact, there were quite a few shots in which the clarity and depth of the 23-year old image genuinely shocked me. To top it all off, black levels are notably strong, contrast rarely flutters, and delineation is solid.
That's not to say the image is without fault. As expected with any catalog film of its era, the transfer slips from time to time whenever soft shots, crushed shadows, or source noise invade the picture. Several scenes also suffered from hazy edges and spiking grain fields. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy Lionsgate didn't resort to edge enhancement or DNR, but a more thorough remastering could probably have alleviated these inconsistencies. More importantly, bizarre blue blips flashed across the screen on a handful of occasions, leaving me to wonder if these glitches are present on the original print or if they're evidence of a technical hiccup on the Blu-ray disc. Regardless, the transfer defied my expectations and delivered the best-looking version of 'Rambo: First Blood Part II' I've ever seen -- fans should definitely be satisfied with the results.
Ken's score: another 3.5.
Cleaner than 'First Blood' and sharper than 'Rambo: First Blood Part II,' 'Rambo III' can lay claim to the best high-def visuals of the original trilogy. The palette is warmer this time around, but skintones are still natural and nicely saturated in spite of shots dominated by hotter whites. While shadow delineation takes an intentional hit as the cinematographer ramps up the tension of the caves, the transfer doesn't fall prey to significant noise or troublesome crushing. In fact, black levels are deep, contrast is spot on, and the image showcases plenty of three-dimensional shots that don't show the film's age. Best of all, fine object detail is more apparent than it's ever been on DVD -- the rocky terrain, the sweat on Stallone's brow, and the slightest stubble is generally crisp and well rendered.
Typical of a twenty-year old film, there are some imperfections in the original print. A few scratches, a handful of soft background elements, and a bit of seemingly random damage toward the end of the film hold the transfer back, but rarely distract from its overall impact. Beyond that, the only slight problems I could find were fairly inconsequential -- contrast wavering rears its head on a half dozen occasions and a hint of edge enhancement pops up from time to time. Regardless, 'Rambo III' looks much better than I expected. Fans of the 'Rambo' films should really be pleased with the love and care Lionsgate invested into even the series' most critically-reviled entry.
Ken's score: a solid 4.
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's score: 4.5
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Surround mixes for The Rambo Complete Collector's Set is a surprising mixed bag, one where sometime older, allegedly lossy DTS or Dolby Digital mixes manage to out do an DTS-MA mix, which underscores how the actual mix is much more important than a technical specification. Much like the video portion, 'First Blood' sets the bar high for a catalogue release, and the overall results are genuinely successful. Aided by over a decade of sound advancements, the only non surprise is how much better 'Rambo' sounds than its ancestors. Here's Ken and Peter again with their thoughts on each individual sound experience:
'First Blood' doesn't have a DTS HD Master Audio track like its sequels, but its DTS HD High Resolution and Dolby Digital EX 5.1 surround mixes manage just fine. Dialogue is clear and nicely prioritized against the action, the LFE channel is subdued but naturalistic, and the rear speakers have some showcase moments for a catalog title of its age. The original source definitely pulls the soundfield toward the front channels, but the heft of the remastered soundscape helps keep things sounding better than they should. Even so, the edge easily goes to the DTS HD 6.1 track for its dimensionality and directionality -- pans are more transparent, sound effects are more accurate, and the depth of the soundfield is more pronounced.
There are problems, but the film's age admittedly helps temper expectations. Treble tones come across with a shrill '70s vibe (despite its '80s origin), the music doesn't swell as hauntingly as its themes demand, and dynamics are generally flat across the board. However, I was relieved that I didn't find a single “deal breaker” issue on either track. 'First Blood's audio quality surpasses 'Rambo: First Blood Part II' and nearly trumps 'Rambo III' -- its subtlety and tone are integral to setting the dramatic mood that would be abandoned by the film's flashier sequels.
Ken's score: a 3.5.
Rambo: First Blood Part II
'Rambo: First Blood Part II' comes fresh with a disappointing lossless DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that fails to truly engage the senses. First and foremost, a proper remix should create a convincing soundfield and transform a flat sonic experience into a three-dimensional magic show. Sadly, the majority of the soundscape still resides in the front channels, pulling the soundfield forward and foregoing the benefits of a modern surround setup. Making matters worse, treble tones are often tinny, dialogue is occasionally lost beneath the chaos, and the booms and thooms of the LFE channel are rarely as aggressive as the on-screen explosions and gunfire. While it certainly sounds better than the muffled DVD audio tracks that have preceded it, this is merely an average lossless presentation that doesn't match the audacity of the film itself.
Luckily, all is not lost. Dialogue is more stable than it's been before, fidelity is decent, and the rear channels inject some limited ambience into the jungle environments. Pans are a bit stocky for my tastes, but they're more transparent than those found on less engaging BD audio tracks. Passable in every way, but revolutionary in none, this DTS HD MA mix merely gets the job done.
Ken's score: 2.5.
'Rambo III's lossless DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track outperforms the audio tracks Lionsgate mastered for the first two films in the series. The biggest improvement lies in the rear speakers -- whereas the previous films were marred by a front-heavy soundfield, 'Rambo III' spreads its firepower around the room to create realistic attack helicopters, cavern echoes, and crowd chatter. Ambiance is still limited by the film's uninvolving sound design, but it's at least a more substantial element of the soundscape this time. Rounding out the sonic experience are stable treble tones, decent LFE support, and rather forgiving prioritization. Explosions still sound a tad weak in my opinion, but they certainly pack a greater punch than they did in 'Rambo: First Blood Part II.'
If I have any serious charge to level against this DTS HD MA track, it's that it isn't as consistent as other catalog audio tracks I've reviewed. Pans are transparent one moment and stocky the next, directionality is accurate when it comes to battle scenes but uninvolving during conversations, and the rear channels occasionally take a break at inopportune moments. Still, 'Rambo III' has plenty of action to keep the track pounding along from beginning to end. While I doubt it will turn any heads, it should leave fans with little to complain about.
Ken's score: 3.5.
'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. Peter's score: 5
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
The Rambo Complete Collector's Set comes with hours of special features, though the quality of each disc's supplements varies. As Ken said in his Boxed Set review of the original trilogy, most of the attention has gone towards 'First Blood,' and Lionsgate removed a number of “mundane” features that had been available on DVD. 'Rambo' is also nicely appointed, only losing the DVD/Digital Copy from it's original, stand-alone release, and per Peter's review, it may actually gains one added special feature (in place of a Rambo Trailer, there is a “Rambo Series Trailer Gallery” featuring HD trailers for all four films). Here's what Ken and Peter said about the special features:
'First Blood' includes a comprehensive collection of supplements from a variety of previous DVD releases. While I'm a bit disappointed with the studio's exclusion of the film's trailers, I had a great time digging through what remained.
- Audio Commentary with Sylvester Stallone -- It's easy to assume that a hulking action star of the '80s wouldn't be the best candidate to deliver a fascinating commentary, but Stallone does just that. From beginning to end, Stallone's solo chat is one of the most thoughtful and absorbing tracks I've ever heard from an actor. He discusses the genesis of the 'Rambo' series, the progression of the character, the original script treatments, and his role in front of and behind the camera. He's also quite simply a great storyteller. Whether recalling production woes, heated behind-the-scenes arguments, or fun tidbits about scene-specific decisions, Stallone covers the gamut of 'First Blood' lore. This is an exceptional commentary track that shouldn't be skipped by anyone who has a 'Rambo' flick sitting on their shelves.
- Audio Commentary with Writer David Morrell -- It would also be easy to assume an action writer's commentary would be a relatively straightforward affair, but Morrell matches Stallone's passion with an engaging track all his own. Like the first commentary on the disc, this one includes an abundance of great stories about the production and the version of 'First Blood' that made it to theaters. Morrell discusses the film's balance of action and plot, its refinement of the genre, and the strides the filmmakers took to create something completely different than a standard fare shoot-em-up. He even offers a sliver of personal details from his life at the time including his struggle to care for his dying teenage son. There's even a surprisingly touching moment often unheard in an audio commentary in which Morrell discusses his son's encounters with Stallone. This is a wonderful track that shouldn't be missed and one that pairs perfectly with Stallone's commentary.
- Drawing First Blood (SD, 22 minutes) -- This thorough featurette begins with the original novel and its adaptation for the screen, moves on to the battles the filmmakers endured to retain the bleak tone of the book, and concludes with candid details about the eventual production. This is an excellent companion piece to the disc's audio commentaries that, once again, shouldn't be missed.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 6 minutes) -- The real draw of this collection of cuts is an alternated ending that, as advertised, would have completely altered the future of the 'Rambo' series. It's a bleak denouement that I think fits the tone of the film better than its theatrical ending. Fans of the sequels may not agree, but I wish 'First Blood' had concluded with just such a scene.
Ken's score: a 3.5.
Rambo: First Blood Part II
'Rambo: First Blood Part II' arrives on Blu-ray with the only two previously-released DVD features of merit. Completists may miss a useless EPK from the film's first DVD release and some minor text-based material, but I didn't. On a positive note, Lionsgate dropped the 2004 Ultimate Edition DVD's annoying “Survival Mode” enhancements (which attempted to transform the film-watching experience into an arcade game of sorts).
- Audio Commentary -- This solo chat with director George Cosmatos won't exactly draw a crowd. Burdened by an abundance of technical asides and the filmmaker's heavy accent, Cosmatos fumbles through production tidbits, location factoids, and some fairly dull anecdotes. '80s genre fans may enjoy listening to his thoughts on the decade's testosterone-fueled action craze, but his perspective is skewed to say the least. Skip this track and head for the behind-the-scenes featurette instead.
- We Get to Win This Time (SD, 20 minutes) -- Outperforming the commentary in every way, this muscle-flexing featurette includes a concise examination of the film's script, cast, and shoot. Cast and crew interviews come from every direction, and a lot of interesting information can be culled from their thoughts and reflections. Even casual Rambo fans should enjoy this one.
Ken's score: 1.5.
'Rambo III' may not have a lot to offer, but that's because Lionsgate wisely excluded most of the mediocre content featured on the film's standard DVDs (a dated EPK quickie, a bit of text based material, and the 2004 Ultimate Edition's migraine-inducing “Survival Mode” enhancements). The only missing material of value is a collection of deleted scenes that should have been ported over.
- Audio Commentary -- After sitting through the tepid commentary included on 'Rambo: First Blood Part II,' I found myself warming up to director Peter MacDonald's track on 'Rambo III.' While he spends entirely too much time quietly watching the film, I actually learned a lot about this troubled production, the firing of its original director, and the difficulties MacDonald encountered when he signed on. It's a refreshingly candid track that has a lot to offer anyone who's willing to sit through a few dry stretches.
- Land in Crisis (SD, 30 minutes) -- This self-infatuated documentary tends to overanalyze the impact of the 'Rambo' series over the years, elevating it to a level that a blood-n-guts action saga probably doesn't deserve. Still, a history of Afghanistan and its fight against the Soviets justifies the doc's runtime, offering fans a more realistic glimpse into the complicated politics and social struggles alluded to in the film.
Ken's score: another 1.5.
'Rambo' comes to both Blu-ray and standard DVD with a boatload of extras. This package is probably more than the film really requires, but fans will no doubt love it. (Note that all of the video is presented in full 1080p, with optional English and Spanish subtitles offered.)
- Audio Commentary - Sylvester Stallone flies solo on this track, and it's one of the strongest features on the disc. Indeed, he may surprise even his harshest critics with his insightful, well articulated and passionate comments about the long gestation of the project and his obvious love for the John Rambo character. Stallone also speaks directly to the level of violence in the film, and his belief that to pay due respect to the real-life situation in Burma, such graphic bloodletting was a requirement. There is also a wealth of production info and the usual technical chit-chat. Not everyone will agree with Stallone's vision for 'Rambo,' but this is certainly a fine commentary in support of it.
- Featurettes (HD, 42 minutes) - Combined, these six featurettes form a nice and tidy documentary. "It's a Long Road: The Resurrection of an Icon" (19 minutes) gives us the backstory on the near 20-year development of 'Rambo,' including many discarded script ideas and scenarios. "The Art of War: Completing Rambo" (6 minutes) and "A Score to Settle: The Music of Rambo" (7 minutes) chronicle the post-production hurdles, and provide a look at the scoring sessions. "The Weaponry of Rambo" (15 minutes) details the vast artillery used in the film, which Stallone and the crew practically fawn over. Then "A Hero's Welcome: Release and Reception" (10 minutes) is probably a bit overdone, with footage from the film's premiere as well as reaction to the opening weekend (which wasn't that huge). Finally, "Legacy of Despair: The Struggle in Burma" (11 minutes) is the best of the bunch, illuminating the continued struggles in the country in much better fashion than 'Rambo' itself.
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 14 minutes) - Only four here, all extensions of character-based scenes. No optional commentary or descriptive text is provided, though Stallone does briefly touch upon the scenes during the feature audio commentary.
- Rambo Series Trailer Gallery (HD) – All four original trailers is presented in full 1080 video. br>
Peter's Score: 3
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
As in the original boxed set, the first three films include the exclusive "Into the Blu" pop-up Trivia Tracks. Information ranges from interesting to mundane (depending on how well you know the franchise) and features too many sound effects, such as a "bullet chambering", a "files opening" and a "knife slicing the air". It gets old. Also, please note the Trivia plays only with its own lossy 5.1 Dolby Digital mix, not with the available DTS and DTS-MA tracks.
For Rambo, Lionsgate tossed in a couple high-def exclusive, as described by Peter:
- Picture-in-Picture - Bonus View (Profile 1.1) enabled, this track is based on the Sylvester Stallone audio commentary described above, but it's beefed up with extensive behind-the-scenes footage. This is a very good PIP track, one that does a very good job of covering most aspects of the production, particularly casting, shooting on location and the action. The editing is sharp and the pacing quick, so this gets my vote for the best extra on the entire disc.
- MoLog - Short for MovieLog, this feature allows users to watch the flick, and then create and share live their own added-value content via blog entries. The feature requires Profile 2.0-compatible players and an active internet connection. I tested out the feature, and it worked well in terms of playback and inputting, though I did experience some hiccups going back to the main menu from the MoLog feature (apparently I'm not alone).
As of now, Amazon pricing for this set remains under $40. As far as double dips goes, this seems like a pretty good deal for anyone who has yet to buy the previous boxed set or stand alone Blu-rays. The video quality is excellent, the audio ranges from demo to decent, and there are some great special features on board. It really is everything… save for the fact that Lionsgate has also released 'Rambo - The Extended Cut' a.k.a. 'John Rambo,' which Amazon currently has priced at Just over $10 This certainly seems like a slap in the face (quintuple dip?) for fans and collectors alike, making the decision very hard as what to do, what to buy. Apparently it wasn’t some Lionsgate F-U / grab for money, but rather it seems Stallone initially didn’t want to re-cut the movie, then changed his mind too late for the Extended Cut to be included in this set.
Fans/collectors who already own the trilogy boxed set and possibly the original 'Rambo' release, this 4-pack offers nothing new save for a few more trailers. If you don’t own any 'Rambo' films, I would personally purchase this Complete Collector’s Set and RENT 'Rambo – The Extended Cut.' I talk about it more in the separate review, but 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 over and over again.
Bottom line, if you don’t own any of these films, the almost-complete Complete Collector's Set is a shelf space-saving good deal and recommended for fans. For first timers, this boxed set is worth it for the first and fourth film alone, with two crazy actioners tossed in for free.
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