Stallone Three-Film Collector's SetOverview -
This release is a conglomeration of discs that have already been released. Since that's the case, and since none of these movies have been remastered or changed for this release, this review will be a conglomeration of reviews High-Def Digest has already published. Aaron Peck has added the Vital Stats section in order to include packaging details and such.
Just in time for the theatrical release of his highly anticipated action film, 'The Expendables 2,' this collection features three of Stallone's most memorable hit films 'Cop Land,' 'Rambo: First Blood' and 'Lock Up,' together for the first time.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Review by: Peter M. Bracke
I had avoided seeing 'First Blood' until just a few years ago, largely because I made the mistake of seeing 'Rambo III' first, and then 'Rambo II.' Despite the immense box office popularity of the Rambo character in the '80s, the comic-book excesses and callous attitude towards violence of those two sequels were a big turn-off to me. So I figured 'First Blood' could only be more of the same, and simply wrote the film off completely.
Boy was I wrong. As I learned when I finally watched the film on standard-def DVD in the late '90s, 'First Blood' is a film that was demeaned by its follow-ups. It's a far more intelligent and challenging action film -- superior not only to its sequels but to just about every comparable effort of its time. What makes 'First Blood' so vital and refreshing is that it not only dares to ask tough questions about America's participation in the Vietnam War, but perhaps more importantly, how we treated the soldiers we sent there. Though 'First Blood' contains plenty of action and graphic violence, it is not a mindless or manipulative film.
The story should be familiar to even those who have never seen the film. John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) has just returned from Vietnam. Jobless and lost in a world that no longer has a place for him, Rambo visits a small town to connect with old war buddies, only to be arrested and abused by local Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy). Triggered by his war experiences, Rambo jumps into action, escaping confinement and leading the police on a statewide manhunt that will have highly destructive consequences. Only the calling in of Rambo's Vietnam Colonel, Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna) can hope to save him from his one-man assault. But has Rambo passed the point of no return?
As an action movie, 'First Blood' works. Directed with efficient craftsmanship by Ted Kotcheff, and based on the little-known novel of the same name by David Morrell, the film is very well paced, gripping and always exciting. And unlike its successors, this is no ridiculous, over-the-top comic book. It is refreshing to see the audience not condescended to -- Rambo is not the warrior with superhero-like powers as he became in the sequels. He's flesh and blood, relying on only his training and his wits to survive, which grants the character a palpable realism. Every event in the film, though a bit larger than life (this is a movie, after all), remains plausible. 'First Blood' is the rare '80s action movie to create such a believable and realistic portrayal of its hero that the consequences of what he does actually mean something.
'First Blood' certainly remains notable in the career of Stallone. In the character of John Rambo, he found a role second only to Rocky Balboa. As we learn in the included supplements, Stallone had a significant hand in crafting the screenplay, as well and the input proved essential. The film's unexpected and unusual ending certainly would not have worked without him. Yes, there is yet another one-on-one battle between the good guy and the bad guy (or in this case, two anti-heroes). But it is in the film's surprisingly emotional climax that 'First Blood' truly elevates itself to the top ranks of the genre. Maybe it is heavy handed, and maybe it is sentimental, but Stallone's eloquent handling of a difficult scene ends up making a strong statement about a sad chapter in U.S. history.
Ultimately, I'm not sure that I agree with every position 'First Blood' takes. But the fact it even dares to ask questions in a genre known for avoiding them turns what should have been just another forgettable, mindless '80s B-movie into my pick for the most underrated movie ever made about Vietnam. Too bad Stallone had to go and ruin it with with all those dreadful sequels...
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Steven Cohen
It's not always easy to do the right thing. In fact, it's often extremely difficult. Standing up for integrity in a corrupt world can be a losing battle, deterring many from even trying. Still, every once and a while a lone voice of bravery and reason rises up from the dreck, casting corruption aside in favor of staunch, unfiltered justice. Like the cowboy heroes of yesteryear, they ride into town and clean up the filth, restoring balance and order where lies and greed have become king. Taking its cue from classic westerns, 'Cop Land' presents a gritty and tense drama about one good man's refusal to simply look the other way. Though there are some sporadic issues with the script, thanks to some strong direction and a talented ensemble of larger-than-life performers, the film effectively burns to an explosive and powerful climax.
A sort of modern retelling of tried-and-true western sensibilities, 'Cop Land' focuses on an unassuming and easygoing small town sheriff named Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone). The town he presides over isn't just a typical suburb, however, as its close-knit population is predominantly made up of big-shot New York City police officers. Since crime is almost nonexistent in the cop infested town, Freddy is rather lax in his law enforcement duties, usually deferring to resident Lt. Ray Donlan's (Harvey Keitel) judgment and orders. When Donlan's nephew, who is of course also a cop, is involved in an unnecessary, deadly shooting, the young officer appears to take his own life. Doubts about the alleged suicide arise and an investigation led by Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) of Internal Affairs starts to uncover massive corruption amidst the seemingly lawful suburb. Faced with the unsavory truth about his town, Freddy must decide whether to continue turning a blind eye to injustice, or finally rise up and take the law into his own hand.
With a cast made up of legendary performers like De Niro, Keitel and Stallone, each actor brings a certain level of baggage to their roles. Mangold does an excellent job of utilizing this to his advantage, using each actor's cinematic history to enhance the experience. As soon as De Niro and Keitel appear on screen there is an instant familiarity shaped between them and the audience, informed by the actors' storied and rich filmic past. While most of the ensemble's previous filmography complements the archetypes they play here, with Stallone, the director purposefully casts against type, drawing a sharp contrast against the actor's iconic, tough-guy persona. Together they create a memorable and wonderfully nuanced character that is the antithesis of the action hero's typical roles. While Stallone has been in some great movies over the years, with few exceptions, he's not really known for subtle character work. As the overweight, partially deaf, and heartbreakingly pathetic Freddy, the actor flexes muscles we didn't even know he had, forging an emotionally layered character. Stallone went so far as to physically transform his usually chiseled self into an out of shape everyman of sorts, and the results are quite impressive. Sure, even with a beer belly the man can't help but carry a certain intimidating appearance, but coupled with his sad, underplayed, almost laconic demeanor, he becomes a completely unassuming and weak presence, lost in a sea of stronger personalities. This all works brilliantly to the film's advantage, and the slow build toward Freddy's eventual boiling point results in a truly memorable and emotionally potent climax.
In addition to keeping the performances on track, Mangold also brings a fitting, gritty style to the proceedings. The aforementioned climax is a truly impressive display of image and sound coming together in perfect unison, and Mangold's use of isolated effects, frequencies, and slow motion, perfectly place us within Freddy's POV, making the scene much more dramatic and impactful. Unfortunately, despite the solid direction, Mangold's script does have a few weaknesses. An unnecessary voice over from De Niro bookends the film, adding nothing to the proceedings, and there is some clunky, expositional dialogue peppered throughout (the reveal of how Freddy lost his hearing is a good example). On top of that, the plot feels like it could have used an extra twist or turn near the end, and a lot of the story is pretty unrealistic and a bit clichéd. I get that the town of cops is really close knit and that Donlan's influence is iron clad, but it's a little hard to believe that certain flagrant choices wouldn't somehow expose the gang's illegal behavior. Still, when put into the context of Mangold's more mythic, western inspired intentions, these lapses in logic and unoriginal developments are mostly forgivable.
'Cop Land' is an interesting urban twist on the classic western formula. You can only push a good man down so far, before he finally fights back, and when Freddy eventually reaches his breaking point, his anger is palpable onscreen. Though some scripting choices are a little unrealistic and clumsy, the overall plot is tight, the performances are great, and the character work is surprisingly effective. 'Cop Land' might not be a true classic of the genre, but it has aged quite well, and for me, is actually one of those rare films that seems to improve with time.
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Aaron Peck
Frank Leone (Sylvester Stallone) is living it up at one of the most easy-going prisons in America. From the party-like atmosphere to the unsupervised furloughs with his girlfriend, it's like he's not even in prison at all. He's chummy with all the guards, and the best thing is he's only got three more weeks. The way this prison looks it seems like he'd be better off staying inside.
Everything is swell until one night Frank's prison party life is shattered when he's transferred to a maximum security prison for reasons unknown to him. Ripped out of his comfy cell he's thrown into what Michael Bolton from 'Office Space' would lovingly describe as a "…federal pound me in the ass prison."
'Lock Up' plays pretty loosey-goosey with the rules of the American prison system. Turns out Frank is being transferred because of Warden Drumgoole (Donald Sutherland). Sporting a name more befitting of a person in charge of Azkaban Prison, Warden Drumgoole is furious with Frank. Why? Well, a little while ago Frank escaped from one of Drumgoole's prisons and he's been holding a grudge ever since. Now he's pulled every string in the prison system to get Frank into his hands for the last three weeks of his sentence. Drumgoole's goal? Get Frank to mess up so badly that he'll end up tacking on more and more time onto his sentence. This way Drumgoole can torture Frank for the rest of his life.
Stallone pretty much plays a less talkative, but just as sweet version of Rocky here. Even though he's a convict, the movie never makes us feel like he actually did anything remotely bad. This is so we can root for him. The prison guards on the other hand are giant beefy guys with cold stares and malice in their hearts. OK, so it's really cliché up until this point, but just wait until Frank meets a rag-tag band of guys who appear to be the only other good guys in the prison. Wait, that's pretty clichéd too.
'Lock Up' is corny that's for sure, but it's also mildly fun if you're looking for some slightly amusing entertainment. The story is beyond unbelievable, and the villains are caricatures of villains.
'Lock Up' features all the calling cards of your typical prison movie. Doofus guards, a horrible warden, a nasty game of pick-up football, a happy-go-lucky montage of a few of the convicts getting to know each other, a death of one of the minor characters that sends the main character into a tail-spin. Yup, it's all here. Nothing new, but Stallone at least makes this movie watchable. He's got a charisma about him that makes most of his characters, no matter how hardened they're supposed to be, enduring on screen.
It's true you could do better when it comes to prison movies and rewatch 'The Shawshank Redemption,' but at least this isn't 'The Longest Yard' with Adam Sandler. This is right there in the middle of the prison genre, and if you like these types of movies then 'Lock Up' may be right up your alley.
Rating: 3 Stars
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The 'Stallone' 3-Pack comes with three discs. 'Cop Land' and 'Rambo: First Blood' are both on 25GB Blu-ray Discs, whey the 'Lock Up' disc is 50GB. They're housed in a standard keepcase with a swinging arm that holds two discs back to back with another hub inside the back cover. On the back the region coding is listed for each movie and they're all different. 'Rambo: First Blood' is region free, 'Cop Land' is Region A only, and 'Lock Up' is a disc that will play in both A and B regions.
'Rambo: First Blood'
Video review by: Ken Brown
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.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Video review by: Steven Cohen
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. With surprisingly robust colors and clarity, this is a strong transfer that features some nice pop while retaining a natural, filmic appearance.
The print is in good shape but there are some specks visible throughout. A light layer of grain is present, giving the image some welcome texture. Detail is often great, showing off every tiny crevice and world weary wrinkle on the cast's hardened faces, though some shots are softer than others. Colors are quite rich while still retaining a slightly gritty quality. Shimmering waters, flashing cop cars, and the lit up New York skyline all provide some striking pop, and blacks remain nice and inky. Contrast is solid, with good intensity and little blooming.
I was actually pleasantly surprised with the strength of the transfer here, and 'Cop Land' shines rather nicely on Blu-ray thanks to an authentic and detailed image. Fans of the film should be pleased.
Rating: 4 Stars
Video review by: Aaron Peck
Liongate's 1080p transfer of this 1989 film looks nice considering its age.
Colors are nicely rendered, even though much of the film is taken over by drab colors like grays, blacks, and browns. Due, most likely, to the film's age, we're looking at our fair share of source noise that crops up pretty frequently throughout the film. Another concern is that some faces lose a little bit of fine detail and come out with a sort of waxy look to them, especially Stallone's mug. It does look like noticeable DNR was used to touch up a few facial close ups. Interior and darker shots have a nice depth to them, but some facial detail gets lost in the blackness of the prison bowels. For the most part fine detail is sharply done. Take for example the prison grounds, the crumbling old prison walls, and the flying mud that fills the air and covers the prisoners uniforms during the football game.
This isn't a video presentation that's going to blow you away, and it definitely isn't even in the upper echelon of catalog titles on Blu-ray, but it's a very serviceable video presentation. It's most definitely an upgrade from the standard DVD.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
'Rambo: First Blood'
Audio review by: Ken Brown
'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.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Audio review by: Steven Cohen
The audio is presented in an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix with optional English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles. Though relatively quiet, the track comes alive when it needs to and features some very strong and artistic sound design choices.
Dialogue is clean and full, but there are some minor crackles in the high frequencies. Though modest, separation across the soundstage is effective, with some decent ambiance hitting the rear speakers. Howard Shore's powerful score fills the entire soundscape and really bolsters the mood and tone of the film. When guns do start to blaze, surround use is solid and bass comes alive with some striking kick. The film's climax is a brilliant display of deliberate sound design, using dissonant frequencies to mirror Freddy's auditory POV while adding drama and tension to the scene, and it's all handled perfectly in the mix. Dynamic range is great and balance between all of the elements is fine.
With great design work and strong technical proficiency, the mix does a great job of adding intermittent immersion in both broad and subtle ways.
Rating: 4 Stars
Audio review by: Aaron Peck
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation follows in line with the video. Not too flashy, or overly amazing, but just solid enough to get the job done efficiently.
'Lock Up's surround track is heavy on the ambient sound of a crowded prison, which goes a long way in creating a believable prison experience. LFE is very underwhelming, which is one of the larger disappointments of this presentation as a whole. During intense fighting scenes, or even when the soundtrack kicks in, the bass, while there, is very light and airy. Dialogue is perfectly intelligible (for a Stallone movie) and is delivered precisely through the center channels. Directional panning effects are nicely done, but when First Base drives the car into the prison yard I expected more of an oomph from the soundtrack and its panning abilities as the car races from one side of the screen to the other. The car's effects sounded tinny, and too light. This may be due to the lack of bass even though the car's engine is revving.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Supplements review by: Ken Brown
'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.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Supplements review by: Steven Cohen
- Commentary with Writer/Director James Mangold, Producer Cathy Konrad, and actors Sylvester Stallone & Robert Patrick - With Mangold steering most of the conversation, all of the participants provide an informative and entertaining track. Lots of amusing stories are shared about what it was like working with such a legendary ensemble, including some candid anecdotes about a few polite disagreements that occurred on-set. Stallone describes how he achieved his physical transformation and confesses to being a little intimidated by De Niro. Mangold also details the major differences between the theatrical edit and the director's cut by pointing out all the additional footage. Filled with interesting production trivia this is a very strong commentary that fans should definitely check out.
- Cop Land: The Making of an Urban Western (SD, 14 min) - This is a brief but insightful look at the film's production with cast and crew interviews. The participants explain how they got involved with the project and detail the series of events that got the script made. Mangold discusses the story's parallels to classic westerns and Stallone discusses what drew him to the role. Though the requisite mutual complimenting is present, there is definitely some worthwhile information here.
- Storyboard Comparison (SD, 2 min) - A splitscreen featurette is included for the film's violent climax that compares the original storyboard drawings with the finished scene.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 5 min) - Two deleted scenes are viewable separately and with or without commentary (by the same participants as the feature commentary). The two scenes included both deal with the film's racial themes and were cut because they were a bit too overt and lacked subtlety.
- Trailers (HD) - Several trailers for other Lionsgate releases are included.
Rating: 1.5 Stars
Supplements review by: Aaron Peck
All the features were carried over from the 2007 DVD release of the movie. No new extras were made for this Blu-ray.
- Making of 'Lock Up' (SD, 7 min.) – Your basic making of featurette that shows where they filmed the movie. It was an actual prison and actual prisoners fill in as background extras.
- Sylvester Stallone Profile (SD, 3 min.) – It's weird seeing a young Sylvester Stallone talking into the camera. Witness some great 80s fashion here.
- Behind the Scenes (SD, 8 min.) – More information regarding the making of and a few shots of scenes being filmed. One of those features without much dialogue telling you what's going on, it's just like you've been transported to the middle of a film shoot and you're supposed to know what's happening.
- Trailer (SD, 2 min.) – Nothing new here, just the movie's trailer.
Rating: 2 Stars
If you're a Rambo fan, chances are you already have all the copies of that movie that you can possibly stand. So, you're probably good there. 'Cop Land' is a nice treat though, but if you're a huge Stallone nut you probably picked it up on its standalone release. As for 'Lock Up' it's really not one of Stallone's most famous roles, so it's easy to skip it and not miss anything. I don't see the draw of this collection of repackaged discs, except for the fact that you can get three movies for $14.99 right now on Amazon. That's the big draw here. If by chance you don't have these movies in your collection already you can pick up three Stallone movies for $5 a piece. That's a pretty good deal, but it hinges on the assumption that you haven't already added any of these movies to your collection. This is for bargain hunters only.
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