First Blood DVD Review

It's a shame that the "Rambo" series de-evolved into a cheap knock-off of other countless action movies. Most people write off the first film like they do the sequels. The original is a brutal, vicious, fight for survival against a small town that rejected the Vietnam War hero, based off an even more violent book. "First Blood" is not for the squeamish, but a great way to spend an evening if you don't mind some pretty grim scenes.

John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) visits the small town of Hope, trying to find a friend he met in Vietnam. Upon his arrival, he finds his friend is dead (from cancer caused by the war) and is ushered out of town by the local sheriff (Brian Dennehy). Refusing to leave, he is taken in and abused by the authorities. After lashing out, he heads for a forest just outside of town where the battle between the Green Beret and local police force begins.

One of the most often misinterpreted facts about this film is that Rambo himself never really kills anyone until the end, and even then, he is only doing so in order to defend himself. He is simply struggling to survive in the world that rejected him. Though he is a trained killer, he simply wants to forget the things that have happened to him and move on. People refuse him that right.

Sylvester Stallone creates his second most recognizable character (just behind Rocky) in this film and does a great job considering he hardly speaks until his final mental breakdown in the end. The tension created by director Ted Kotcheff (who more recently directed episodes of "Law & Order") is wonderful. The forest photography is great, giving the lead character his only real advantage other than a survival knife.

As usual, not everything is perfect here. The final twenty-minutes really dumb down the entire film, featuring Rambo mindlessly destroying the small town, mimicking what is about to come with sequels. The scenes of him holding a massive weapon in one hand while the ammo dwindles away in the other have been the subject of countless parodies. Richard Crenna, playing the Colonel who trained Rambo, is just laughable, overacting every line given to him.

Still, "First Blood" is easily one of the best "one-man-army" movies ever made. The subtexts are obvious, giving the movie some purpose, unlike so many other action films (including the sequels). The book, as usual, is better, but watching Stallone in action against all odds is unforgettable. (**** out of *****)

Remastered by Artisan for this DVD release, "First Blood" looks good on the format, though the transfer is wildly uneven. Presented in both 2.40:1 widescreen with a pan and scan version on the opposite side of the disc, the heavy grain along with some inconsistent black levels make this slightly disappointing. Daytime scenes look superb, with nice detail and soft colors. Scenes filmed in darker areas (much of the movie) are either hard to see or filled with annoying and overbearing film grain. The print used is nearly flawless with hardly a noticeable scratch to be found, but in the process of making it all digital, something went wrong. (***)

Amazingly, even though the film is over 20-years old, this disc features a great 5.1 mix and even better DTS track. Chase sequences are filled with vehicles moving throughout the sound field and a few moments feature some excellent separation left to right. This isn't quite as noticeable on the standard 5.1 track, but the amount of work done here is obvious. The only problem is the lack of any real punch coming from the subwoofer, and when it is used, it sounds rather forced. (****)

Though light in the features department, what's included more than makes up for any problems. The commentary from the author of the original novel, David Morrell, is great. You'll learn a lot from this track including how many scripts were written (over 20!), how the name "Rambo" came to be, and why the book was even written in the first place. The 22-minute documentary entitled "Drawing First Blood" provides a little repeat information from the commentary, but just about everyone who had a hand in the film gets to speak on the experience. The usual array of trailers, production notes, and cast information is also available. (***)

It also must be noted that buying the entire series in box set form (coming in a nifty metal enclosed case that is another Artisan winner) provides fans with another disc of features, which covers all three of the films. Either way, this is great way to experience this underrated classic, save for the transfer. The new sound mix really adds another immersion level to the film, which was never available before.

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