Rambo: First Blood UMD Review

Cheapened by two sequels, First Blood is unfortunately overlooked because of the follow-ups. This is not a true action film, but a drama, and a classic one at that. Sylvester Stallone couldn't have been cast better.

From the start, it's hard to take John Rambo as a hero. The set-up is quick and brief, providing just enough information to let the audience know why Rambo does what he does. The entire film depends on the opening scenes and whether or not the audience has bought it by the time he makes his escape from the local police. It does, and after that begins one of the more intense stand offs in American film history.

It's the character that makes First Blood a classic. The lone drifter angle works perfectly in the film, and even when he's in the forest surviving as he knows how, there's an understanding of who Rambo is. His character may be built in the opening moments, but it's in the forest as he dismantles an entire police force single handedly that Stallone's character really takes shape.

The setting is a spectacular one, allowing the viewer to see some incredible violence. It's not as harsh now 20+ years later, but it's impossible not to wince when the spiked tree trunk finds its victim. It's all negated at the end when Rambo goes into the "commando" mode and sets the series up as a parody piece for pop culture shows. That's one of the minor flaws in the film, and it barely detracts from what a classic this one is. (**** out of *****)

For the UMD release, Lions Gate has preserved the original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. Kudos to them for not following other companies and cropping it down. Unfortunately, the transfer is ugly, a real shame given the superb quality of the print with a few stray specks barely evident. The black levels are the problem, fading the entire picture and in darker sequences, rendering them almost unwatchable. The compression is the main issue. The screen is too small to pick up on the film grain present on the DVD, and this looks like the same print. (**)

Audio is solid though, providing nice range with the meager two channels that are available. Bass is almost overwhelming when Rambo begins destroying the town piece by piece. Audio flows nicely between the speakers, and some of the subtle work is noticeable if you listen for it (birds chirping, etc.). It's some nice work for a limited format, though as usual, you'll need to set the UMD volume to its highest level if you're not using headphones. (****)

One of the few UMDs to do so, First Blood offers a commentary track. Taken from the third DVD release of the film, Stallone is active and provides small details throughout. He'll point out his stunt double, parts where he was injured, and his own thoughts on the subject matter.

The only other extra is the better alternate ending. Having the hero of the film commit suicide is not a popular way to end a film, and it was cut (even though it ended like the book this was based on). It would have made more sense given the emotional state of the character and it would have prevented the sequels. (***)

This, along with the recent DVD re-release, are the first time the film has been released on video without the Rambo name attached. It's appropriate, but odd from a marketing perspective. The name alone would sell the disc.

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