"Rambo" Blu-ray Review
May 28, 2008 by Zach Demeter
After watching the three original Rambo films I didn’t hold out much hope for the fourth, but knowing that I’d started the day with my first viewing of the Rambo trilogy I knew I’d have to cap it with the latest installment. At this point I was ready for the series to switch gears again but instead of a full tilt switch in either the drama or action direction, Rambo found a middle ground where it dialed up both sides of the scale to enormous proportions. Rambo is the single most violent film I’ve seen all year, so be prepared for copious amounts of blood spray and limb dismemberment.
When a group of Christian missionaries look for passage into the war-torn Burma, they find a man named John Rambo to help them to their destination by way of his longboat. Though reluctant at first, Rambo sees the passion the missionaries present and is convinced by Sarah (Julie Benz), a particularly devoted individual who appeals to Rambo’s deeply hidden soft side. He knows their survival is unlikely and when word comes back that they’ve gone missing, Rambo joins forces with hired mercenaries to find the captured missionaries and free them from the vicious Nationalist Army.
There are a few things to note first off about Rambo. The first is that Stallone is old and occasionally looks like his face has been stung by a swarm of bees, but that’s a minor detail, considering he gets so covered in blood towards the end you don’t even notice after the first twenty minutes or so. The other thing to note, and this is the most important, is this is an absolutely brutal film. It’s not brutal just because it can be, it’s brutal in a historical sense considering everything recreated on screen is almost shot-for-shot what’s actually happening in Burma. Granted Vietnam veterans don’t usually go in and shoot the hell out of some Nationalist Army squads, but what the Nationalist Army does to its residents and prisoners is positively sickening to watch and you’re often torn between being disgusted with the state of the world that such atrocities could be going on and also wanting to root for more violence just so we can see Rambo obliterate everyone.
While Rambo is every bit an action movie that packs on myriads of graphical deaths and massacres, it also makes a bit of a political statement, as all of the Rambo movies are known to do. While Rambo is found living in Northern Thailand, he rarely engages in any physical or war-like activities anymore, instead choosing to be a snake wrangler for a nearby village and transporting roamers in his longboat. He knows full well about the atrocities going on in Burma and packs a pistol with him wherever he goes. Oddly there’s no knife like in the previous three movies and the lack of the knife almost makes the film feel completely different simply because there’s no brutal knife action (although Rambo does fashion himself with a machete).
The film’s first taste of brutality comes when he’s transporting the Christian missionaries across the river and they come in contact with pirates who demand that Sarah be given to them, as well as any valuables. Taking into considering his feelings and respect for Sarah, Rambo refuses to let this happen and carefully plans what order to kill the pirates in before opening fire and completely wasting the entire boat crew in a matter of seconds. In a way you see it coming, but considering we haven’t seen Rambo use a regular gun in close range like that before (he’s usually wielding the big honkers), it came as a bit of a surprise as well. After the shock wears off you realize that what you just saw was visually awesome and begin settling in for a nice ol’ romp through the jungles.
Of course the film eventually takes another drastic turn and focuses away from Rambo for awhile, which seems kind of odd for a film named after him, but whatever. I do think, however, that by taking the focus off of Rambo for a second and showing us what the Nationalist Army does to villages and missionaries we can get a better idea of the atrocities going on in Burma. It’s kind of weird to shove this political and social message into a film like Rambo, as you really go to see the film for the action and not be given a history lesson and it gives you the moral dilemma, making you question whether Rambo killing everyone is justified or not. Despite my knowing killing is wrong, I have to say that I give a resounding “hell yes” to Rambo killing everyone, as the Nationalist Army attack on the village is as difficult to watch as it is gory.
Once we refocus on Rambo he’s ferrying a group of mercenaries into Burma to rescue the missionaries. The characters introduced here range from funny, intriguing and annoying, as we have to listen to their overzealous commander Lewis (Graham McTavish) curse up a storm. I don’t mind when f-words and the like are used in frequency, but Lewis’s mouth just wouldn’t stop spilling them out to the point I wanted Rambo to use his fancy new machete and lop off his head. Of course you feel bad later when Lewis is injured, but man was he ever annoying on that boat.
For the rest of the film we see varying degrees of Rambo. He goes from squad commander to lone soldier, unloading a torrent of .50 caliber bullets from a truck mounted machine gun. It’s almost kind of cheap for Rambo to be hiding behind a shielded .50 caliber machine gun while letting the mercenaries actually get in on the close range combat, but watching the soldiers get mowed down in such quick and gory fashion is pure satisfaction. Plus Rambo gets to whip out the machete after the bullets run out, so we get to see a fair amount of bodily destruction not caused by rapid bullet fire.
The movie is definitely not for the faint of heart as it not only starts out with real news footage of the current state of Burma but also the absolute insanity of the death count (236, the most of any Rambo film). It’s got its share of shocking visuals and questionable material and earns every bit of its R rating. The film strays from the previous two with its more serious tone and because of that everything feels a bit more real.
Overall Rambo comes Recommended. It has its flaws (some of the CGI looks a bit hokey or oddly timed) but they’re easily dismissed simply for the entertainment factor that this film presents. While it feels a bit like a direct-to-DVD venture at times with the acting, Stallone did a fine job not only acting and writing this film but also directing it.
Great googly moogly, we got some bad-ass technical specks going on with this release. Rambo comes housed in a standard two-disc Blu-ray case (the second disc is the digital copy of the film) with inserts advertising other Blu-ray titles and the code for the digitalcopy. The menu system for Rambo is nicely done, although the sound effects of when switching to other options seems a bit strange, as it will only play on each option if you allow enough time to pass in between selections (i.e., sliding over three spaces immediately will trigger only one selection sound effect, whereas if you do it slowly each selection with make a sound). Not a huge deal, it just seems kind of strange when selecting options.
Moving onto the technical presentation for the film we have a solid mix of HD beauty. The visual transfer is flawless as you’d expect a recent production to be, boasting plenty of detail in the myriad of jungle sequences as well as a plenty of detail on character faces and the like. On top of the character detail we also get to see the films gore in glorious 1080p, which will no doubt make some of the sequences even harder to watch for some when you realize that piece of body matter flying across the screen is a bit of brain. For audio the film hammers out an English 7.1 DTS HD MA track that is absolutely thunderous. Bombs going off and gun fire all around the room, Rambo is an impressive feast for both the eyes and ears. A French 5.1 Dolby Digital track is also available as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
The first extra we get to is the audio commentary with Stallone. While this is the same commentary that will be available on the DVD edition, this Blu-ray release has a “Bonus View” Picture-in-Picture variant that tosses in extras about the film’s casting, locations and other tidbits. The commentary itself is as enlightening as the one for First Blood and Stallone is entertaining throughout. He mocks himself on occasions and points out the historical accuracies of the old WWII bomb exploding among other elements. It’s a really solid commentary and well worth listening to if you enjoyed the movie in the least.
After the commentary is a selection of seven featurettes, all presented here in 1080i. The first is “It's a Long Road: Resurrection of an Icon” (19:44) which dissects the process of bringing Rambo back to the big screen. The next extra, “A Score to Settle: The Music of Ramob” (6:31) tells of the music used in the film (the first Rambo film not to feature Jerry Goldsmith as the composer, so the new composer, Brian Tyler, had his work cut out for him). “The Art of War: Part 1, Editing” (6:47) talks about the editing process while “The Art of War: Part 2, Sound” (3:15) discusses the sound design used for the film. Those interested in the selection of guns used in the film will find “The Weaponry of Rambo” (14:23) a delight to watch and “A Hero's Welcome: Release and Reaction” (9:31) talks about the films critical reception. Finally “Legacy of Despair: The Struggle in Burma” (10:42) is a bit of a historical documentary, showing the war torn country through the years and its current status.
Moving on we have four deleted scenes (13:44), all of which are in 1080p and in a kind of 1.85:1 aspect ratio (it’s not exactly 1.85:1, but it’s my best guess). The scenes are mostly unfinished and are mostly extensions of scenes used in the film, so you aren’t missing much by having them removed from the film. Also exclusive to this Blu-ray release is a Rambo series trailer gallery, featuring a host of trailers from all of the Rambo films. A final extra also exclusive to this Blu-ray release is the MoLog. MoLog requires a Profile 2.0 enabled Blu-ray player and is essentially, I’m guessing, a message board viewable from your Blu-ray player. I say “guessing” because the download kept failing around 80%, so I’m not sure what was going and after the fourth try I figured the board was simply not ready for viewing yet.
That wraps up the Blu-ray release of Rambo and between the technical presentation and the host of extras, this is one awesome release. Plenty of detailed extras plus a wonderful commentary with Stallone makes this release come Highly Recommended.
Rambo is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.