It’s a shame that the Rambo series devolved into a cheap knock-off of other countless action movies. Most people write off the first film as they do the sequels. The original is a brutal, vicious, fight for survival against a small town that rejected the Vietnam War hero, based on an even more violent book. First Blood is not for the squeamish, but a great way to spend an evening if you’re not expecting the style of the sequels.
One of the most often misinterpreted facts about this film is that Rambo himself never kills anyone until the end. Even then, he is only doing so in order to defend himself against those who reject him for no reason other than his looks. He is 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 barely speaks until his final mental breakdown in the end. The tension created by director Ted Kotcheff is wonderful. The forest photography is great, giving the lead character his only real advantage other than a survival knife. It’s a different style of violence than the brain-dead action these movies usually provide. Rambo’s intelligent use of his surroundings is innovative, and always surprising.
As usual, not everything is perfect here. The final twenty minutes 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 subjects of countless parodies.
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.
At first glance, this transfer appears to be excellent. For its age, the print is remarkably clean, and that’s a dead giveaway something is amiss. First Blood’s print is devoid of natural grain. Instead, what’s left is weirdly static. Smearing is obvious during fast action scenes, a sure sign of DNR. That said, the color has a beautiful richness to it. Details in the forest are noticeable, but it’s easy to see how this could look better given a proper hi-def transfer. Black levels could be deeper, and the distinct lack of fine detail is a disappointment.
Surround use is the highlight of this 5.1 EX or DTS-HD presentation. The low fidelity of the source is obvious, and bass is either completely absent or too weak to hear. However, the explosions and action scenes are complemented by loads of rear speaker and stereo channel audio. Rambo’s final assault on the town is a nice piece of mixing given the age and the work that went into updating this soundtrack.
Though light in the features department, what’s included is superb. 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 written in the first place. Stallone goes solo for a secondary commentary and explains his performances and style in depth.
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. Deleted scenes include the legendary alternate ending in which Rambo is killed. A Blu-ray exclusive is a fun pop-up trivia track, though the commentaries cover much of the same ground. The usual array of trailers marks the end of the disc.