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FIRST BLOOD
4K Ultra HD Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Lionsgate
Features: See Review
Length: 93 Minutes
Release Date: November 13, 2018

Are you telling me that 200 men against your boy is a no win situation for us?”

If you send that many, don’t forget one thing.”

What?”

A good supply of body bags.”

Film ***

The year was 1982. At the time, Sylvester Stallone was known mostly for his success with the first three Rocky movies. He had also done one action thriller called Nighthawks, which pitted him against a lethal Rutger Hauer, but Stallone had not yet fully embraced the genre. Engaging in an enterprise somewhat different from the boxing movie franchise, the talented actor and writer tried his hand in his first all out action movie.

The result was First Blood, and as the character of John Rambo, Stallone had arrived in a film that would pave the way for his future career as a successful action movie star. Both an edgy action thriller and a brash political statement, First Blood remains one of the most popular action films of the 1980s. But truth be told, it’s more of a character study than a action movie.

It introduces us to Rambo, a drifter who’s in search of a former army buddy he served with in Vietnam. After learning of his death to cancer, Rambo wanders into a small town looking for simply something to eat. The local sheriff, Teasle (Brian Dennehy) doesn't approve of what he sees when he catches a first glance of the drifter. He escorts Rambo out of the district, advising him to find food elsewhere. When he refuses to obey the sheriff's order, he is immediately and very wrongly arrested.

When faced with a form of police brutality not that different from the POW prison camp in Nam where he was held captive, Rambo quickly fights back with a vengeance. After fighting his way out of the precinct, Rambo eludes the authorities and heads for the mountain areas of the Pacific Northwest. Teasle and his men track Rambo's every move, and once in the mountains, it becomes an all out war between one man and one incompetent-by-comparison task force.

Not too long after the media has made the manhunt their top story, and just when Teasle is wondering just who and what this Rambo really is, a man arrives at the scene to provide the exact answer. That man is Col. Trautman (Richard Crenna), who was Rambo's supervising commander. Trautman advises the sheriff and his men that Rambo is a force not to be messed with, since he is skillfully trained in the arts of jungle survival and combat fighting. Of course, as any ignorant villain would do, Teasle ignores Trautman's advice and engages in a deadly hunt down.

The real message of the film comes near the end when Rambo, confronted by his mentor, cries out about the pain he's suffered as a returning soldier who fought in a war and came home battered and bruised by all the injustices done to him and all the rallies and anti-war demonstrations. It might seem as a cheap and cornball way to end an action film, but Stallone, who co-wrote the screenplay, performs this scene so wonderfully and believable that we buy it.

First Blood is indeed an edgy ride of a movie, filled with constant action, and a moral quality not necessarily needed in such a film, but at the same time, a quality hardly felt in any movie.

Video ***1/2

This 4K release from Lionsgate boasts a most remarkably detailed picture for an early 80s pic. I can certainly say that since this one had the least impressive transfer of the series on DVD, this presentation is a tremendous step up and serves as the best treatment it has gotten yet! When the action cuts to the forest showdown between Rambo and the police, the detail really begins to show off immensely. It’s a darkly lit movie for most of the running time, but the black and blue levels are displayed in a most riveting form.

Audio ***1/2

The same can be said for the sound quality as the DTS HD mix provides by far the best performance this film has ever been given. It’s not as action laden as the sequels are, but there is enough gun shots and explosions for the lossless audio to perfectly accommodate. In addition, the dialogue delivery and, especially, Jerry Goldsmith’s timeless score are captured in pitch perfect form.

Features ****

Lionsgate has always done the Rambo movies terrific service in the extras department, as all of the extras from past incarnations of this release find their way onto this brand new 4K Ultra HD edition. Included on the 4K disc are two commentary tracks; one with Sylvester Stallone and the second with novelist David Morrell. Those commentaries can also be found on the standard Blu-ray disc, which is where the remainder of the extras are. Among those are several featurettes, including “Rambo Takes the 80s Part 1“, which takes a glimpse at the impact of the Rambo legacy via insights from several film writers and critics. There’s also an additional making of retrospective, as well as “The Real Nam” and “Forging Heroes”, both of which look at realistic aspects that the movie draws on. We also get “How to Become Rambo Part 1“, which shows how one goes about achieving Rambo’s physique (fat chance in my case), as well as an Outtake, an Alternative Ending, a Deleted Scene, a look at The Restoration and a Trailer.

Summary:

Rambo has officially made his arrival on 4K, courtesy of Lionsgate. First Blood remains a most effective opening chapter of the saga, as well as the most character driven installment.

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