THE KARATE KID
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Ralph Macchio, Pat
Morita, Elisabeth Shue, William Zabka, Martin Kove
Director: John G. Avildsen
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 126 Minutes
Release Date: May 11, 2010
“You're the best friend I ever had.”
Some time back, my comrade-in-arms Ed and I were discussing good movies with terrible titles. Films like To Have and Have Not and From Hell came up, but one of my biggest examples was The Karate Kid. It's the kind of title that sounds like it was settled on out of pure desperation...yet it was one of the biggest crowd-pleasing films of the 80s and remains an iconic fan favorite to this day.
It was directed by John G. Avildsen, the man who helmed the original Rocky, and a filmmaker who therefore fully understood the underdog-makes-good story. In this case, the underdog was Daniel (Macchio, 22 years old but looking more like 13), a fish out of water when he and his mother move from New Jersey to California.
It doesn't take long for Daniel to make a new friend in Alli (Shue) and an enemy in Johnny (Zabka). Alli is a possible love interest for the stranger in a strange land, but her hothead boyfriend Johnny has other ideas. To make matters worse, Johnny is the lead student in a group called Kobra Kai, a karate school led by a vicious tyrant Kreese (Kove) who trains his young men to be aggressive and merciless.
But Daniel also finds a friend in Mr. Miyagi (Morita), his building's quiet maintenance man who knows what karate is REALLY supposed to be about...namely defense, not offense, and finding balance in your style and your life. When Miyagi rescues Daniel from a certain thrashing at the hands of the Kobra Kai, he becomes a mentor and surrogate father to the boy.
With two months to go before the valley's big martial arts tournament, Miyagi buys Daniel the time off from his beatings with the pledge to show up and finally confront the ruthless Kreese and his boys on the big day. It's not a lot of time, but as many fans warmly remember, Miyagi has many hard lessons to teach Daniel...lessons that come to fruition in one of the movie's best scenes.
This is the kind of movie that's made up of great scenes, and most of them owing to the chemistry between the younger Macchio and the older Morita. These are two characters with nothing in common who bring out the best in one another, and as Miyagi teaches Daniel the true ways of karate, Daniel also helps his master learn to heal from old wounds as well.
The finale is legendary, and perfect, and cried out for a sequel. Unfortunately, as the sequels progressed, the spirit got weaker and weaker...by Part III, there was little left of the joy and spark that made the original such a hit despite such a crappy sounding title. But there will always be The Karate Kid, the original and best, still standing like a champion in a tried and true genre as one of its most shining examples.
I've mentioned this film is a perennial favorite of mine, yet I hadn't seen it in many years. The reason? For far too long Sony has left this movie inexcusably in altered full-frame format in DVD instead of a good widescreen presentation, anamorphic or otherwise. It took Blu-ray to rectify that situation, and I'm pleased to say it was worth the wait. Though there are some instances of grain in darker sequences and a few noticeable artifacts of aging, high definition did will for this movie from the ever-troublesome 80s decade, bringing out brighter colors, more contrast, and more detail than I could recall from my laser disc days. Nicely done.
I'm pleased to see a DTS HD soundtrack for this film, but it's not the kind that will make too many demands on your system. There are some moments of dynamic range, particularly from the striking score and the big tournament scenes at the end. Dialogue is perfectly rendered and balanced nicely throughout, but I can't say I noticed a lot of discreet rear channel usage. Overall, perfectly good, just not a major representation of the format's audio capabilities.
There is an enjoyable commentary track featuring stars Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita, along with director John G. Avildsen and writer Robert Mark Kamen...it's humorous and informative. There is also a two part retrospective documentary featuring the same individuals, but also Martin Kove and William Zabka and others. There are featurettes on the score by Bill Conti, the Bonsai, and “Beyond the Form”. The Blu-ray also offers optional pop-up trivia while you watch, and BD LIVE for your internet-capable player.
It's been far too long for me, but I'm thrilled to see The Karate Kid again, and this time frame correctly and looking like it should thanks to this solid Blu-ray offering from Sony.