Director: Ted Kotcheff
Based on a novel by David Morrell
Rated: R (violence) (a deleted scene contains nudity)
Sylvester Stallone as John J. Rambo
Brian Dennehy as Sheriff Will Teasle
Richard Crenna as Col. Trautman
When people think of the Rambo movies, they generally think of Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III. In these movies, John Rambo (reluctantly) acts as the personification of the invincible American military, fighting overseas to rescue POWs still held in Vietnam or stopping the Soviets from invading Afghanistan. They're very conservative, pro-military movies casting the US in the best possible light against global Communist aggression. Very Reagan era.
The first movie in the series couldn't be further from that message. Vietnam veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) opens the movie trying to track down his last surviving friend from the war, only to find out from his widow that he died of cancer the year before. When he realizes his last tie to society has been severed, he hands over the picture to her and tosses his address book into a fire. He has nothing now. No family, no friends, no job, and no direction.
Wandering through the small city of Hope (USA in the movie, but actually filmed in a city called Hope in Canada), his dirty, unshaven appearance gets him hassled by Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy). One thing leads to another as he gets arrested, washed down with a fire hose, and beaten with a billy club for defiantly resisting their misapplied authority. But when they hold him down to try to shave him, he has a flashback to being tortured in a Vietnamese POW camp and fights his way out of the police station to escape.
That's gonna look real good on his grave stone in Arlington: Here lies John Rambo, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, survivor of countless incursions behind enemy lines. Killed for vagrancy in Jerkwater, USA.
From there the situation just gets worse and worse. Rambo was a member of an elite special forces unit in Vietnam and has the survivalist training necessary to survive in the woods surrounding the town. Every attempt the local police make to bring him back to jail gets another one of them critically injured from booby traps, ambushes, or stolen weapons — but Rambo stops short of actually killing anyone except for an accidental fall from a helicopter. (This is in stark contrast to the original book, where Rambo does not hesitate to kill in self-defense.)
Eventually the state police and then the National Guard are called in, but they too find themselves outsmarted and outmatched, even after triangulating Rambo's hideout in an abandoned mine when he defends his actions over a radio. As the situation gets media attention, Rambo's old commanding officer Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) finds his way over to advise Sheriff Teasle on how to handle this, but to Teasle this has gotten personal and he wants to do it his way.
I don't think you understand. I didn't come to rescue Rambo from you. I came here to rescue you from him.
In the end, violence didn't solve anything. It just made the situation worse, every time, for both sides. When Trautman finally confronts Rambo, surrounded by police in a police station he just shot up, he is finally able to understand what drove Rambo to do what he did, and talks him into giving himself up.
Back there I could fly a gunship, I could drive a tank, I was in charge of million dollar equipment. Back here I can't even hold a job!
The movie was extremely well done and did an excellent job of portraying the escalation of violence and the motivations of the characters, even the taciturn John Rambo, whose story is told through his actions, flashbacks, and Col. Trautman's analysis. The story is that of a man turned into a killing machine by the military and then abandoned when he was no longer needed, and consequently found himself with nothing, in a country that rejected him for being that which it turned him into. It's interesting to note that despite all the gunfire and bloodshed, only about four people were actually killed, and Rambo was only indirectly responsible for all of them. I give it four stars out of five.
Rambo: First Blood — Ultimate Edition
The Ultimate Edition is a version of the movie released on DVD with a number of bonus features.
- The alternate ending in which Rambo asks Colonel Trautman to kill him rather than allow him to be taken to jail. Apparently this is the book's original ending, or close to it.
- A flashback sequence cut from the movie where Rambo remembers being with his unit in a bar in Vietnam. This optional scene contains the movie's only nudity.
- A "humorous" version of the alternate ending, which appears to be an out-take and isn't very funny.
Commentary Track by Sylvester Stallone
The commentary track is really quite good. Stallone talks about his experiences on the set and what he thought of the movie at the time, and his current interpretation of the film. He describes the filming conditions as terrible, in the cold Canadian December, often wading waist-deep through ice-cold water, getting bitten by rats, and breaking ribs doing a few of the stunt scenes (and giving appropriate credit to all stuntmen everywhere for what they go through). He also goes through a little history of the survival knife he uses, custom-made for the movie. Near the end, during the part where Rambo has declared all-out war on the sleepy little town of Hope, he talks about how this was not a pro-war or a pro-violence movie at all, despite the way it seems to be popularly understood.
Are DVDs still in the experimental stage or something? Haven't they made enough over the years that we should have gotten a feel for what customers want? Menus and how they behave vary widely from disc to disc, some being more user-friendly than others. TV series DVDs are particularly noteworthy in that some of them can be set to play episodes back-to-back without interruption and others force you to revisit the menu between episodes.
And there there's these silly little gimmicks like Survival Mode. If you choose to view Rambo: First Blood in survival mode, the words "Survival Mode" appear in small grey text in the lower-left corner of the screen. At certain key points in the movie, it will count down from 5 and then allow you to access a special feature which interrupts the scene, and then goes back to the movie when it's over. There are four general ways this is used, each more useless and pointless than the last.
Character Bios introduce the main players when they first show up. This is pointless since it provides absolutely no additional insight into the character and really doesn't tell you anything of importance that the story doesn't. It just provides details such as when the character graduated high school, his criminal record (usually either "none" or a short list of minor offenses such as DUI), and any military background.
Chase Scenes shrink the action down to a tiny screen on the bottom and provide a terrible looking radar view superimposed over a satellite image in a tiny screen at the top. Colored dots represent the people or vehicles involved during the chase. The majority of the screen is taken up by entirely superfluous computer graphics like blinking lights and a 3D terrain map that don't do anything but make things look more computer-graphicky, kind of like how smoking beakers full of colored liquids make a science lab look more science-laby.
Information Screens also shrink the action down entirely too small to provide additional pictures and text describing the weapons or other items of interest on the screen. It appears to have been put together by doing about 5 minutes of research from Google on machine guns, triangulation of radio signals, and hunting wild boar. Facts are such items of incredible importance to the movie's storyline as "wild boar should be cooked to 170F to kill any parasites in the meat".
Robot View is so unnecessary that I can't imagine how its inclusion was justified. It turns the screen into a psuedo-robo-vision camera like those used in Terminator, Predator, or Robocop. The screen goes night vision green, target sights are superimposed over characters, and a terse situation analysis is superimposed over the action giving tactical information such as the number of enemy targets injured and the latin name for the Norwegian brown rat. After these sequences are over, the DVD "rewinds" and shows the scene again in its original format.
If you've already got a copy of Rambo: First Blood, don't get the Ultimate Edition for the Survival Mode features. It provides no helpful or interesting additional information, and in fact it's rather distracting and breaks the pacing of the movie.