For all his success as an actor, writer and director, Sylvester Stallone has had a lot of critical and commercial failures. But he always has two things to fall back on, more accurately two characters: Rocky and Rambo. Whenever he took a chance with a film like Rhinestone or Oscar he could always go back to a Rocky or Rambo. sequel. Stallone’s star faded the further away from those franchises the less relevant he became as an A-list star, even suffering the fate of fellow ‘80s action stars Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal in having many of his films get shunted into direct-to-video hell. So he did the one thing that allowed him one last run at being an A-list action star: make sequels to Rocky and Rambo once again. After closing out the story of Rocky with one more film (Rocky Balboa) to give it a proper finale, Stallone ended up giving John Rambo a finale of his own with Rambo . Now Lionsgate has collected all four films about the disillusioned Vietnam veteran into a complete collection.
It’s an interesting story arc that Stallone, who was a writer throughout the series as well as directing the final film in the series, brings to John Rambo. Starting out as a disaffected veteran suffering from PTSD from experiences as a Special Forces operative in Vietnam, Rambo becomes more than just an anti-hero looking for a fight. The series is about a man searching for peace acceptance of who and what he is.
First Blood, originally set to be a Steve McQueen vehicle before his death from cancer, introduces us to burned out Vietnam veteran John Rambo (Stallone), who is wandering the highways of the Pacific Northwest to find his last remaining war buddy. When an overzealous sheriff (Brian Dennehy) decides to push Rambo, he snaps and decides to bring a war to small-town Washington that it never wanted. In the mix is his old commander, Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna), sent by the Army to prevent further carnage from its former employee.
It’s an interesting film, to say the least, and it’s also the one most grounded as well. Rambo is a man of violence looking for a fight but also looking to be left alone. But when challenged by local authorities above and beyond normal, his choice is to bring them a war they can’t handle because it’s all he knows how to do. This is a dark, dramatic film that allows Stallone to have some range while remaining an action film.
Due to the success of that film, Rambo First Blood Part II was made and the tone immediately changes from a more grounded one to a blockbuster action film. Written in part by Avatar auteur James Cameron, with some changes from Stallone and others, the film becomes much more of a “one man army” action film than a dramatic action film. This time around Rambo is dropped back into Vietnam to merely “take some photographs” for the military. When he finds P.O.W.’s alive and well, and is abandoned by the slimy Murdock (Charles Napier), Rambo rages a one man war against Communist Vietnamese and their Soviet advisers.
The second is perhaps the most memorable of the franchise, the one that’s always on the lists of “Best action movies of all time,” because it’s an unabashed big dumb action film in the way that isn’t a self parody. It also did lots of great things from a technical standpoint that is still cribbed from today, and the film’s cinematography is still stunning all these years later.
Caught up in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan during the end of the 1980s were a number of films, most notably Rambo III. Having found some notion of peace in Thailand, stick-fighting for cash and living as a resident handyman with Buddhist monks, he’s drawn into the conflict when Trautman is captured by the Soviets behind enemy lines. Working with the Muhjadeen resistance, this is a rescue mission as Rambo has to go behind enemy lines to save his mentor in what was then the most expensive film ever made.
The third film feels a little awkward now, in the post September 11th era and subsequent U.S invasion of Afghanistan, as Rambo teams up with the predecessors of the same people U.S troops are now fighting. But it is a serviceable action film, though not excessively brilliant, and took the character to a point where Stallone could’ve walked away and been proud of it. But there was one story to tell, and Rambo was it.
Two decades after Rambo III, Rambo finds us in Burma with the titular hero. Having led some humanitarian types into the country’s genocide, he’s charged with leading a rescue mission to save them. Having led the life of a killer behind, Rambo has truly come full circle in what was one of 2008’s best.
Matching the tone of the original First Blood, but without all the pesky “character development” aspects of it, it takes the excessive violence and pares it with a much less of a blockbuster style. This is tough and gritty, a film so violent it makes the opening minutes of Saving Private Ryan look suitable for children, and brings Rambo into the modern world. This is a man long at peace with who he is, and what he’s done, and living how he can when he’s sucked back in to the world of violence he left.
The series is presented in a widescreen format with a Dolby digital format. The films have been cleaned up since their initial release onto DVD but are still the same release quality as originally on Blu-Ray.
Each of the films has a Out of the Blu Trivia with various interesting tidbits about the film that can be run separately, as well as Commentary tracks.
Disc 1: First Blood
Drawing First Blood focuses on the long path it took to get the film made. Optioned 26 times, and having gone through half a dozen studios, First Blood had a bit of a cursed reputation until it came into the hands of Stallone. Having reworked the novel into something a bit more cinematic, this is from the original “Special Edition” DVD release.
Deleted Scenes, including the alternate ending that follows the book, are included from the original DVD release.
Trailers for Blu-Ray releases of The Descent and Crank are included.
Disc 2: Rambo: First Blood Part II
We Get To Win This Time is from the original “Special Edition” DVD release and follows the shorter path it took to get made. With foreign box office receipts proving the difference between it being a franchise or just a singular film, the film was a bit of a nightmare in production due to the problems with Mexican authorities. The cast and crew rave about Stallone and his work ethic, as he put in four hours a day plus in workouts as well as did a large majority of the stunt work in the film.
The Trailer for Rambo is included.
Disc 3: Rambo III
Land in Crisis is a piece exploring the motivations behind Rambo’s descent into the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, as well as some historical context about the history of Afghanistan when it comes to invading forces. It is also from the film’s original “Special Edition” DVD release.
Disc 4: Rambo
Trailers for War, the original special edition of the first three films of the Rambo trilogy, Crank and the Thomas Jane version of The Punisher.
There are seven Featurettes included from the original “Special Edition” DVD release. Able to be viewed separately or as one extended feature, the featurettes focus on the entire aspect of the film from its conception to its attempt at some sort of social commentary about the atrocities in Burma. There’s also a piece about the situation that has developed in Burma that sheds some light on the situation. Completely from the perspective of those opposed to it, for those keeping track, it makes for a fascinating (if depressing) feature.
Deleted Scenes are included once again from the “Special Edition” already released and while they have the same level of audio/visual finish the film itself has they don’t add anything back into the film.
Outside of the upgrade to Blu-ray for the updated experience, there’s nothing else on this Blu-ray release that’s new or extra if you already own the individual titles. If you don’t have the titles already on DVD it’s still not a tremendous purchase because the original trilogy and Rambo on Blu-ray are about the same cost, as well, so unless you want all four discs in a small case for size purposes it’s hard to recommend this as a purchase as its new but necessarily better than prior releases.
Lionsgate presents Rambo: The Complete Collector’s Edition. Based off the novel “First Blood” by David Morrell. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna, Julie Benz. Released on Blu-ray Disc: July 27, 2010.