Updated: May 18, 2020
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Sylvester Stallone plays former Green Beret John Rambo, a victim of circumstances against Sheriff Will Teasle and his team of redneck cops.
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1982; R for violence and language; Streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube
Best extra: Commentary with Rambo-man Sylvester Stallone
DAVID MORRELL'S 1972 novel about a Vietnam vet killing machine was the most widely optioned script in Hollywood. Twenty-six adaptations later, they were still trying to find the perfect John Rambo. Nearly every leading man in Hollywood had taken a pass, including Clint Eastwood, John Travolta, Nick Nolte, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and older actors Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. Even when Sylvester Stallone stepped in to take the iconic role, the prospects were still shaky for "First Blood."
“At first, I thought it was a disastrous idea.” — Sylvester Stallone
The $16 million movie was still without a studio. And now Stallone was having second thoughts, even though he inked a $3.5 million deal — extraordinary for the early '80s. "I felt the project was jinxed," says Stallone.
To keep the action star satisfied, director Ted Kotcheff (“North Dallas Forty”) gave Stallone the green light to take a stab at rewriting the script. In the original draft, Rambo goes on a shooting rampage, killing 18. In Stallone's version, the ex-Green Beret is a victim of circumstances, and doesn't kill a single person.
(1) Rambo traveled on foot to find Green Beret buddy Delrnare Berry. (2) Rambo enters the town of Hope in the Pacific Northwest. (3) Sheriff Teasle arrests John Rambo for vagrancy, resisting arrest and for concealing a weapon. (4) Jack Starrett plays abusive Deputy Sergeant Arthur Gault. (5) Deputies Ward (Chris Mulkey) and Mitch (David Caruso) try to shave Rambo, which triggers a PTSD flashback from Vietnam. (6) Vietnam (7) Rambo escapes.
During the fall of '82, moviegoers couldn't get enough of Rambo. "They went berserk and I knew we had a hit," says Morrell, during his commentary track. Morrell based Rambo on real-life World War II hero Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier. Murphy starred in his own autobiography, “To Hell and Back,” and appeared in over four dozen films. But he suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, which became the basis for Rambo’s post-Vietnam conflict.
Filmed 100 miles northeast of Vancouver, British Columbia, the constant gloomy winter rain added to the tension on screen between the one-man army of Rambo and Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy), a Korean War veteran, and his team of redneck cops. Originally, Kirk Douglas was to play Col. Samuel Trautman, the only person who could defuse the war in the sleepy town. But Douglas wanted rewrite privileges so, with only 24-hour notice, Richard Crenna was hired for the role.
“First Blood” was the No. 1 movie for three weeks, in late October and the first weekend in November 1982, and landed No. 13 overall for its U.S. ‘82 box office returns, right behind Best Picture Oscar-winner “Gandhi.” Stallone’s “Rocky III” was No. 4 that year, with “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” the box office champ. “First Blood” also received favorable reviews from Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert, who wrote: “The best scenes come as Stallone’s on the run in the forest, using a hunting knife with a compass in the handle, and living off the land. Stallone is one of the great physical actors in the movies.”
The 4K disc includes the two commentaries (Stallone & Morrell), but the enclosed Blu-ray contains the remaining bonus features. Studio Canal/Lionsgate provides two new featurettes: The first, “Rambo Takes the ‘80s, Part 1,” offers interviews from a number of British film scholars (Studio Canal is a Franco-British production company). Actor/writer/producer Nick Moran says the producers paid a then-record $380,000 for the movie rights, which had more in common with “Taxi Driver” than with “Commando,” says Moran. Its central theme tackled Rambo’s issue of PTSD, says actor Chris Mulkey, who plays Ward, one of the deputies. “First Blood” was a global success, nearly doubling its domestic returns, as Japanese moviegoers considered Rambo, “a samurai warrior,” according to director Peter Macdonald, who helmed “Rambo III.”
Extras also include a 15-minute workout, so you can Rambo-ize your own body. Stallone’s personal trainer for “Rambo 2,” Dr. Franco Columbu, who’s also a chiropractor, provides instructions, with reps for your biceps, triceps, forearms and chest. There are five carryover featurettes: “The Forging of Heroes: American Green Berets,” in which a former Green Beret says they are more technicians than killers; “The Real Nam,” providing interviews with Vietnam veterans; “Making of” featurettes, outtakes, and a deleted scene.
Studio Canal supervised the 4K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative (2.34:1 aspect ratio) and the results are exceptional with clarity never seen before. The 4K extracts the finest detail, from facial markings to distant trees and rock formations from the wide shots, and controlled natural film grain visible on both formats. The HDR toning is darker, accentuating the gloominess of the winter weather, with dark inky blacks; while the highlights and mid-tones provide more depth, especially during Rambo’s fiery red and orange explosions. The overall color palette is full of earth tones, and facial coloring is natural and measured on the 4K, without the slight orange push found on the Blu-ray.
No new Dolby Atmos or DTS:X are upgraded on the 4K or Blu-ray, but both feature the standard six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack, which is quite serviceable for the 35-year old film. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is nicely balanced throughout, from its electronic synthesizer and brass overlay, with aggressive percussions. And dialogue is front and center, and the effects bounce around the room from the surround speakers, adding audible depth from front to back.
“First Blood” really shines in 4K, and on November 13, Lionsgate is also releasing the sequels “Rambo: First Blood Part 2” and “Rambo III” in Ultra HD.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer