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“The Karate Kid” is on his way in Sony’s 4K Ultra HD


Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) teaches Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) the hand training technique of “Wax on, wax off.”

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4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray; 1984; PG for language and violence; Digital copy Amazon Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Fandango Home (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), YouTube (4K)


Best extra: The two-part “The Way of The Karate Kid” (2004)


FORTY-YEARS AGO this week, an ‘80s teen flick wrapped inside a “Rocky” movie premiered in Los Angeles. To celebrate its anniversary Sony Pictures has released its third 4K Ultra HD edition of “The Karate Kid,” housed in an outer slipcover designed like the original VHS tape with worn-off ink – as if you’ve watched it a hundred times.


I saw the delightful film that opening weekend with my young wife, after watching the late film critic Roger Ebert give it a big “Thumbs Up!” on the weekly TV show “At the Movies” he co-hosted with Gene Siskel. “This is one of the nice surprises of 1984 – an exciting, sweet-tempered, heart-warming story with one of the most interesting friendships in a long time,” Ebert said in his Chicago Sun-Times newspaper review, giving the film four stars (out of 4).


By summer’s end, the best line from the underdog film was already etched into the American culture – “Wax on, wax off.” It finished as the No. 4 box office movie of the year, right behind “Gremlins,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and No. 1 “Ghostbusters.”


The “Stand up and Cheer” story from screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen (“The Fifth Element,” “Taken”) would spawn a string of movies, an animated TV series, a Netflix series “Cobra Kai” now heading into its sixth season, and a stage musical. Kaman had a long history in martial arts, and the idea rolled inside his head for years before writing the script. The biggest stumbling block was his confidence, “I didn’t think anyone would want to see it,” he said during the 20-year-old carryover featurette “The Way of ‘The Karate Kid.’” Oscar-winning director John G. Avildsen from “Rocky” (1976), was immediately drawn to the script. “Who wouldn’t want a Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita, ‘Happy Days’) as a surrogate father?”


Kamen envisioned Daniel LaRusso, the New Jersey teenager, who moves to Los Angeles with his mother, as “A wimp, but with a chip on his shoulder.” At the time New Yorker Ralph Macchio was 22 years old, but looked barely 16, and had just finished Francis Ford Coppola’s adaption of “The Outsiders” as Johnny Cade. Avildsen was unsure if Macchio was the right guy, opposite Elisabeth Shue (“Leaving Las Vegas”) as Ali, the girl-next-door, to become “The most unlikely pair.” After the audition, he called Macchio back and told him he better get some karate lessons.


Ali is the former girlfriend of tough guy Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), who has a black belt from the brutal sensei of Cobra Kai Dojo, John Kreese (Martin Kove). Daniel quickly finds himself at odds with Johnny and his gang but is saved by Mr. Miyagi, a Japanese janitor at the apartment complex, who catches flies with chopsticks. Miyagi is a Martial Arts master and agrees to take Daniel as his student for the upcoming karate tournament ‘Championship of the Valley.’ 



The 4K disc includes a new commentary with the three New Jersey filmmakers who created the “Cobra Kai” series. “We connected to this movie as kids, just watching Daniel LaRusso. We were totally in his shoes,” says Jon Hurwitz. “None of us had been to California before, so it’s us following him on this journey, and we ended up emulating him later in life, all coming out to L.A. and becoming writers and directors.”


The disc also includes, for the first time, 30-minutes of deleted scenes dailies – with the fight sequences the most interesting with multi-cameras rolling and hundreds of extras, plus the 35th anniversary featurette “Remembering ‘The Karate Kid’” with reflective interviews with Macchio, Zabka, and Kove, who only got a one-day notice to play the unhinged Vietnam Vet Kreese who preached “No Mercy.” Macchio felt then, and today, “that I was just the right kid at the right time.”


The enclosed Blu-ray, which is a recycled 15-year-old disc, includes a chatty commentary with the director, writer, and co-stars Macchio and Pat Morita; the excellent two-part “The Way of The Karate Kid” with interviews with Kamen, Avildsen, and Macchio who at first thought the title was like “Saturday morning television?” Kamen was just as unimpressed with Macchio, thinking he was “obnoxious.” Also joining the conversation are Kove, Zabka, and Morita, who recalls how he spontaneously came up with Mr. Miyagi’s mystical voice. Morita received an Academy Award nomination for his performance. Zabka played Johnny as if Daniel was the villain, the “guy who steals my girlfriend,” and Kove examines the issue of bullies and how it continues to be a grave and growing problem in schools.


Additional featurettes include “Beyond the Form” with Martial Arts master and choreographer Pat E. Johnson, “A Life of Bonsai” with bonsai master Ben Oki, “East Meets West” with composer Bill Conti, and the music video “Moment of Truth” from Survivor, who also recorded “Eye of the Tiger” for “Rocky III.”



It doesn’t matter how you slice it, the 4K video on this 40th Anniversary edition is nearly identical to the 35th Anniversary 4K disc, which only featured HDR10 grading, but it’s a 4K clone of the 2021 disc featured in the three movie “The Karate Kid Collection.”

The original 35mm camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio) was scanned in 4K some years ago, which was the basis for all three 4K versions, which extracts every spec of Sony’s non-meditative film grain. At times the imagery becomes soft from composite fades or out-of-focus shots. But overall, the resolution clarity is far superior to the old and tired 1080p disc, from wide shots to close-ups captured throughout the San Fernando Valley, Carrillo State Beach in Malibu, the still-open Golf ‘N’ Stuff in Norwalk, CA, and the Matadome on the Cal State Northridge campus used for the finale karate tournament.


All three 4K discs provide excellent HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading with natural facial toning, saturated colors, and controlled highlights and shadows. Video bitrates are identical averaging in the mid-50 Megabits per second range; the peak HDR10 brightness varies slightly between the 2019 disc hitting 3815 nits and the 2021 disc and this one zooms up to 4010 nits. The average light level is slightly brighter hitting 268 nits.



All three 4K versions include an upgraded eight-channel Dolby Atmos which provides a wide soundstage from the centered dialogue to a light dusting of effects popping to your rears, sides, and height speakers. We can’t forget composer Bill Conti’s (“Rocky,” “The Right Stuff”) lively score from traditional orchestration to ‘80s electronic keyboards and drums.


‘80s teen flick lovers this is an automatic 4K purchase – especially if you don’t own one of the previous releases.


Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

All Valley Karate Championship


4K Menu


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