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A soft-spoken Vietnam vet drifts into a small town looking for no trouble, but finds it in the form of a psychotic local sheriff who derives pleasure in hating him for no reason. After being locked up in the local jail, he escapes into the nearby forest where he is chased by the police and things get out of hand as he becomes a one-man army bent on revenge.
For more about First Blood and the First Blood Blu-ray release, see First Blood Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on December 1, 2007 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy, David Caruso, Jack Starrett, Michael Talbott
Director: Ted Kotcheff
» See full cast & crew
First Blood Blu-ray Review
This exciting, raw, and poignant film is one every movie and Blu-ray fan should own.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, December 1, 2007
They drew first blood, not me.
Let's get one thing out of the way right off the bat: First Blood is one of my favorite movies, period. It consistently cracks my top five list, and it's likely it always will. I find First Blood to have the perfect mixture of action, drama, raw emotion, fine acting, excellent direction, and music. This is a movie that rivals the novel it is based on in terms of quality, entertainment, and pace. There are certainly some major differences between the two, and while both convey the same basic story, the film and the novel differ enough that they become separate, individual entities that are both strong entries into the world of fiction.
First Blood is the story of Vietnam veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa). He's a drifter, a loner, and is looking for one of his friends from Vietnam, Delmar Berry, in the mountains of Washington state. He finds his house, only to find that he died a slow and painful death from cancer, which he contracted via "agent orange," a chemical herbicide employed by the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam conflict. The last living man from his unit, Rambo moves on and enters the town of Hope where he first encounters Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy, Ratatouille). He drives Rambo to the edge of town and tells him the people of Hope don't want drifters like Rambo passing through town. Rambo only wanted to eat, but Teasle won't have it. Rambo is let out of the car at the edge of town and proceeds to walk back in. Teasle arrests Rambo. At the station, it comes to light that John Rambo is a Vietnam Veteran, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and a former prisoner of war. Flashing back to his day as a P.O.W., Rambo fights his way out of the station and escapes into the mountains outside of town, where a massive manhunt begins. Teasle and his men cannot bring Rambo in, so the national guard and Colonel Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna, The Flamingo Kid), are called out to do so. Trautman was Rambo's commanding officer in Vietnam, and it is believed (though not by Teasle), that he may be the only way to bring in Rambo without further bloodshed. As Trautman says, if they try and get Rambo Teasle's way, they will need one thing: "a good supply of body bags." Sure enough, the stubborn, determined, and foolhardy Teasle ignores Trautman's advice and by film's end, Rambo has rampaged through the streets of Hope, destroying ungodly amounts of property and facing off with Teasle one last time.
I wish my summary could do more justice to just how spectacular of a movie First Blood is. Director Ted Kotcheff (North Dallas Forty) has crafted a visually spectacular film that is replete with action and gut-wrenching emotion, both of which he handles flawlessly. Sylvester Stallone turns in one of the great performances, ever, in the final moments of the film. The nonstop action and violence of not only the past ninety minutes of the movie but of Rambo's entire adult life reduces the decorated Special Forces killing machine into a childlike shell of himself, crying onto the shoulder of Trautman as he recalls the horrors of not only Vietnam but the horrors of his unappreciated and difficult life in the post-war United States. I'll be forever upset that Sly didn't earn himself an Oscar nod if only for his performance in the film's final moments. It's powerful, raw, depressing, and realistic. Dennehy and Crenna also turn in extraordinary performances as Teasle and Trautman (named so because he is the "angler" who will lure Rambo back into reality). I can't see Brian Dennehy in any other role and not immediately think to myself, "Sheriff Teasle." I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Jerry Goldsmith's (Basic Instinct) memorable, heroic score. Nearly as iconic as Rambo himself, Goldsmith's score complements the action and drama perfectly, never overshadowing the film but enhancing it with every note. It's a Long Road, based on Jerry Goldsmith's theme and performed by Dan Hill, plays over the end credits and is also excellent.
Based on a novel originally published in 1972 while the United States was still engaged in the Vietnam conflict, author David Morrell wrote this story as his answer to the question, "what would happen if the Vietnam conflict came home to America?" The novel, which takes place in Kentucky rather than Washington, paints Rambo in a completely different light. Where he is a hero in the film, he's a villain in the novel. He kills at will, slaughtering the policemen and national guardsmen at every turn. In fact, the body count in the novel is over 250. In the movie, only one character is killed onscreen and indirectly by Rambo, and only several other unknown characters die throughout. As a result, Rambo is a much more sympathetic character in the movie than he is in the novel. The basis for Morrell's novel is a man who is trained killer, sent to do what he does abroad, and is brought home without anyone ever "deactivating" him. The character, according to Morrell, is heavily influenced by World War II hero Audie Murphy, who himself had difficulty re-adjusting to life back home. Another change from page to screen is that, in the novel, Sheriff Teasle is himself a decorated war hero, but from Korea. We see only a glimpse of his medals, including a purple Heart, in the film. In the novel, Morrell plays each character off one another. Teasle hunts Rambo in a more traditional , straightforward manner, similar to the way he fought in Korea, while Rambo wages a guerrilla war against Teasle, using his knowledge, instinct, and skill set learned in Vietnam.
First Blood moved from studio to studio and underwent numerous script re-writes, including a version where Rambo says nothing at all until the end of the film when he unleashes his criticism of the betrayal he faced when he returned home. The role of Rambo was offered to Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, and Kirk Douglas was originally cast as Colonel Trautman. Stallone eventually took the part and feared this film would be a "career killer" for him, seeing as how his role is that of a former military man killing Americans. Quite the opposite, in fact, First Blood spawned two sequels (with a third coming soon) and made a star of Stallone, perhaps contributing more to his fame than even the character of Rocky Balboa. Finally optioned by Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna for Orion pictures, the film opened in October 1982 to generally positive reviews.
First Blood Blu-ray, Video Quality
First Blood is not a fancy, glossy, bright picture and will never rival the best of the best transfers of the slick and modern action movies, but this 2.35:1, 1080p transfer is solid. This is a rather drab looking film that takes place mostly at night and in a damp forrest. Colors don't overly impress, but there is not a lot of color to be seen in the first place. Shades of dark greens, blacks, and browns permeate the length of the film. This is a rather two-dimensional looking image, but it looks great for its age and compared to the various DVD and VHS versions of the film, this Blu-ray disc is nothing short of brilliant. Blacks are spot-on for the majority of the movie, but here and there they lighten up to a dark gray. Detail is good but not extremely high. The image is neither very sharp nor overly soft. Skin tones look natural. Overall this is a fine presentation of a movie that is 25 years old.
First Blood Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Lionsgate presents First Blood with two audio options: a 1.5 Mbps DTS 5.1 track and a 5.1 Dolby Digital EX track that runs at 640 kbps. I sampled both but listened to the DTS track for the majority of the runtime of the movie. This is a loud and aggressive track. Goldsmith's score plays rather subtly and crescendos beautifully several times throughout. It's clear and mesmerizing in how perfectly it complements this film. Bass is aggressive. Explosions sound great and rumble your seat. There is some good use of the surround channels here and there, but for the most part this is a front-heavy mix with good separation of the front channels. My only complaint is that dialogue can sound a bit muddled at times, but it's mostly just fine. Not as rambunctious as modern action soundtracks, First Blood is still a fine example of how good a quarter of a century old track can sound.
First Blood Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This is a fine offering of supplements, highlighted by two commentary tracks. The first features author of the novel First Blood and creator of the iconic John Rambo, David Morrell. I've heard this track before (it's ported over from the DVD release) and it's one of my favorites. Morrell sounds like he is giving a lecture on the movie during a college survey of film course, and to me, that's a good thing. His delivery is natural and conversational. Much of what I discussed above is what he covers in his track, so I won't recap it further. Give this one a listen. It's definitely in the top tier of commentary tracks.
The second track is again a solo effort, this time featuring Sylvester Stallone. This is a surprisingly thoughtful, well done track. It's a rather personal track that also includes some fun trivia, but he delves pretty deep into the meaning of the movie, the character, and the subsequent view of John Rambo in America. Again, much of what he discusses here I have written about above, so I won't say any more except to that this, too, is a very good and worthwhile track. Together, these two tracks make up the best overall set of commentaries I have heard to date.
Out of the Blu Trivia is a text-based trivia track that pops up with fun facts here and there throughout the movie. Did you know some real weapons were stolen off the set during filming, supposedly by professional gun runners? Please note that watching First Blood with this option will force the audio into a Dolby Digital 2.0 track.
Drawing First Blood (480p, 22:35) is a solid making-of documentary featuring discussions with Sylvester Stallone, author David Morrell, producers Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna, and director Ted Kotcheff. They talk about getting the film made from the novel to the big screen, their thoughts on the Vietnam conflict, the controversy over how the movie should end, and the differences between the novel and the book. Deleted Scenes (480p, 5:33), including the controversial alternate ending, are included. 1080p trailers for The Descent, Crank, and a montage of currently available Blu-ray discs from Lionsgate round out this group of extras.
This is not the most extensive set of supplements available, but the high quality of both commentary tracks earns this disc a high rating for extras.
First Blood Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you have yet to see the genesis of John Rambo, I urge you to buy First Blood on Blu-ray, and also to pick up the novel by David Morrell. If you thought Rambo was nothing more than a one man army who wreaks havoc on Vietnam and Afghanistan, as I did growing up, completely unaware of this film, you owe it to yourself to see this film. It's a film that helped redefine the action genre and it is exciting, thought-provoking, and poignant. This Blu-ray edition boasts fine picture and sound quality and two of the best commentary tracks out there. First Blood earns my highest recommendation.
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