Rambo: Extended Cut [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (11th September 2010).
The Film

Timed during the release of "The Expendables" (2010), Lionsgate has released "Rambo: Extended Cut" (2008), a version in which Stallone was talking about around the release of the film originally back in 2008 when Stallone appeared on Jay Leno. Two years after the release of the film fans get the chance to see a version of the film that's some eight minutes longer than the original "Theatrical Cut" version. There's more character moments and scene extensions, below is my original review for the film which I wrote for the 2008 Blu-ray release, at the end of the review is a closer look at the extended scenes.

Despite the film, this has been the hardest film I've ever had to review. The reasoning behind this is that I am well and truly torn between slamming the film for it's brutal and harsh depiction of what appears to be (on the surface anyway) senseless violence, or cheering at the top of my lungs for the intense violence. It's a fine line. When I originally saw the film in theaters I was cheering and excited to see the classic cinematic icon return to the screen and kill some bad guys. I was certainly swept 'in the moment', I was with like-minded friends and the 'pack' mentality kicked right in and I was savoring the violence. I didn't care that the filmmaker's tried (thinly, I might add) to make some sort of comment on the tragedies that occur in Burma (or as it's called today, Myanmar), it was all about the action. No matter how many times the filmmaker's shove it down our throats in interviews, commentaries or whatever...the only two reasons anyone would really want to see this film (this includes myself) is for the return of Rambo and the action/violence. But I guess the filmmakers needed to feel a little better about themselves to justify the gruesome violence. The second time I watched this film (for this review) a different feeling surged through me, and it was the opposite of my original theatrical viewing, I was disgusted at the level of brutality in the film and I was offended that the filmmakers exploited the use of Burma's plight to churn out senseless entertainment. And it's this second viewing that had made this review so difficult to write. Because going into the second viewing I knew what I was going to write...now it's not so clear. So, let's hope for the best that this doesn't turn into a mish-mash of flip-floppery.

It's been 22 years since Rambo last blazed across the screen in "Rambo III" (1988) and took care of some Russians in Afghanistan and everyone's favorite meat-head Sylvester Stallone returns as John Rambo in the fourth installment of the successful franchise. In previous chapters we've seen John tough it out against a small town sheriff, we've seen him return to Vietnam and rescue P.O.W.'s and we've seen him assault the Russian Army in Afghanistan to save his friend and commander Col. Trautman. This time we fin John living a quiet life in Thailand working for a snake wrangler, when a group of missionaries requests his help for transport into Burma. But John refuses to help, as Burma's a war zone and these people will surely die. But they never give up and with Sarah (Julie Benz) convincing him, he reluctantly says yes. The trip is without it's dangers, as they encounter pirates but eventually get to their destination. While in Burma, the village in which the missionaries are providing aid to gets attacked by Government forces and the remaining missionaries that are alive after the attack are held captive. Worries for their safety their Reverend (Ken Howard) seeks out Rambo to help find them by transporting some paid mercenaries into Burma to rescue the group. But the mercenaries quickly discover they've got much more on their plate than bargain for and that John Rambo is not who they thought he was as all hell breaks loose.

The fourth installment has been long in development, like the "Rocky" property before it, it was as successful and both fans and studios have been crying for a new installment to the series. Over the years Stallone had wanted to return to the character but never found a story worth telling. There were scripts about Rambo in Mexico, Rambo returning to Afghanistan, Rambo dealing with kidnappers (all of which were rumored online) but nothing that really attracted Stallone to return to the series. When finally, a story developed that would satisfy the aging action star, the film's production was underway. But it would still have to wait as "Rocky Balboa" (2006) was ready to go under the lens, Stallone asked producers to hold off on production until his latest "Rocky" film was done (incidentally the "Rambo" film was green-lit for production before "Rocky Balboa" was). So fans would have to wait a little while longer. "Rocky Balboa" was a success, and returned the aging action star back to the top of the heap (for a moment anyway). "Rambo" would premiere some 2 years after "Rocky" and the reaction was mixed, although it did well at the box office.

There are many things I liked about this film and also many things that I loathed. To begin with the character of John Rambo is certainly back, Stallone has lived with this character for many years and through four films. He well and truly is John Rambo, just as much as he is Rocky Balboa. The character in this film is about an equal mix of John from "First Blood" (1982) and John from "Rambo III", the first half of the film is the quiet tormented Rambo, the one who has shut himself away from the world, while the in the other half of the film when Rambo finally 'snaps' and shows himself for what he truly is, a senseless killing machine and becomes the Rambo we've seen in the later installments. It's an interesting balance but one that works, mainly because we all know the character's history. The tormented side feels natural, but then again so does the violent, super-soldier side. The transition back to the latter is not only a turning point in the film but one of the best sequences of the entire film, where Rambo flashes back to the key moments of his past, key moments we've seen in the last three films that define his character. From that point on it gets messy, bloody and sometimes unwatchable as he personally kills around 236 people in order to save the missionaries.

This time Rambo is not on his own, and also doesn't have an Afghani comic relief to accompany him. Instead he has a collection of ex-military mercenaries that are all very unique from each other. There's the hard-core British S.A.S guy Lewis (Graham McTavish), the sniper School Boy (Matthew Marsden) and the other rag-tag fighters Diaz (Reynaldo Gallegos) who I'm guessing is Mexican? and may or may not help him in the jungle and then there's Reese (Jake La Botz), who can sing, and that certainly doesn't help in the Jungle. The group have good chemistry and do their best to stand out, which they try on numerous occasions, and sometimes that's hard to do when Stallone is the star of this film and ends up teaching them all a lesson or two. They do amicable jobs here, but Julie Benz (the missionary girl Sarah) is most annoying throughout the ordeal, she's much better suited as Dexter's girlfriend on the Showtime series "Dexter" (2006-Present) than she is roughing it through the jungle with Rambo, even though she is the damsel in distress. I also found her colleague Michael Burnett (Paul Schulze) rather wafer thin as a character. Most of the characters were in fact 'thin' and underwritten (there were potentially too many characters in the first place) there wasn't anything outside of their personalities that made them interesting, this is especially true for the mercenaries.

Now let's get to the nitty-gritty, the violence. The action is totally over-the-top and intense, people get blown up, hacked up, shot with arrows, get blown away by 50 caliber sniper rifles, get torn to pieces with a vehicle mounted 50 caliber machine gun and also decimated by a 60-year-old tall boy set off by a claymore land mine. Yep Rambo has his work cut out for himself but he manages to survive through it as usual. The onscreen violence is horrific at best, people's heads go flying off, limbs are shattered and blood flies freely in Burma. The message of atrocities are really nothing but a faint afterthought. The film's last 40 minutes are really despicable, even though he is mauling down the bad guys, it's hard to remain faithful to a character who puts a small value on human life.

I did, however like how the film ended, (spoiler) and seeing John finally return home after all those years, hopefully (and finally) putting away those dark periods of his life behind him. The classic score enveloping the scene adds further punch to the moment. "Rambo" may not be the true return that I was expecting, it was overtly brutal when it didn't have to be, it's message was faint, and it was hard to put stock in the character that's a pure killing machine, some of the script didn't really work for me as well as the performances (Benz especially, the scene on his boat at night in the rain, where she tries to convince John to take them up river is a good example of the poor direction leading to poor performance) and some of the lines are laughable. "Rambo" fans might no longer be with me at this point in the review, but I still find myself somewhere in the middle. Despite the negative things I've said in this paragraph I still didn't really hate the film.

As mentioned at the top of this review, the "Extended Cut" features an additional 8 minutes of footage, the majority of he footage are additional character moments with Rambo hunting snakes, additional moments between Rambo and Benz's character Sarah as well as some scene extensions. The additional moments add some minor character development but don't really broaden the film in any way. We don't really get any deeper understanding of either Rambo or Sarah. Having seen both versions of the film I can say that the additional bits aren't missed when viewing the "Theatrical Cut." However, it's cool to see Sly's preferred cut on disc for the first time.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 this high-definition transfer is delivered to us in 1080p 24/fps and has been encoded with AVC MPEG-4 compression much like the previous release of the "Theatrical Cut." The image transfer is a bout the same as well, no real surprises here being a recent film. There's a naturalistic a amount of grain which isn't too heavy. The overall image is very clean, crisp and incredibly detailed. Colors look solid, with deep and bold black levels, natural skin tones and lush and vibrant greens of the location countryside. I was pleased with the textures, which are well rendered without any noise reduction. I could not detect any evidence of edge-enhancement, compression issues or artifacts. Overall it's a superb image that is worthy of your HD set-up.

Audio

A single English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mixed at 48kHz/24-bits is featured. Much like the image the sound is equally superb. This is an all-out action extravaganza, and to say that the sound is explosive, aggressive and utterly immersive is saying the least. The power of the audio mix is evident from the outset, with clean and clear dialogue without any distortion (aside from Sly's slurred manner of speech). The aggressive nature of the audio mix is at the forefront, gun shots, punches, explosions, all action effects feel very real and natural. Bullets whiz by in an impressively immersive fashion, encapsulating the viewer in the melee. You truly feel in the middle of all this action. This is exactly what you want with this type of film, a full-force punch to the face style of audio.
Optional subtitles are included in English, English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

The previous release included a decent collection of extras, so if you own that edition it's probably best to keep it. This new release sadly does not port over any of the previous supplements, however adds an all-new feature-length documentary as well as a collection of bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these extras.

The major supplement is the all-new "Rambo: To Hell and Back - Director's Production Diary" feature-length documentary that runs for 83 minutes 33 seconds, and these are the types of extras that I love the most. It's a fly-on-the-wall look at the entire production process from the director's perspective and features narration from Sly himself. We get some brilliant and candid behind-the-scenes footage from principle photography, the long shooting process, working with the cast and crew, setting up complicated scenes and getting the shots right. It's a wonderful look into the complexities of making an action film and provides a real insight into how Sly crafts his films. Fans should rejoice as this is a terrific look behind-the-scenes and well worth the price of admission alone.

The disc also includes a boomarks feature which allows you to bookmark your favorite scenes.

Rounding out the supplements are a collection of bonus trailers for:

- "The Expendables" which runs for 2 minutes 25 seconds.
- "Terminator 2: Judgement Day - Skynet Edition" runs for 1 minute 35 seconds.
- "Lionsgate Blu-ray" spot runs for 1 minute 6 seconds.

Overall

The Film: C+ Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: B+ Overall: B+

 


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