Rambo: 2-disc Special Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (30th June 2008).
The Film

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 20 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 Baldoa" 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 wafter 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.

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. Being a recent film the source material is rather pristine without any noticeable blemishes, this means the image is clean and dirt free. Colors pop off the screen including the greens of the jungle and the maroon colored blood that flows so heavily throughout the film. Detail is exceptional, right down to subtle costume nuances and especially the guts that fly in various directions. Skin tones appear accurate, blacks are bold and noise is limited. I could not find any compression related problems or edge-enhancement overall this is a top notch transfer from Lionsgate.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included in English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mixed at 48kHz/24-bits as well as an English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS-HD audio track. The sound is explosive to say the least, this is one active, aggressive and immersive sound tracks I have listened to. The ambient sounds are subtle, natural and add to the environment, at the other end the action scenes come across like a punch to the face with full force, from the bullet hits to the explosions, this is a complex sound track that places you right in the middle of the chaos. Dialogue is clear and the film's score adds further depth to this track. This is one of those tracks that you really have to pump up to full volume.
Optional subtitles are included in both English and Spanish.

Extras

Lionsgate has released this Blu-ray disc as a 2-disc 'Special Edition', included are an audio commentary, a collection of 7 featurettes, 4 deleted scenes, two interactive extras exclusive to this release as well as a series of bonus trailers and a digital copy of the film. Below is a closer look at these extras.

DISC ONE:

First up we've got a feature-length audio commentary featuring the film's director/actor/co-writer Sylvester Stallone. Sly doesn't waste any time and jumps straight in talking about blowing the lid on what's happening in Burma and the news footage for the start of the film that helps set the tone. He also comments on the character and exploring the legacy 20 years later and portraying the character in a way that felt right. He sees this film as a journey into self imposed exile after all the things the character has gone through in the last films and also as an awakening when he returns to form later in the film. He takes time to talk about shooting on location, the story which was developed over may years, as well as his directing he film (the first "Rambo" film to be directed by Sly). He points out some key moments, favorite scenes and shot as well as talks about his cast, what it was like returning to the character and the violent content among other things.

This track can be viewed like a normal commentary or you can activate the 'Extended Mode' which includes a picture-in-picture feature while watching the film with the commentary you are occasionally taken away from the film with cast and crew interviews as they comment further on the film including the location shooting, they share their experiences, the training they underwent, etc. It's a much more in-depth feature and it's exclusive to this Blu-ray release. The packaging states that this extra is made for Profile 1.1 players, however I have a Profile 1.0 player and this extra was able to work fine without any problems. You might want to check it out first though as it may not work properly for everyone.

Next up is "It's a Long Road: The Resurrection of an Icon" featurette which runs for 19 minutes 44 seconds, in this clip we get a look back at the development of the production and the various scripts that surfaced over the years, Sly's involvement as director, green-lighting the picture and waiting until "Rocky Balboa" was completed before filming this as well as looks at the story the filmmaker's went with, casting the supporting players, shooting in Thailand among other things.

"A Score to Settle: The Music of Rambo" featurette follows next and runs for 6 minutes 31 seconds, in this clip we get a look at the classic score for the film and the use of it as the basis for the score for this new installment. Fans are able to get a close look at the development of the music and the relationship that Sly has with the film's composer as he uses musical themes to explore the film's character and provides the exiting elements to the action scenes.

"The Art of War: Completing Rambo Part 1: Editing" featurette is next and runs for 6 minutes 46 seconds, in this clip we get a look at the film's editor and the editing pace of the film. We get a nice look at the process of editing a film like this, with lots of action and effects that take pace. The editor also was overwhelmed by the amount of footage that was being shot and delivered. Here we get a general idea of piecing the film together and getting an 'R' rating from the MPAA, which they got almost immediately without any cuts made to the violence.

"The Art of War: Completing Rambo Part 2: Sound" featurette follows that and runs for 3 minutes 15 seconds. Here we go behind-the-scenes of the sound design for the film, the sound crew had a lot on their hands with this film, as it features an endless amount of realistic war sounds, from gun fire to explosions, to trucks and so forth. The objective was to remain realistic but also within the cinematic realm which means some sounds were over-emphasized.

"The Weaponry of Rambo" is next, this featurette runs for 14 minutes 23 seconds. Here we get a tour of the armory and get to see all the cool weapons used for the film, this includes the various machine guns for both the Burmese Army and the mercenaries. We get a closer look at the sniper rifle, the 50 caliber vehicle mounted machine gun that Rambo uses at the end of the film as well as the knife that Rambo makes for this installment among other things, including the safety training the cast were put through.

Following that is "A Hero's Welcome: Release and Reception" featurette which runs for 9 minutes 30 seconds, here we get the cast and crew reaction to the film's premiere and release as they talk about what the fans thought of the film as well as the violence.

"Legacy of Despair: The Struggle in Burma" is the discs only featurette that deals with the troubles that have occurred (and continue to do so), the clip runs for 10 mintes 42 seconds. It's a brief historical look at the country and its oppressive military regime. The filmmaker's comment about the importance of establishing awareness for what's going on in this country and what they hoped the film would do for that.

Next up are 4 deleted scenes, these can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option and include:

- "Do You Believe" runs for 2 minutes 29 seconds, Sarah continues to try and convince Rambo to take them up river into Burma.
- "Who Are You Helping" runs for 4 minutes 42 seconds, Rambo questions Sarah about who she's really helping, herself or the people of Burman.
- "Boat Ride" runs for 4 minutes 14 seconds, this is an extended sequence of Rambo talking about his past with Sarah.
- "Let's Keep Going" runs for 2 minutes 20 seconds, Rambo stops to help Sarah relieve her hurt foot. Sarah expresses her fear that all of the bad things that happened were her fault.

Also featured on the disc is the second exclusive extra, the M-Log interactive feature. This requires player with profile 2.0 capabilities, unfortunately I was unable to review this feature having a profile 1.0 player only. The feature allows you to interact with other in a blog while watching the film.

Also featured is the film's original theatrical trailer that runs for 2 minutes 24 seconds as well as bonus trailers for:

- "Rambo: First Blood" which runs for 2 minutes 35 seconds.
- "Rambo: First Blood Part II" which runs for 2 minutes 27 seconds.
- "Rambo III" which runs for 2 minutes 3 seconds.
- "The Rambo Trilogy" which runs for 32 seconds.
- "War" which runs for 38 seconds.
- "Crank" which runs for 1 minute 58 seconds.
- "The Punisher" which runs for 2 minutes 31 seconds.

DISC TWO:

This disc includes a digital copy of the film which is a downloadable version using H.264 video codec and can be used on with a PC or Mac.

Overall

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

 


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