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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Rambo 1-3 Boxset

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#1 of 14 Cameron Yee

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Posted May 22 2008 - 08:19 AM

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Release Date: May 27, 2008
Studio: Lionsgate
Packaging/Materials: Standard Blu-Ray cases with cardboard slipcover
MSRP: $49.99

Overall Score: 3.5/5
The Rambo 1-3 Blu-Ray box set is a collection that exists mainly for economic reasons - you save about five dollars buying it versus buying each title separately. The packaging is nothing special, but does the job of keeping the three films together in one case. I'm curious why the fourth film was not included in the set, since it shares the same release date. But thanks to Lionsgate for actually releasing each title independent of a box set, something we can't really take for granted these days. Owners of the DVDs may want to hold on to them, however, as not all the special features from previous editions have been carried over. Anyone solely interested in the features should generally be pleased as the high definition video transfers are quite good and audio transfers are decent considering the age of the films.

Continue reading for more information on each title.


First Blood
Year: 1982
Rating: R
Running Time: 1h36m
Video: 1080p high definition, 2.35:1 16x9 widescreen
Audio: English: DTS HD / 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX / Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English, Spanish

The Feature: 4/5
Vietnam War veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) - friendless, jobless and suffering from post traumatic stress - gets pushed to the breaking point when a small town sheriff (Brian Dennehey) arrests him for vagrancy. While he can make quick work of local law enforcement and outwit heavily armed National Guard "weekend warriors," the encounters are just skirmishes in a war he can't win by himself, a war founded on public opinion and prejudice. His only is ally is Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna), the man who made him and thus the only one capable of stopping him. The question is what it will take to do it.

Growing up I think I saw "First Blood" at least a hundred times. It was my dad's favorite movie and in almost constant play on the VCR. Back in the day I could recite the entirety of Rambo's dialog from the final scene; now I've only got it down until the moment he chucks the M60 across the room. So perhaps fueled by nostalgia, "First Blood" still holds up for me. Sure, there are more serious and significant films dealing with the struggles of Vietnam War veterans, but Rambo's popularity probably does as much for raising awareness of post-war issues as those with a more refined pedigree. Even if you skip over the issues piece, the film's incredibly entertaining, filled with action and mayhem but not so over the top (that's left for the sequels) that it loses its heart. When was the last time you got misty at the end of an action movie? Unfortunately few people, outside of "First Blood" fans, seem to remember the Rambo of the first film, remembering instead the testosterone overloaded character of the sequels. But I try to see it as an opportunity, a chance to pleasantly surprise someone when they're looking for a movie recommendation. If anything it's fun to see the look on their face when they hear me suggest a Rambo movie for their Saturday night at home.


Video Quality: 4.5/5
The film is correctly framed at 2.35:1 and free of edge halos, dust, dirt and print damage. Overall I am quite impressed with the transfer, the high definition treatment giving me a new appreciation for the film's cinematography. Taking a naturalistic and realistic approach, it perfectly captures the beautiful melancholy of a Pacific Northwest winter, something I'm all too familiar with. There were some clearly challenging filming conditions, mainly under the forest canopy, where the film had to be pushed to compensate for the low light. The murky black levels in those scenes might bother some, but by all indications the transfer stays true to the source material, which is all we're really looking for. Outside of those handful of scenes, the blacks are nicely deep, with a nice overall range of contrast. Image sharpness and clarity are also very good, the fine detail in landscape shots being quite startling at times and the prolific fog and mist having a satisfying weight and depth.


Audio Quality: 4/5
Comparing the primary audio tracks, the DTS HD option has a depth and a subtlety lacking in the Dolby Digital EX, which sounds firmly anchored (or confined) to the center line of the speaker array. Imagine your room seeming to shrink by several cubic feet and you'll get the idea. Dialog is clear and intelligible on both tracks but the Dolby track seems grainy and blatant. Surround activity in the mixes includes ricocheting bullets and some echo effects, but is otherwise pretty subdued. LFE is equally minimal, the handful of grand explosions pushing into that territory but never enough to seem like legitimate LFE.

The disc also includes a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, which exists mainly to provide obnoxious sound effects for the pop up trivia feature. The menu gives the impression that you can't access the trivia without enabling the audio track, but that is not the case. You can listen to the DTS HD track or commentaries and have the trivia going at the same time, without the obnoxious effects.


Special Features: 4/5

Audio Commentary with Sylvester Stallone: From his public appearances we know Stallone is more gregarious and talkative than the characters he's known for. His commentary is both engaging and entertaining, including plenty of memories, analysis and some great wisecracks (e.g. the comment about Dennehey being like a crazed circus bear attacking David Caruso had me rolling). Some of the material may be familiar with all the accompanying material, but Stallone's commentary is probably the best way to hear all of it the first time. Ported from the 2005 Ultimate Edition.

Audio Commentary with Writer David Morrell: Morrell is a chatty one himself, clearly enthused about having his work adapted for the big screen. His comments are a bit academic at times, but his lapses into boyish excitement makes for an entertaining balance. Since he was the creator of the original work and saw it from those humble beginnings to the popular franchise it became, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Carried over from the 2002 Special Edition.

Advanced Trivia Track: Pop up style factoids cover everything from film-to-novel comparisons, behind-the-scenes events, data on the different weapons used and a sadistically entertaining bodily injury indicator that shows both the location and nature of the wound.

Drawing First Blood (22m35s): Documentary interviews Stallone, Crenna and Dennehey, including the director and producers. There aren't any surprises, but it's a good retrospective on the film. Ported from the 2002 Special Edition.

Deleted Scenes: Three scenes that include the rejected alternative ending, an awkward (but at times sexy) flashback to Vietnam, and a blooper.


Title Recap

The Feature: 4/5
Video Quality: 4.5/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 4/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4/5

The first (and best) Rambo film gets very good audio and video transfers and a decent, though not exhaustive, special features package.



Rambo: First Blood Part II
Year: 1985
Rating: R
Running Time: 1h35m
Video: 1080p high definition, 2.35:1 16x9 widescreen
Audio: English: DTS HD Master Audio / Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, Spanish

The Feature: 4/5
Serving hard time for his misdeeds in the first film, Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is offered a chance at freedom in exchange for service in a covert operation to find American PoWs in Vietnam. Teaming up with a native intelligence officer (Julia Nickson), Rambo easily infiltrates a suspected camp, but he finds himself subject to the same kind of heartless politicking and deception that put him in an unwinnable war a decade ago. This time, however, he's determined to make it end differently.

If you're curious about the difference between "First Blood" and its sequel, you need look no further than the physical condition of its star. Stallone was undeniably fit and lean in the first film, but he took it to a whole other level for the second, and the production follows suit. Everything is bigger - from the stunts, to the action set pieces, to Rambo's favorite weapon. And it works, making it one of the few "go bigger" sequels to actually be both financially successful and a satisfying movie experience. The only part that hangs is the overtly political element, but the worst of that is left to the very end and it's blessedly brief. Even though it's an entirely different film than its predecessor, bombastic and excessive, anyone willing to let it stand on its own should at least be entertained.


Video Quality: 4.5/5
The film is correctly framed at 2.35:1 and free of edge halos, dust, dirt and print damage. Detail is excellent overall, droplets of sweat and the sheen of perspiration being the most eye catching. There are some landscape shots where there's an obvious drop in fine detail, but they are relatively few and brief. Black levels are sufficiently deep and remain stable even in night scenes, though shadow detail and delineation take a hit in those conditions. Many of the full daylight jungle shots have a hazy, soft focus quality, which comes across quite well, not giving any impression that there is a problem with the source footage or the transfer.


Audio Quality: 3/5
As with the previous film, there is an unadvertised audio track that exists to accompany the pop up trivia feature. If not for the obnoxious pop up sound effects, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track might actually be worth recommending. But as things are, the only original language option is the DTS HD Master Audio track. The track is predominantly front focused, with the few moments of surround activity consisting of jungle noises and ricochet effects. Dialog is clear and intelligible throughout and LFE is practically non-existent despite the numerous explosions. If there's one problematic element to the track, it's the film score, which often sounds lo-fi and slightly distorted.


Special Features: 3/5

Audio Commentary with Director George P. Cosmatos: Most will find Cosmatos's commentary on the dull side, a product of his languid baritone and dearth of interesting information. Much of what he shares can be learned through the pop up trivia, so you may want to opt for that feature instead. Carried over from the 2002 Special Edition.

Out of the Blu Trivia: Pop up trivia feature continues to provide production factoids, weapons information and other trivia, but the bodily injury indicator has changed to a body count tracker, for anyone who was curious about the numbers.

We Get to Win This Time (20m04s): Briskly paced retrospective features interviews from principal cast members, producers, the director and editors. Again, not too many surprises, but there are some nice anecdotes (my favorites being from the film editors) and archival clips. Carried over from the 2002 Special Edition.


Title Recap

The Feature: 4/5
Video Quality: 4.5/5
Audio Quality: 3/5
Special Features: 3/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4/5

Successful and satisfying sequel gets a very good video transfer, less impressive audio treatment and an acceptable special features package.



Rambo III
Year: 1988
Rating: R
Running Time: 1h42m
Video: 1080p high definition, 2.35:1 16x9 widescreen
Audio: English: DTS HD Master Audio / Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, Spanish

The Feature: 2.5/5
Except for the occasional stick fight fundraiser, Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is living a peaceful existence with Buddhist monks in Thailand. But his country needs him again and sends Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) to recruit him for a covert operation in Afghanistan. Indigenous rebel forces have been fighting a long and losing battle against the Soviets and their only hope is the weaponry being supplied by the United States. Trautman is leading the mission to deliver Stinger missiles to the rebels and wants his best soldier with him. Though Rambo maintains his resolve to keep his combat experience in the past, Trautman's ultimate capture by the Soviets prompts Rambo to take up his knife (now an inch longer) to save his friend and mentor from imminent torture and execution.

If nothing else "Rambo III" is a lesson in the mutability of global politics. Not only did the film come out at a time when the Cold War was thawing, making it a hard sell with its blatant anti-Soviet elements, but the situation in Afghanistan has changed so dramatically that watching the film now, with its singular support of the Afghan rebels (who would morph into the Taliban) is unsettling, if not a little embarrassing. But unfortunate timing aside, the film's biggest problem is not in its cause of choice, but the way it goes about presenting it. Though the Rambo films have never been hallmarks of subtlety, "Rambo III" is so blatantly preachy and didactic that it's hard to enjoy the real reason we go to a film like this. The action pieces are appropriately bombastic but they can't hide the fact that the franchise was starting to wear out its welcome, becoming dated with every bullet shot and missile launched. Not surprisingly the film would be the last in the franchise for 20 years and probably would have been the last, period, if not for Stallone's nostalgia for the characters that made his career (and his canny sense that audiences felt the same way). Though I haven't seen the recent Rambo film, from most accounts the franchise has been redeemed, so that at the very least the unsatisfying "Rambo III" does not stand as its final chapter.


Video Quality: 4/5
The film is correctly framed at 2.35:1 and free of dust, dirt and print damage. Edge halos are visible, but only in the most high contrast situations. Detail is generally good, deserts sands and facial hair standing out in their clarity, but there are a handful of wide shots where there's an obvious drop in detail. Black levels can be inconsistent - night time or dark scenes being the most problematic with poor shadow delineation and an overall murky quality. But given the consistency of the problem with a specific lighting condition, I'm willing to give the transfer the benefit of the doubt and blame it on the source material. The transfer is a decent one overall, but not as compelling as those in the previous films.


Audio Quality: 3.5/5
As with the previous films, there is an unadvertised audio track that exists to accompany the pop up trivia feature. If not for the obnoxious pop up sound effects, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track might actually be worth recommending. But as things are, the only original language option is the DTS HD Master Audio track. Unfortunately there's not a lot of sophistication or even excitement to the mix. There are moments of directionality with helicopter flyovers and gunfire, but by and large it's a front heavy affair with pretty minimal LFE despite the plethora of explosions. Though dialog is clear and intelligible throughout and the track basically does its job, the lackluster quality of the whole thing takes away some of the "wow" of having a high resolution audio option.


Special Features: 3/5

Audio Commentary with Director Peter MacDonald: MacDonald isn't what you'd call talkative, but he has a dry sense of humor some might find entertaining. Unfortunately it's not enough to make up for the frequent gaps in the track. Once again, much of what he shares can be found in the trivia track, making it a more efficient way of gleaning the same information. Carried over from the 2002 Special Edition.

Out of the Blu Trivia: Pop up trivia feature continues to provide production factoids, weapons information and other trivia, plus the return of body count tracker.

Land In Crisis: The documentary presents itself as an analytical piece about the volatile history of Afghanistan, but its narrative is scattershot, jumping around between the history of United States involvement in Afghanistan and somewhat-related anecdotes about the "Rambo III" production. It ultimately makes for an unsatisfying treatment of a complicated issue. Carried over from the 2002 Special Edition.


Title Recap

The Feature: 2.5/5
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 3.5/5
Special Features: 2.5/5
Overall Score (not an average): 3/5

The final Rambo film for the '80s gets acceptable to average treatment all around, an appropriate level of attention given the lackluster quality of the film.
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#2 of 14 Ron Reda

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Posted May 22 2008 - 09:18 AM

Thanks for the great review!

Funny, you'd think as the trilogy progressed, the sound would only get better, but that doesn't appear to be the case here.
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#3 of 14 EnricoE

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Posted May 22 2008 - 11:33 AM

thanks for the review.

what video-codec was used?

#4 of 14 Dale MA

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Posted May 22 2008 - 11:39 AM

I have this set pre-ordered, luckily it's region free. Posted Image

Looking forward to revisiting these movies in HD.

#5 of 14 Jim_K

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Posted May 22 2008 - 11:54 AM

Thanks for the review. Can anyone confirm if First Blood is the same as the previous BD release? Just curious.

If I didn't already have FB I'd pick this up, I guess I'll have to wait for a standalone release of Rambo II.
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#6 of 14 Cameron Yee

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Posted May 22 2008 - 11:55 AM

Quote:
what video-codec was used?
My BD player doesn't provide that information and it wasn't printed in any of the press materials or packaging. But looking at other reviews, it's AVC for First Blood and VC-1 for the sequels.
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#7 of 14 Cameron Yee

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Posted May 22 2008 - 12:10 PM

First Blood is the previously released BD.

The other films are being released separately as well as in the boxset. Here's Rambo II: Amazon.com: Rambo - First Blood Part II [Blu-ray]: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Charles Napier, Steven Berkoff, Julia Nickson-Soul, Martin Kove, George Cheung, Andy Wood (II), William Ghent, Voyo Goric, Dana Lee, Baoan Coleman, Steve Williams
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#8 of 14 Jim_K

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Posted May 22 2008 - 10:43 PM

thanks

For some reason I thought this was a box set only release.
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#9 of 14 Southpaw

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Posted May 23 2008 - 12:37 AM

What do you mean by "unadvertised audio track accompanies the trivia track"? Does this mean I can't listen to the audio commentary and have the trivia track running at the same time? Most discs allow for this and I'm hoping this can be done here.

#10 of 14 Cameron Yee

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Posted May 23 2008 - 01:47 AM

Quote:
What do you mean by "unadvertised audio track accompanies the trivia track"? Does this mean I can't listen to the audio commentary and have the trivia track running at the same time? Most discs allow for this and I'm hoping this can be done here.
You can listen to the commentary and have the trivia track going at the same time - sorry if that isn't clear. However when you select the trivia feature off the menu it will automatically select the audio track with the pop up sound effects unless you select a different audio track, either through the player as you're watching the feature or through the BD menu. Just be sure you select the trivia feature first or it will override your initial audio selection. The trivia is just another subtitle track as it is usually done.
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#11 of 14 Southpaw

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Posted May 23 2008 - 01:52 AM

Okay, great. Thanks for clarifying.

#12 of 14 John H Ross

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Posted May 23 2008 - 07:55 AM

Well my obvious question is this...

RAMBO III...

What's the sitution with the Russian/English subtitles? Did they get it right AT LAST?

1. Are there (correctly) just a handful of lines translated/subtitled (as per the theatrical run and the very first DVD) or...
2. Have the translations been left out altogether (as per the second DVD) or...
3. Have they incorrectly subtitled literally EVERY LINE of Russian into English such as "Quiet Quiet", "Run Run" and other such crap as per the so-called "Ultimate Edition" DVD?

Thanks,

John

#13 of 14 Cameron Yee

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Posted May 23 2008 - 08:12 AM

I looked at the scene where Rambo first sneaks into the fort and all the Soviet guards have been translated. We get things like, "Relax, Rex. Relax, Rex." and "Go drag that box." So it looks like #3 from your list.
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#14 of 14 John H Ross

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Posted May 23 2008 - 08:20 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cameron Yee
I looked at the scene where Rambo first sneaks into the fort and all the Soviet guards have been translated. We get things like, "Relax, Rex. Relax, Rex." and "Go drag that box." So it looks like #3 from your list.

Thanks very much for checking, Cameron!

Oh bloody hell... are they EVER going to get this movie right?!?!?

Looks like the very first DVD edition is STILL the only way to get RAMBO III the way it was supposed to be!!

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AAAARRRGGGHHH!!





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