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HTF REVIEW: "Rambo Trilogy" (with screenshots)

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#1 of 44 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

Ronald Epstein

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Posted May 21 2002 - 07:08 AM

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Rambo Trilogy


I can tell you that it was quite an experience

to be once again exposed to one of America's most

macho fantasy characters, John Rambo. For the past

3 days I have almost painlessly sat through the

three series of films that started as a serious

adventure with a real commentary on the plight of

veterans to sequels that elevated its hero to a

mere cartoon character. Make no mistake about it,

Rambo is the ultimate fighting machine and the

ultimate movie character.

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One year after Artisan released the three films

on DVD, the studio has decided to go back and do

a brand new remaster of each film, packaging them

in the ultimate Rambo Trilogy. The 4-disc

set arrives in a sturdy tin cover with raised

artwork and lettering. One can easily slide out

the DVD packaging that is housed in cardboard with

DVDs resting in plastic hub casings. A 10-page

collector's booklet rests a pocket inside the case.

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The booklet contains a lengthy summary of the

history of the films through the words of its

author, David Morrell, who as a young writer

had an idea for a novel that would somehow bring

the conflict in Vietnam back to his hometown.

Color pictures of Rambo are scattered throughout the

pamphlet. The final pages of the booklet are

devoted to Chapter Indexes for all three films.

All three films come on a 2-sided DVD with

a widescreen transfer on one side, and a

full-frame transfer on the other. These DVDs

have been souped up with all-new digitally

remastered video and 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital

surround. Each of these DVDs contain at least

one featurette and original trailer.

Be warned: Like every release before it, Artisan

continues to exclude English subtitles on their

releases, thus making it impossible for the

hearing impaired individuals to enjoy their titles.


Studio: Artisan

Year: 1982

Rated: R

Film Length: 96 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1)

and Standard (1.33:1) Transfers

"They drew first blood -- not me!"

When you get right down to it, First Blood

is the real meat and potatoes Rambo movie. It's

an almost brilliant action movie that should have

no relationship to the silly sequels that followed


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The film begins as soft-spoken Vietnam vet John

Rambo (Sylevester Stallone) drifts into a small

town looking for no trouble, but finds it in the

form of a psychotic local sheriff (Brian Dennehy)

who finds pleasure in hating him for no reason.

When the sheriff arrests him for vagrancy, Rambo

escapes showing his old Vietnam fighting skills and

takes to the woods as the sheriff and deputies try

and find him in his element. When things get out

of hand, Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna), Rambo's

old commander appears to shed light on the situation.

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Directed by Ted Kotcheff, who took on the project

after it passed through many hands. Steve McQueen

was originally in line for the role of Rambo, but

Sylvester Stallone was given the role after his

success in Rocky, where his underdog persona was

spotted by producers Kassar and Vajna. The film

became an important symbol of the realities of

post-Vietnam America.

How is the transfer?

All the Rambo films pretty much have the same

characteristics. I never know what to expect from

transfers of catalog product from the 70's and 80's.

However, Artisan has done an incredible job with

this series. The transfers look absolutely stunning.

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First of all, there are absolutely no blemishes

in these transfers. Picture remains consistently

clean throughout. There is also narely a hint

of video noise, which is one of my biggest pet

peeves. While colors look somewhat on the faded

side, the flesh tones are extremely accurate. The

only complaint I have is that the transfer seems

to be a tad too dark for my taste -- but then again,

this could be the way the movie was filmed.

Where this DVD really shines is in its all-new

remastered DTS and Dolby Digital surround. For

a film from this period, I was not expecting much

from the surround channel. Instead, I was pleasantly

surprised by the amount of rear channel activity

that includes everything from the town's traffic

to thunder and weather effects in the wooded

mountains. When the Sheriff chases Rambo riding

a motorcycle, we hear the sound of screeching tires

throughout the rear channels. The LFE channel even

gets a slight boost when a gas station ignites in

flames and explodes. The only problem I had with

the first two Rambo films is that the exchanges of

gunfire stay in the front channel. There is no

distinct directionality of flying bullets. This

sort of dulls the sonic experience of watching this

film. Overall, the DTS remix is quite noticeable

and effective.

Special Features

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The DVD features audio commentary with writer

David Morrell.

Drawing First Blood is an all-new documentary

that features new interviews with Sylvester Stallone

and Richard Crenna. Author David Morell talks about

his earlier days as a teacher who had to deal with

students just back from Vietnam who questioned him

as an authority figure. He would hang around after

school and talk to these students to find out what

problems of the war still plagued them. The result

was the writing of the novel, First Blood, released

in 1972. The book had always been in development

for a film, but was delayed for fear of being released

too close to the end of the Vietnam war. It was

years later that Producers Mario Kassar and Andrew

Vajna that took the project and developed it through

Carolco Pictures. There are new interviews with

Kassar and Vajna who talk about the development of

this project from novel to script to screen.

(length: approx. 21 minutes)

Production Notes give us a little insight

about how author David Morrell was inspired to

write the book FIRST BLOOD. It also talks about

how Producers Vajna and Kassar changed the motif

of Rambo, making him more of a sympathetic character.

Sylvester Stallone went on to re-write the script,

keeping the spirit of the book's character alive,

but making him less psychotic.

Cast and Crew gives us more than the standard

filmography stuff we see on other DVDs. Here, we

get sufficient background information on the actors,

such as a story about the trauma that left Sylvester

Stallone's face paralyzed at birth, which has

contributed to his slurred speech, drooping lower lip

and crooked left eye. And did you know that

Richard Crenna worked on radio serials in the late

1930s? There are really some great little-known

facts that are given for each of the individuals

involved with the film.

The film's original trailer and teaser

are presented on this DVD.


Studio: Artisan

Year: 1985

Rated: R

Film Length: 95 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1)

and Standard (1.33:1) Transfers

"Sir, do we get to win this time?"

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After First Blood had raked up a record-

breaking $14.9 million in its first 12 days of

release, you can bet that a sequel was on the minds

of everyone involved with the original film.

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As Rambo II begins, we find John Rambo

in a hard labor prison camp. Colonel Samuel

Troutman shows up to offer Rambo a special deal.

Removed from prison, Rambo goes on a top-secret

operation to bring back POW's still held in

Vietnam. Rambo's assignment is to only take pictures

of where the POWs are being held, but Rambo wants

to get the POWs out of Vietnam. With the help of

a Vietnamese woman (Julia Nickson), Rambo cases

out the camp and manages to rescue an American POW.

But when left behind by the "stinkin beareaucrat"

named Murdoch (Charles Napier) who orders the mission

aborted before Trautman can pick him up, Rambo sets

out to free the rest of the POWs and get the ultimate

revenge on the man who betrayed him.

How is the transfer?

Like the rest of the DVDs in this series, the

transfer looks immaculate. There are no blemishes

to be seen in the picture, and rarely a hint of

any video noise. Colors look very accurate --

especially in the flesh tones. This transfer also

looks less dark than First Blood did. In

all, this is an incredible catalog transfer.

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The DTS surround track is very active from the

sound of an igniting plane to the surroundings of

the Vietnam jungle. The rears add much support to

the ambient effects of the film such as thunder

clapping during a rain storm in the POW camp or

a waterfall whose water noise seems to envelope

the entire sound field. There is even some

considerable LFE channel bass response such as

when a patrol boat is blown up. My only complaint

once again is that there is no distinct directional

clarity given to the gunfire exchanges, as those

sounds remain in the front channels. This greatly

dulls the overall sonic experience of this film.

Special Features

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The DVD features audio commentary with Director

George Cosmatos.

We get to win this time is an all-new

documentary with interviews of Stallone, Crenna,

Nickson and Napier. It's interesting to note

that James Cammeron wrote the film's first draft

script, which had the idea of Stallone and John

Travolta appearing together. That idea was

scrapped, though the premise of rescuing POWs in

Vietnam was kept intact. Director George P. Cosmatos

was brought on board to add a more visual and

emotional edge to the film. Stallone was attracted

to the project as the film now really showed Rambo

at home within his elements. Director George

Cosmatos talks about filming the Vietnamese scenes

in Acapulco Mexico, which gave ample jungle scenery

only within minutes from the hotel the crew was

staying at. A rice pattie field was even built to

add more authenticity to the setting. There are

many shots behind-the-camera of the movie being

filmed, as we hear about the political problems

the cast and crew experienced while in production.

This featurette even explores the Rambo phenomenon

that resulted upon the film's release, grossing

$180 million in international box-office receipts.

Rambo became symbolic as a character that rises

above oppression.

(length: approx. 19 minutes)

Production Notes talks a little about

James Cammeron's original screenplay, and how

although Sylvester Stallone loved it, he felt

that it needed a more personal touch added to it.

Extensive Cast and Crew biographies

are presented here. Did you know that Charles

Napier (Murdoch) appeared on many 1960's TV

shows that included HOGANS HEROES and STAR TREK?

Two Theatrical Trailers are included,

but they cannot be played individually. As soon

as you hit the PLAY TRAILERS button, both play

one after another. The quality of these trailers

are in fairly poor condition.


Studio: Artisan

Year: 1988

Rated: R

Film Length: 102 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1)

and Standard (1.33:1) Transfers

"Your wosrt nightmare"

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Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is enjoying the

serenity of Thailand while he helps the monks

build temples. On his days off, he sojourns from

the mountain to stick fight in the city. It is

here that Colonel Samuel Troutman finds him.

Colonel Samuel Trautman has been assigned to

lead a mission to help the Mujahedeen rebels

who are fighting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Troutman needs help, but the Buddhist Rambo turns

him down. When the mission goes belly up, Trautman

is kidnapped and tortured by Russian Colonel Zaysen

(Marc de Jonge) and it's up to Rambo to go in and

rescue him.

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There can be little argument that the Rambo hero

has now become something of a joke. You can't help

but laugh not only at the bad one liners, but the

fact that Stallone and Crenna single-handedly go up

against the entire Russian army, dodging every bullet

thrown in their direction. The movie became so silly,

that "Weird Al" Yankovic couldn't help but to do a

dead-on spoof in his film, UHF.

How is the transfer?

Again, we have a transfer that is free of blemishes.

Picture quality is consistently clean with accurate

colors represented, although I noticed the flesh

tones run a little more red this time around. There

is narely a hint of video noise present. A truly

outstanding transfer from a catalog product of this


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Of all the DVDs, Rambo III is the best

sounding disc of them all. The DTS surround is

spectacular. Unlike the previous two films, there

is certainly more of a directional sonic feel to

this film. Stereo separation is more defined and

there is a much stronger LFE presence that will

have your subwoofer rumbling from the hoofs of

horses to the engines of the Russian planes. Even

gunfire exchanges finally have directionality to

them as bullets whiz past the viewing area, crossing

through each individual channel. A scene of a

Russian raid on a rebel camp will give no doubt to

the superior sonic quality of this DTS transfer.

Special Features

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The DVD features audio commentary with Director

Peter MacDonald.

Afghanistan: Land in Crisis is more of

an interest to Americans now than it was back

in the late 1980's when depicted in the third

Rambo installment. This all-new documentary

begins with Producer Buzz Feitshans talking

about his interest in Afghanistan and its people.

Stallone was always very conscious of the conflict

between the Mujahedeen and the Russians. Stallone

found it very apt to put Rambo in the middle of

that conflict and a group fighting for the right

to be free. Through historians, we learn much

about Afghanistan's history and conflicts with

other countries that attempted to dominate it,

including the Russians who wanted to use the country

as a gateway to Asia and the seas. It's amazing to

learn of the strong-will of the Mujaheeden people

and the amount of resistance they put up to opposing

armies. We see startling images of the war-tarnished

country and its people. Stallone talks about the

homage given to these people in the film --

especially Ahmed Shah Massoud who was recently

assassinated. The documentary also touches upon

the rise of the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden.

Stallone talks about the untimely release of

the third Rambo film. Here was a movie depicting

hostile Soviet-American relations at a time when

Mikhail Gorbachev was in America making amends

with our country. The cold war was ending, and

Rambo III was depicting a war with Russia.

(length: approx. 29 minutes)

Production Notes give us insight into the

shooting locales of the film. Most of the film

was shot on a four-thousand-foot mountaintop above

the Dead Sea in Israel. The rest of the film was

shot entirely on location in Thailand, Israel and


Extensive Cast and Crew biographies

are presented here. Did you know that Director

Peter MacDonald was a second unit director and

camera operator during the late 1960s? His camera

credits include GORKY PARK, SUPERMAN THE


Two Theatrical Trailers are included,

but they cannot be played individually. As soon

as you hit the PLAY TRAILERS button, both play

one after another. Quality of these trailers is



Posted ImagePosted Image

The extraordinary Rambo Special Edition

Trilogy DVD Collection
also includes a bonus

fourth disc (exclusive to the box set) that

contains seven exciting featurettes, three

documentaries and a Rambo trilogy trivia


Posted Image

The Real Name: Voices From Within is a

starling, frank look at the Vietnam war from all

sides -- those for it and against it. Through

still pictures, archived footage and interviews

from those who fought, we learn how we became

involved with Vietnam after the Indo-China war,

as we tried to control the growth of Communism.

This documentary doesn't attempt to hide the

horrors of this war and the irresponsibility of

the Americans in their mass killings. The topic

of American politics, sending in young men to get

killed and political considerations in life and

death situations is also frankly discussed. Truly,

this is one of the most honest and blunt

documentaries on the war in Vietnam that I have

seen. (length: approx. 25 minutes)

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Guts and Glory explores Rambo, a fantasy

of white male escapism. It's basically an overview

of the Rambo phenomenon. Rambo became a global

figure of the military hero. We take a look at

the onslaught of Rambo related merchandise from

knives and headbands for adults to guns and action

figures for the kids. President Reagan's famous

"We are gonna win this time" speech which is a

homage to Rambo, is included in this featurette.

We learn how the fitness culture of the 80's also

contributed to the hardbody Rambo -- he became the

beefcake hero and the knife became the extension

of his body. Rambo ultimately became the essential

spirit of the 80's.

(length: approx. 26 minutes)

The Forging of Heroes: America's Green Berets

focuses on the elite group of Armed Forces known

as the Green Berets. Described as being a one-man

army who are more technicians than killers, we learn

about the extensive training of these special forces.

We learn of the history of Special Forces starting

with the O.S.S. in the 1950s. These soldiers come

so close to death so many times that they appreciate

life a lot more than the average person.

(length: approx. 9 minutes)

Rambo-nomics concentrates on the financial

success of the Rambo franchise. We learn of its

monetary success in both domestic and foreign markets

as well as what countries banned the film and for

what reasons.

(length: approx. 2 minutes)

Suiting Up is a rather interesting look

Rambo's survival hardware from sly bowie knife

to M60 machine gun to 81MM M29 Mortar to Russian

T-64 MBT. Specs are given on each weapon as we

are shown scenes from each film where the weapon

is used.

(length: approx. 7 minutes)

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Selling a Hero is all about the merchandise

that came out of the franchise. From action figures

to artillery to flying machines -- it's all here.

What makes this a lot of fun is that the Producers

have taken these action figures and toys and made

a little movie of their own. You'll have a blast

watching the action figures sneaking up on one

another engaging in combat either on the ground or

in the air. And, if you ever wondered the cost of

these toys, a pricetag is always readily available.

(length: approx. 3 minutes)

First Blood: A look back is a featurette

that originally appeared on last year's DVD

release. It's nothing more than a collage of

scenes from the film set against a rousing soundtrack.

There are no interviews, no recollections -- nothing.

It's basically the entire 96 minute condensed to

just under 4 minutes.

(length: approx. 3.5 minutes)

Rambo III Full Circle also appeared on

the original Artisan DVD release last year. It

is nothing more than a 5-minute collage of scenes

from the film set against a rousing soundtrack.

No added material here, but rather the entire 102

minute film condensed to 5 minutes.

(length: approx. 6 minutes)

An American Hero's Journey: The Rambo

also appeared on the original Artisan

DVD release. In material previously covered,

author David Morrell talks about his idea of

bringing the Vietnamese war to the United States.

How did the name of Rambo come to be? Morrell

talks about that faithful day when he took a bite

out of a delicious apple, asking his wife what kind

of apple it was. This documentary is mostly

authors David Morell and Christopher Vogler talking

about the inception of the characters and how the

storyline of all three films evolved. We also learn

about the harrowing stunts that Stallone did on his

own. Finally, the character is compared to other

famous mythological characters such as Sherlock

Holmes, James Bond and Tarzan. He was approached

in such a way that Rambo became a metaphor for


(length: approx. 25 minutes)

A Rambo Trivia Game lets you answer

questions about events in the film, total box-office

grosses to its first appearance as a cartoon.

Answer correctly and Rambo wins the fight. If you

answer wrong, he gets tortured.

Sneak Peeks gives you peek at upcoming

Artisan releases that include: Reservoir Dogs

10th Anniversary DVD
, Frank Herbert's Dune,

and Van Wilder.

Final Thoughts

While there is no argument that First Blood

and perhaps First Blood Part II belongs in

every action lover's collection, there is still

much debate over the silly Rambo III and

its worth in purchasing the entire Trilogy set.

For a price tag of under $45 on-line, Artisan

has put together a very attractive package of

all three titles. In addition, the bonus 4th

DVD offers some new documentaries that are just

outstanding -- most notably, Voices From

that is a unrestrained look at the

Vietnam war and the mistakes we, as Americans,

made in it.

Terrific transfers and remastered DTS sound

that really adds depth to the film's soundtrack

is a reason for upgrading last year's release.

I would have given this set all the praise in

the world if not for the fact that Artisan failed

to include English subtitles on it.

Release Date: May 28, 2002


Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner


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#2 of 44 OFFLINE   HenrikTull


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Posted May 21 2002 - 07:12 AM

Great review, Ron. I'm wondering though. What kind of discs is the trilogy pressed on? DVD-10 or DVD-18? Thanks!
A Little Slice of Heaven

#3 of 44 OFFLINE   Ron-P



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Posted May 21 2002 - 07:36 AM


there is still much debate over the silly Rambo III and its worth in purchasing the entire Trilogy set.

No debate here. I love'd Rambo III. All that glorious AK-47 action.

Great review Ron. I was planning on picking it up, you confirmed my purchase.

Peace Out~Posted Image
You have all the weapons you need...Now fight!

#4 of 44 OFFLINE   Chris M

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Posted May 21 2002 - 07:49 AM

Well, that confirms it, even if I can't afford it, I'm picking it up! haha! Sounds great Ron! Thanks for the review! Chris.

#5 of 44 OFFLINE   Andrew Chong

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Posted May 21 2002 - 08:27 AM

Wow! Thanks for such a detailed and early review.

#6 of 44 OFFLINE   Jerry Gracia

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Posted May 21 2002 - 08:34 AM

Pre-ordered. Sounds very good! (says goodbye to the original set)
I do not have anything clever nor’ interesting to place in my signature box…so I’ll leave it blank.

#7 of 44 OFFLINE   Garry I

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Posted May 21 2002 - 08:52 AM

DVD-14 (Dual layer for extras with widescreen and single layer has P&S). I thought that it was going to affect the bitrate, but this shouldn't be much of an issue. I'm glad they didn't put PS and Widescreen on the same side

I am wondering if Rambo II still has the same faint vertical banding on the right side of the screen as the older edition released in 1999. It was the only one of the 3 discs that was dual layer, probably to hide the film/digital artifacts or possible damage to the print??. I also remember the large amount of shimmering on the older set.

I ebayed mine in anticipation for this set. Hopefully it looks as good as you say it is. Looking forward to the new transfers and DTS sound! Posted Image.

#8 of 44 OFFLINE   David Coleman

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Posted May 21 2002 - 09:12 AM

Yes, thanks for the great in-depth review Ron. Now if it would only come out now!!

#9 of 44 OFFLINE   Bruce Hedtke

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Posted May 21 2002 - 09:20 AM

I'm going to pick up the box set, but let's just say that Ramboo III (not a typo) probably won't get more than one viewing. Bruce
The Mads are calling

#10 of 44 OFFLINE   Greg S

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Posted May 21 2002 - 09:22 AM

I'm in! I'm glad I didn't pick the old version up last year when it dropped to rock bottom pricing. Looking forward to this one. Greg

#11 of 44 OFFLINE   Greg Br

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Posted May 21 2002 - 10:25 AM

Ron, Your pretty amazing, I said to myself, I might want to pick this set up, I wonder if Ron reviewed it, and bam it is here for me today! Thanks Greg

#12 of 44 OFFLINE   Nick Graham

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Posted May 21 2002 - 01:15 PM

Just saw this at Wal-Mart, and thought it looked quite sweet, even though I've never seen the first 2 (caught the 3rd when I was a kid). Methinks I will pick it up once my money from "They Live" gets here.

#13 of 44 OFFLINE   Greg_Y



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Posted May 21 2002 - 01:48 PM

Darn it. I really can't afford this but I'm having trouble NOT pre-ordering it. After Ron's review, ... ARGH!

By the way, I know there are alot of you out there that don't listen to commentaries very often. I'm one of those as well. However, David Morrell's commentary on First Blood is really good. So give it a chance if you have the time. Posted Image

P.S. At least one of the major B&M retailers will have the trilogy for $39.99 with the individual titles @ $12.99 each.

#14 of 44 OFFLINE   Dave H

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Posted May 21 2002 - 03:50 PM

I will say this is a great review. Believe it or not, I have NEVER seen any of the Rambo movies and I am 30 years old. I will have to definitely check them out.

#15 of 44 OFFLINE   todd stone

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Posted May 21 2002 - 05:06 PM

"After First Blood had raked up a record-

breaking $14.9 million in its first 12 days of


wow, and to think where we have come with spidermans money Posted Image

Gonna pick this one up too.
Lo, there do I see my mother, and my sisters, and my brothers, Lo, there do I see the line of my people, back to the beginning, Lo, they do call to me, they bid me take my place among them, In the halls of Valhalla,where the brave may live...

#16 of 44 OFFLINE   Eric T

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Posted May 21 2002 - 06:14 PM

Thanks for the review, Ron. I'm sure I'll at least pick up the First Blood disc. I didn't care much for the other two.

#17 of 44 OFFLINE   Scott_J



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Posted May 21 2002 - 07:16 PM

FYI: Not only did Artisan not include English subs on the discs, they also dropped the subtitles in Rambo III that were present when they speak in Russian. DVDFile's Cliff Stephenson posted the info at DVDTalk.


Thought you guys might want to know this before the discs come out. I got a chance to check out the new Rambo Trilogy special edition and on Rambo III, they've dropped all the subtitles that were present when they speak in Russian. The other two discs were fine as far as I could remember, but Rambo III is screwed up. I don't know how many times this same thing has to happen before they realize that it might be best to leave well enough alone.



#18 of 44 OFFLINE   Johnny wilson

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Posted May 21 2002 - 10:51 PM

Ron is one pretty cool dude.Posted Image

#19 of 44 OFFLINE   Gary Kellerman

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Posted May 22 2002 - 12:53 AM

The helicopter pilot in RAMBO 2 who gets kicked in the "chones" by Sly near the end of the film is actor Martin Kove. He was in my spanish class in 10th grade in 1961. I can still hear his laugh today because my pronunciation of spanish in high school left a lot to be desired and in one incident he just broke out laughing exclaiming "Kellerman, you have the worst spanish pronuciation I have ever heard". He is in my 1964 yearbook. The last time I saw him personally was when I was walking home from school and passed him on the athletic field both saying hi to each other in the spring of 1964. I first saw him on a tv show in the mid-70's. He looked so much better after all those years but I would have not known it was him if he had not used is real name for acting credits. He even made PEOPLE MAGAZINE in 1986. I have the LD on Rambo 2. This decoded very well on my 5 channel dynaquad system. While I did get some split channel decoding from the disc on this circuit, I cannot recall any gunfire coming out of the rears; those sounds were up front. One specific sound I did hear is when Rambo draws his bow with the grenade laden arrow. It came out of my right rear channel. Rambo 3's LD had a more ambitious surround track ans as such that might be the reason why this remastered disc has a more ambitious 5 channel surround track that Ron heard on his system.

#20 of 44 OFFLINE   Sean Oneil

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Posted May 22 2002 - 06:34 PM

I can't believe it, but this actually sounds interesting now.

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