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HTF REVIEW: "Rambo Trilogy" (with screenshots)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ronald Epstein, May 21, 2002.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein

    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.
    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.
    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
    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.
    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.
    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
    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
    trailer 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?"
    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.
    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.
    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
    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"
    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.
    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
    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
    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


    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
    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)
    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)
    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
    Trilogy 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
    Within 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
  2. HenrikTull

    HenrikTull Second Unit

    Jun 6, 2000
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    Great review, Ron. I'm wondering though. What kind of discs is the trilogy pressed on? DVD-10 or DVD-18? Thanks!
  3. Ron-P

    Ron-P Producer

    Jul 25, 2000
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    Real Name:
  4. Chris M

    Chris M Second Unit

    Apr 15, 2000
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    Well, that confirms it, even if I can't afford it, I'm picking it up! haha! Sounds great Ron! Thanks for the review!

  5. Andrew Chong

    Andrew Chong Supporting Actor

    May 7, 2002
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    Wow! Thanks for such a detailed and early review.
  6. Jerry Gracia

    Jerry Gracia Supporting Actor

    Oct 20, 1998
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    Sounds very good!
    (says goodbye to the original set)
  7. Garry I

    Garry I Stunt Coordinator

    Feb 9, 2001
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    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! [​IMG].
  8. David Coleman

    David Coleman Supporting Actor

    Jan 5, 2000
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    Yes, thanks for the great in-depth review Ron. Now if it would only come out now!!
  9. Bruce Hedtke

    Bruce Hedtke Cinematographer

    Jul 11, 1999
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    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.

  10. Greg S

    Greg S Supporting Actor

    Mar 13, 2000
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    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.

  11. Greg Br

    Greg Br Second Unit

    Dec 13, 2001
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    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!


  12. Nick Graham

    Nick Graham Screenwriter

    Oct 16, 2001
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    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. Greg_Y

    Greg_Y Screenwriter

    Mar 7, 1999
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    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. [​IMG]
    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. Dave H

    Dave H Producer

    Aug 13, 2000
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    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. todd stone

    todd stone Screenwriter

    Dec 1, 2000
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    "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 [​IMG]
    Gonna pick this one up too.
  16. Eric T

    Eric T Second Unit

    Apr 1, 2001
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    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. Scott_J

    Scott_J Cinematographer

    Jul 17, 2000
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    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.
  18. Johnny wilson

    Johnny wilson Stunt Coordinator

    Apr 29, 2002
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    Ron is one pretty cool dude.[​IMG]
  19. Gary Kellerman

    Gary Kellerman Stunt Coordinator

    Jul 30, 1999
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    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. Sean Oneil

    Sean Oneil Supporting Actor

    Mar 19, 2001
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    I can't believe it, but this actually sounds interesting now.

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