4K UltraHD Review: First Blood

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The original John Rambo adventure arrives on 4K UltraHD with a spiffy new transfer that marks a definite improvement over the long-available Blu-ray (which has been reissued and repackaged numerous times). The 1982 film looks fresher than ever in 2160p, which is saying something considering Andrew Laszlo's evocative cinematography was relatively impressively on the older 1080p disc. It should be noted, the standard Blu-ray disc included in Lionsgate's new 4K package boasts the upgraded transfer.

The film itself remains a true classic of the action genre. Anchored by Sylvester Stallone’s award-worthy performance (seriously—I know I'm not alone in feeling that he deserved an Oscar nod for this). This powder-keg performance truly broke Stallone free of his Rocky persona, giving him a second signature role. The simple story of a Vietnam vet experiencing harassment in a small Pacific Northwest town hits every bit as hard in 2018 as it did 36 years ago. On one hand, First Blood feels like it needs no defense. On the hand, there are a lot of people continue to completely disregard the film.

When asked in Entertainment Weekly what movie’s original reputation has been MOST damaged by ensuing sequels, film critic Owen Gleiberman cited First Blood. He's certainly got a valid point. The phenomenal popularity of 1985's Rambo: First Blood Part II led to a cartoon series and a toy line. That action spectacle (and to lesser degree its 1988 follow-up, Rambo III) effectively wiped out any relative subtleties found in First Blood.

And yes, of course, that's relative in terms of subtlety. This is, after all, the one where Rambo leaps from a cliff and falls several hundred feet into a tree, then crashes violently to the ground, only to stitch himself back up and carry on. It's also the introduction of Colonel Troutman (Richard Crenna), the Dr. Frankenstein who "made" Rambo what he is. As memorable as Crenna is in the role, he's also a bit arch in his delivery. These are a few elements that betray First Blood's B-movie roots. But by today's action standards, First Blood manages to practically feel like an art film.

So the film has aged remarkably well (just peruse a list of action-oriented films of that era and see for yourself how many you'd really want to revisit), while the new 4K transfer adds visual definition that simply wasn't present in the now-dated 1080p transfer. There's also a brand-new featurette, "Rambo Takes the '80s Part 1," on the standard Blu-ray disc that runs about 17 minutes and features a few new interview clips with original First Blood novelist (and creator of the John Rambo character) David Morrell.

While the new featurette doesn't really break any new ground, there are lots of features carried over from previous releases. In fact, though not billed as new, there are a few pieces that were not found on the previous Blu-ray (or DVD) editions that I have. Of these, the best is "How to Become Rambo Part 1," in which Stallone's former physical trainer reveals how he got the actor into shape (the actual workout demonstration portions of this 14-minute piece are of far less interest).

"The Restauration" (huh?? Yeah, that's how it's spelled) is one of those "before and after" reels that supposedly shows how the film looked before and after the digital crew cleaned it up. Besides the bizarre spelling, it's actually kind of difficult to tell what actually was done.

Of the long-available features ported over, while Stallone's own audio commentary is well worth listening to, the real gem—and seriously my favorite audio commentary track of all time—is author David Morrell's examination of the film, which contextualizes the film within the history of Vietnam, his own original novel, action films of the '70s and '80s, while also adding a deeply personal dimension (including one of the most deeply touching anecdotes about Stallone as a person). Morrell's commentary is—and I know this a vastly overused phrase—simply a must-listen.
Rambo First Blood 4K.jpg

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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