4K UltraHD Review: Rambo: First Blood Part II

By , Contributor
Out with the thoughtfulness of First Blood and in with the histrionics. And the big money. The year 1985 represented a rare peak of dominance for an actor of any generation. Sylvester Stallone was on top of the world that year, with twin blockbusters Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV. Unlike the classic original film, Rambo: First Blood Part II even managed an Oscar nomination (Best Sound Editing). The screenplay was originally written by James Cameron and subsequently heavily rewritten by Stallone. Though he may not have called "action" and "cut," this was essentially Stallone's project. Director George P. Cosmatos doesn't appear to have had a significant amount of artistic input.

In fact, many years later Kurt Russell would explain that he chose Cosmatos to "ghost-direct" Tombstone based on Stallone's recommendation. Not all directors are visionaries, and sometimes they are on-set in a more mechanical role than anything else. Listening to the late Cosmatos' audio commentary—ported over to Lionsgate's brand new 4K UltraHD edition—the ostensible director sounds like he was almost along for the ride, acting in an organizational role while writer-star Stallone steered the ship. Cosmatos was also Stallone's choice for Cobra the following year, and he has so little to say about that film in his commentary that it's almost surreal.

As a rabble-rousing, explosion-driven pure action film, Part II is lots of fun. Whereas Brian Dennehy's Sheriff Teasle in the first film managed to feel like a flesh-and-blood character, this film's main heavy—Charles Napier's military bureaucrat Murdock—is a live-action cartoon. Much political debate was spurred by Part II, much of it negative (in response to the film's "do we get to win this time" revisionist take on Vietnam). But despite its obvious button-bushing, it's hard not to get caught up in the excitement as Rambo goes into the jungles of Vietnam in search of surviving U.S. POW's.

The new 4K UltraHD is a definite upgrade from the old 1080p Blu-ray (and this package's included standard Blu-ray benefits by containing the new transfer as well). However you may feel about Part II's artistic validity, its technical specs have always been beyond reproach. Jack Cardiff's often-stunning cinematography looks richer and more natural than ever.

The standard Blu-ray has the bulk of the special features, old and new. The one true new piece is "Rambo Takes the '80s Part 2," which is 11 minutes and little more than compilation of recent comments made by film techs who had nothing to do with the making of this film (for the most part). I would've traded it all for more of David Morrell, the creator of Rambo (he not only wrote the First Blood source novel, he actual wrote the novelization of First Blood Part II), who is briefly glimpsed with some less-than-positive reflections on this film.
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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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