4K UltraHD Review: Rambo III

By , Contributor
The year was 1988. Sylvester Stallone was back in the bandana for a third go-round as Vietnam veteran John Rambo. For a number of reasons, Rambo III was not as well received as the previous two films. Judge for yourself by snagging Lionsgate's brand-new 4K UltraHD reissue, which offers the film in sterling 2160p (the new transfer is also found on the included standard Blu-ray disc). There's a new Rambo coming next year—Rambo: Last Blood—so Lionsgate's timing was perfect in reissuing upgraded versions of the original trilogy. The stunning fourth film Rambo (2008) kind of remains a standalone at this point (just be sure to avoid the terrible "Director's Cut" edition in which Stallone sold out his own savage vision).

As for Rambo III, in some ways I personally prefer the film to First Blood Part II. John Rambo is working in a Buddhist monastery, providing various maintenance services in exchange for a quiet place to live. He makes a bit of extra scratch (which he ends up donating to the monks anyway) engaging in no-holds-barred fighting matches. Trautman (Richard Crenna) is planning, improbably at his advanced age, to infiltrate Afghanistan to provide the Afghans weapons to fend of occupying Soviet forces. It was a very different era, so many years prior to 9/11, when the Mujahideen did not evoke images of terrorists.

Yes, the "ripped from the headlines" story line felt at the time more like "ripped from yesterday's headlines." The Soviet combat in Afghanistan had ended by the time Rambo III hit theaters. But Stallone, whose original story saw him receive top billing in the screenwriting department (he's co-scripted the first two, but each time in a re-writing capacity), deserves much credit for even tackling such a complex issue. Rambo turns down Trautman's invite to accompany him. But when Trautman is captured, Rambo must abandon his newfound pacifism and enter a war zone once again.

Before it becomes a one-liner punctuated buddy film, Stallone instills at least a modicum of depth in the early proceedings. But whereas First Blood and its first sequel were tight at lean at around 90 minutes each, Stallone miscalculated by dragging part three past the 100-minute mark. Still, the action sequences are often quite spectacular. Rambo III was among the most expensive movies ever produced at the time, and every bit of it is on the screen. Stallone's physical commitment to the role is perhaps more impressive than ever.

As with Lionsgate's other Rambo 4K reissues, Rambo III has a brand-new featurette, "Rambo Takes the '80s Part 3." At ten minutes, there's not much to see here. It's a bunch of film clips with some new interview footage, mostly with subjects not involved in the creation of the Rambo films. The exception, author David Morrell (who, as with the first sequel, wrote the novelization for Rambo III), should've probably been the sole participant as his thoughts and reflections on the film adaptations of his creation are priceless.

Stallone's former trainer Dr. Franco Columbu is back for "How to Become Rambo Part 3," though this time it his comments involving his work with Sly are way too brief, with too much of the featurette's 15 minutes given over to weightlifting demonstrations. I'm not sure where this series appeared before, but it was new to me. As was another totally lame "Restauration" before/after featurette. There's a bunch of archival promo pieces and a pair of very strong featurettes carried over from previous DVD/Blu-ray releases ("Afghanistan: Land in Crisis" and "Guts and Glory").
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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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