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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > War > Vietnam > Crime > Prison > Corruption > Rambo – The Complete Collector’s Set + Rambo – Extended Cut + Lock Up (Lionsgate Blu-rays)

Rambo – The Complete Collector’s Set + Rambo – Extended Cut + Lock Up (Lionsgate Blu-rays)


Picture: B/B+/B     Sound: B/B+/B-     Extras: C+     Films: B/C/C/B-/C



So it seems that everything old is new again and Sly Stallone has resurrected his career with that same idea.  After the shocking success of Rocky Balboa, Stallone must have realized that there was some fuel left in his old franchises.  After putting the ending on the Rocky Series that Stallone felt it deserved, he set his sights on the insanely popular Rambo franchise.  Audiences across the board were thrilled to see John Rambo hit the silver screen again, but how successful a new sequel would be after over twenty years was up in the air.


The set being reviewed here contains all four Rambo films, including First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo III and Rambo.  Also being reviewed here is Rambo: Extended Cut (the fourth film in the series) that includes additional footage that was not previously released on Blu-ray or DVD.  Finally in this review is a film unrelated to the Rambo Series, but instead showcases Stallone doing what he does best in the film Lock Up.


For those who have never seen the film, First Blood is a film that has ex-Green Beret John Rambo (Sly Stallone) finally coming back home after Vietnam to reintegrate into society.  John Rambo sets his sights on America’s beautiful Pacific North West in order to reconnect with some old military buddies.  Plans go all too wrong for Rambo when he is essentially kidnapped and tortured by the local sheriff Teasle (played by Brian Dennehy), for reasons that center on Rambo being a “worthless part of society.”  Everything is done to breakdown John Rambo’s spirit and leaves him with nothing.  With nothing left but his fight or flight response, Rambo goes into all out fight mode; turning into Rambo, the one man army.  Rambo manages to escape the grasp of the local police on a dirt bike, but after the cops chase him down (with one officer firing on Rambo and that officer losing his life) Sheriff Teasle declares all out war on Rambo.  Rambo’s commanding officer (Richard Crenna) is brought in to talk both the sheriff and Rambo down, but it seems all too late as it becomes Rambo versus the world (or the National Guard) as this all out ‘trained killing machine’ has been turned on and the off switch is broken.


Stallone may be seen as a action hero (like that of The Expendables) that is more about blowing things up then true substance, but films like Rocky and First Blood prove that he is a smart and holds more depth then he is given credit for. First Blood is a thrilling ride that shows a war veteran that was lost in this world and when it seemed like he had nothing left, people took even more.  Sure, the film is a violent, action-fest but it also has a deep layer of substance that should not be overlooked.  The Rambo Series as a whole is wonderful, with the first and last installments being its shining moments; bookending the series in blood splashing greatness.


Rambo: First Blood II and Rambo III were not the exciting creative force that the first film was, but John Rambo had found an audience and they demanded more.  First Blood II destroys the serious nature of the first film, by having Colonel Trautman (again Richard Crenna) busting the cop killing John Rambo out of prison to aid in a secret military mission to rescue POWs that remain in Vietnam.  Rambo was sent in only to take pictures and essentially come up with a plan of action, but the traumatized vet takes it very personally (of course) and makes it his mission to free the POWs.  Some other freedom fighters and characters are met along the way, but the big ‘plot twist’ comes when we find out that the Russians are involved in this POW tale (Cold War anyone?).  As the film develops Rambo loses those who he has begun to care for, once again setting this fragile PTSD victim into a one man war.  Rambo III takes us to Afghanistan where Colonel Trautman (again Richard Crenna) is on a mission to free the country of Soviet Control.  Trautman asks Rambo to help, but he is a new man with Buddhist beliefs and refuses.  Of course everything in Trautman’s plan goes wrong and he is captured by the evil Russian Colonel Zaysen (Marc De Jonge); cue John Rambo!  Rambo steps on the scene to save his former commander from the clutches of the evil Russians, again forming a one man war.  This time he does have the help of the Mujahedeenian Rebels, but it is mostly Rambo doing the heavy lifting.


All in all, I find that the two sequels for their many short comings are enjoyable if nothing else.  Parts II and III are action packed films that, whereas ridiculous as hell, manage to have fun with the Rambo character, though they strip away much of what the character was meant to be/stand for in the original.


Finally, we have Rambo.  Yes, Rambo. Not Rambo IV, First Blood IV or Stallone’s Big Pay Day 2008, but Rambo.  As discussed previously on this site, it has become an odd trend for films to simplify (or completely change) established film series titles; ranging from Rocky to Diehard, it has all been tampered with.  Moving on, Rambo is a trip back into the life of former Green Beret John Rambo after over 20years off the big screen.  Cutting to the chase, Rambo has managed to revitalize a floundering series that was made into a joke in parts II and III.  The original First Blood was overflowing with action, drama and suspense and in turn made audiences love the film.  Rambo has John Rambo living a modest reclusive life in Thailand, where he catches snakes and is a boatman for hire; wholly keeping to himself.  Rambo’s life is thrown through a loop when a group of Christian Missionaries (lead by Paul Schulze of Sopranos fame) decide to get into a heap of trouble, in turn dragging Rambo along for the ride.  The missionaries are captured and a group of mercenaries are hired to recover the misguided bible bumpers.  Rambo is begrudgingly convinced to help the mercenaries on their mission, whether he and they like it or not.


Rambo is a thrilling end (?) to a series that made Sly Stallone who he is today.  The film embodied the gritty, gory, action packed thrills of the original while integrating a solid, believable storyline that holds the audiences attention throughout.  Rambo is certainly one of the most violent and bloody films this reviewer has seen in a long time; full to the brim with exploding body parts, ripped out throats and just a “bloody” good time.  Now Rambo: Extended Cut which is sold as a separate Blu-ray disc and not in the box set (why I don’t know) contains about 8 minutes of additional footage that adds little to the film.  Extreme Rambo film buffs may find that those 8 minutes are amazing or awesomely add to the film, but the common viewer the two versions are nearly identical.  I find that Rambo was a wonderful way to end the series and it is time to let John Rambo live his reclusive life in peace.  Rambo made up for the short comings of the previous two sequels and comes full circle to resurrect the greatness of the original.


The final film reviewed here is Lock Up.  Lock Up is a 1989 Sly Stallone film that is often forgotten, but has its moments.  The story goes that Stallone (as Frank Leone) is serving his last six months in prison and plans on doing so quietly.  Donald Sutherland (as Warden Drumgoole) has other plans for Leone, swearing that he will serve long and hard time well beyond 6months.  It seems that the warden is holding a grudge against Leone as he is the only inmate to have ever escaped Treadmore Prison while Drumgoole was warden.  Leone had only escaped Treadmore to visit his dying mentor; who he had previously been denied access to.  The film goes off on a journey of living hell as Leone is subjected to both mental and physical torture under the order of Warden Drumgoole.  Leone is beaten, thrown in the hole and mentally abused in order to get him to slip up and serve more time.  A chain of corruption is exposed as plot twist after plot twist has the audience not asking will Leone serve more time, but will he make it out alive?  Lock Up is not Stallone’s best film, but is well constructed (though a bit over the top) and with the likes of Donald Sutherland, Stallone and Tom Sizemore starring it turns out to be a fun and interesting film.


The technical features from Vietnam to Burma on this 4 disc Blu-ray Set are identical to the previous releases and Rambo: Extended Cut is the same as the 2008 release, with the exception of the 8 or so extended minutes of footage.  First Blood, Rambo II and Rambo III are all presented in 2.35 X 1 1080p High Definition that are nothing astonishing as they show their age with degrees of debris and spottiness.  There is a nice amount of detail, solid blacks and color when compared to the many DVD releases, but for Blu-ray Rambo I-III deserves better.  There are degrees of softness throughout the first three films, but flesh tones are nice and light/dark are adequately balanced.  The sound on the first three films is a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio that projects well and uses all of the speakers, but lacks the ‘oomph’ that one would expect from a Rambo collection as bass is somewhat weak.  The dialogue comes through clearly and overall can be called excellent, well balanced and without distortion.


Rambo (coming 20 years later) fairs much better than the first 3 films and has much more immersive picture and sound.  The picture and sound on Rambo (in the collector’s set) and Rambo: Extended Cut are identical, except (once again) for the few added scenes.  The picture is presented in a 2.35 X 1 1080P AVC encoded High Definition Widescreen that intentionally holds a gritty, sun bleached quality.  Outside of the intended styling the picture is crisp, clean and clear with solid blacks and vibrant colors (when they appear) that capture the fourth installment well.  The sound is very well done in its DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio that brings the ‘boom’ that the first three films lacked on Blu-ray.  The viewer constantly feels surrounded in the jungle and when the action hits the speakers ignite to give a fully immersive film experience.

In terms of extras we are treated to over 20 explosive bonus features.  For First Blood the audience receives a full audio commentary from Sly Stallone as well as a second from writer David Morrell (who wrote the book the film was based on).  Both Stallone and Morrell commentaries are pretty interesting and though they slow down at times they manage to divulge a fair bit of information to keep the track lively.


Also on First Blood there are a few deleted scenes, an alternates *gasp* suicide ending and an interesting featurette entitled “Drawing First Blood” that is a 22minute retrospective into the making of the film.  Rambo II features a commentary from director George Cosmatos that is interesting, but not as good as the one featured on the first film.  Also on this disc is a featurette entitled “This Time We Get to Win” that for 20minutes discusses much of the filming process and trivia not found anywhere else.  Rambo III has a commentary track from director Peter MacDonald that is very interesting as he discusses the many conditions they were forced to shoot in on top of working with American helicopter pilots (it is no surprise they shot the film mostly in Arizona and NOT Afghanistan).  Also for Rambo III are some deleted scenes as well as an alternate opening and two alternate endings (one is a blooper).  Like parts 1 and 2 Rambo III has a ‘making of’ featurette entitled Afghanistan: Land in Crisis.  Finally, Rambo features the same plethora of extras that were released on the last Blu-ray; including but not limited to audio commentaries and featurettes.  The featurettes include It’s a Long Road: Resurrection of an Icon; Score to Settle: Music of Rambo; A Hero’s Welcome: Release and Reaction; Legacy of Despair: The Real Struggle to Burma; Art of War: Completing Rambo. There are some deleted scenes.  Rambo: Extended Cut features a featurette entitled “Rambo: To Hell and Back” Director’s Production Diary, as well as ~8 minutes of additional footage that neither adds nor detracts from the film.


Lock Up has a similar picture quality as the first three Rambo films, but the sound is a bit worse.  The picture is presented in a 1.85 X 1 spherical Panavision transfer that is very crisp, clean and clear with solid black and the occasional explosion of color in a very dark film.  The sound is a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio that has its moments but for the most part falls flat as the bass is weak, weak, weak even as the sound does deliver a fair bit of ambient noise to give a quality prison atmosphere.  The dialogue is crisp and clean as it projects from the front.


Extras on Lock Up include a few brief segments including “Making of Lock Up,” Sylvester Stallone Profile, a Behind the Scenes featurette and Theatrical Trailer.  The extras are adequate, but nothing amazing.


After this long winded review I can say that there is no reason to upgrade your Rambo Collection if you already own it on Blu-ray, but if you don’t this is the thinner set to pick up.  Lock Up is an interesting film that delivers a heavy dose of Sly doing what he does best, being an action star.



-   Michael P. Dougherty II


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