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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > War > Vietnam > First Blood (aka Rambo One/1982/Blu-ray)

First Blood (aka Rambo One/1982/Blu-ray)


Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: C+     Film: B-



From its arrival in 1982 to the final days before 9/11, the mythos that made John Rambo seem at least somewhat feasible was strong enough to redefine masculinity in mainstream commercial cinema and spawn two sequels with their own ups and downs.  Ted Kotcheff’s First Blood (1982) was one of those smaller films that just grew and grew in popularity.


Sylvester Stallone is Rambo, an ex-Green Beret back home to essentially make up for the “recent loss” of Vietnam and show that the strong, almost superhuman body is the reason for the “failure” before, that might makes right and will solve everything.  It was part of a cycle of political Rollback films that rode the Reagan wave, whether the audience realized it or not.


He tries to integrate back into society and get together with some old military friends when he is “arrested” (read kidnapped) and tortured by a local sheriff (Brian Dennehy) for being a “longhair” (read liberal/disposable?) hell bent to break and destroy him.  When all Rambo has left is to go into survival mode, he becomes a one-man army and even his former Colonel boss (Richard Crenna) can defuse him before he wrecks every town around.  Now, all hell will break loose.


Sounding like something between a Horror film and Hulk comic, the film is not the self-satire the sequels and imitators (so brilliantly sent up by “Weird Al” Yankovic in his feature film UHF) though the over-the-top tendencies are already built into the often implausible moments throughout.  So with Stallone playing his usual self, how did this first film stay grounded enough to hold together?  It is in the Michael Kozoll/William Sackheim adaptation of David Morell’s book.


Though Stallone also wrote on the script with them, Kozoll and Sackheim were in great form at the time and had worked together very effectively before.  When Sackheim was an Executive Producer on the underrated Judd Hirsch series Delvecchio, the two co-wrote the amazing License To Kill episode in 1977 so impressive that it was picked it just surfaced on a DVD compilation called Brilliant But Cancelled – Crime Dramas, as reviewed at this link:





First Blood would be Sackheim’s last major writing credit before sticking strictly to producing, yielding the thriller Pacific Heights and the grossly underrated White Sands.  The veteran began writing in the mid-1940s and producing in the mid-1950s, so he knew what he was doing.  Kozoll was story editor on Delvecchio and they only had the misfortune of making a great TV show when the medium was loaded with them.


Kozoll himself began writing on the hit Telly Savalas TV show Kojak, then on some of the great episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker with David Chase (The Sopranos), Quincy M.E., McCloud, Paris and co-created Hill Street Blues for which he also wrote extensively.  Though critics would like to write off the franchise ands similar films as “fascist” outright, even if the very premise is simply right of center at best, it is not that simple.  On its 25th anniversary, you can see how smart and professional the writing really is why this worked so well in its time.  Post 9/11, it seems like a time capsule and sometimes a relic, but is the most watchable of the films so far.  We say so far as a fourth installment, an obvious attempt to save the series from post 9/11 obsolescence, is on the way for better and worse.  Oh well.


The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image was shot by Andrew Laszlo (Walter Hill’s The Warriors) in real anamorphic Panavision using the whole 35mm frame (where Super 35 only use half of it) giving it a big screen cinematic quality that worked in the film’s favor.  Better than all previous DVD-Video versions, this print still has its limits and flaws, as well as moments of the transfer, but it fares well for its age from a time when films were shot in a visual way that was built to last including the more commercial ones.


Dolby’s old A-type analog noise reduction was the original theatrical sound for the film in its original release and you can hear those limits in the dialogue in particular in both the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS HD ES Matrixed 6.1 mixes, but the DTS is better and has clearer dialogue (finally) than the previous Dolby and DTS DVD-Video releases.  The surrounds do not always have that split feel, but this is a pretty good upgrade considering the age of the film.  Also a plus is the score by Jerry Goldsmith, which further holds this film together in ways it would not have held otherwise.


Extras include deleted scenes, two feature length audio commentary tracks (one with Stallone, the other with Morrell), an advanced trivia track and featurette Drawing First Blood.  The lack of trailers might be due to their ownership by Orion in the MGM catalog, but would be fun to see.  The sequel Blu-rays should soon follow.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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