Rambo: First Blood Part II makes its Blu-ray Disc debut both as a standalone release and part of the Rambo 1-3 box set that annoyingly lacks the fourth Rambo film. The good news is no matter which way acquired, Rambo II carries forth a solid transfer and 1080p encode found on First Blood, easily making this release the best the film has ever looked on home video.
Given the choice to rot in a prison chain gang for five years or be temporarily reinstated into the armed forces for a highly secretive undercover recon mission in Vietnam to locate possible POWs, Rambo cautiously agrees to return to the same country that transformed him into the killing machine he’s become. What should have been an in-and-out quickie takes the shaggy haired Rambo character on a roller coaster ride of death and destruction under a politically manipulated command.
Like most sequels, First Blood Part II was designed to surpass the original in scope at the expense of storytelling. The audience is lead to believe if Rambo had been allowed to fight the Vietnam War “his way,” i.e. by killing anything in sight with the swiftness of a ninja, the U.S. might have won, and there would be no POWs. But the bureaucrats in charge followed their own personal agendas guided by the almighty dollar, leaving the U.S. running with their tail between their legs. These bureaucrats are still in charge, but this time Rambo is operating under his own terms and this time the outcome “is up to him.”
The idea is sound if built to support a political thriller but hardly registers or even matters when Rambo dons his trademark red headband and goes to work. His rampage in First Blood pales in comparison to what he inflicts upon unsuspecting Vietcong and Russian soldiers using his hands, guns, knives, rocket launchers, arrows with explosive tips and random objects within arm’s reach. Death comes at such a furious and creative pace that it’s almost comical and surreal. Hiding in a wall of mud to grab an enemy soldier from behind? Never getting as much as nicked while hundreds of enemy soldiers shoot all around him? It’s testosterone-charged, senseless, gratuitous violence at its very best (or worst, depending on your point of view).
No matter what the subject matter, it’s always a delight to pop in a Blu-ray Disc for a film more than 20 years old and have it look as clean as First Blood II does thanks to a solid VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer that runs anywhere between 25 and 35mbps. Light film grain works in tandem with adequately detailed visuals that bring the lush jungles and shallow rivers of Mexico subbing for Vietnam to life. A few scant early noise anomalies in the form of intrusive blue lines quickly disappear and are long forgotten after watching Rambo systemically blow up buildings, vehicles, bridges and more in brilliant bright explosions. When darkness falls, black levels are consistently strong — especially during a prolonged parachute drop sequence. If Rambo’s creative paths to destruction don’t make you say “wow,” the high-def visual presentation will.
Unfortunately, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio comes up short when compared to the video. The front speakers do almost all the heavy lifting, whether a rare quiet dialogue exchange or massive gunfight. Bass is present but shallow, lacking the oomph and punch modern films deliver, resulting in the treble being over-pronounced. Like the action, the best way to ultimately describe the aural experience is it feels lifted straight out of the ’80s.
Lionsgate offers up the lone supplemental feature not contained within the film in standard definition MPEG-2 16×9 letterboxed video and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.
We Get to Win This Time Documentary (20:04) — This all-new documentary includes a number of retrospect interview snippets from Sylvester Stallone, George Cosmatos, Mario Kassar, Richard Crenna and others. Lots of neat pre-production information comes to light such as James Cameron’s original screenplay having Rambo starting in a mental institution and working a buddy, to be played by John Travolta. It’s a great compliment to the film and must-see viewing for any Rambo fan.
Audio Commentary with Director George Cosmatos — George pops into the film from time to time to offer tidbits about the production. What’s lacking in engaging conversation is made up for with neat trivia such as a hurricane leading to all the close-ups of the knives and Stallone suiting up because they were stuck shooting in their hotel that day. Even so, the long lapses are hard to stomach from start to end.
Out of the Blu Advanced Trivia Track (Blu-ray exclusive) — Lionsgate includes this in-movie pop-up trivia track with clean easy to read graphics that rotate through several designs to help avoid monotony.
First Blood: Part II ranks right up there with Commando as a top five 80s action flick defying the laws of combat and luck to deliver killing sprees unlike anything put on film before. If this is your cup of tea, the sub-$20 price is more than a bargain for a well-rounded visual high definition presentation that makes First Blood: Part II on Blu-ray put its previous DVD incarnations to shame.
- Score: 7.8