Rambo III made its Blu-ray Disc debut alongside First Blood and Rambo: First Blood Part II in the Rambo trilogy box set and as a separate standalone release. It will surely find its way into many Blu-ray collections by virtue of being included in affordably priced set. Whether Rambo III is marketable by itself is debatable given its abysmal box office take and Rambo fans’ malcontent with how it once brought the series to an abrupt halt.
The general rule of thumb in constructing a trilogy is for the third and final film to hearken back to the first and bring a character or characters’ story full circle. Rambo III instead borrows so heavily from First Blood Part II that it comes across as a cheap rip-off. The unemotional and equally uninteresting Russians return depicted during their invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. With them comes virtually the identical gunship helicopter used in the finale of First Blood Part II, only this time in multiples. Likewise, Rambo’s weapon of choice is, once again, explosive-tipped arrows.
By the time Rambo infiltrates a desert Russian camp to rescue Colonel Troutman, who at his age and complexion had no business partaking in an undercover operation in the desert’s searing heat, the repetitive action reflects Sly going through the paces. Reusing the war devices from First Blood Part II is partially to blame, alongside uninspired writing that makes Rambo’s action feel more like an emotionless videogame than that of a troubled man struggling to find his place in the world. It’s hard to believe in a game of chicken between the Russian commander and Rambo in a gunship and tank, respectively, when the two share little if any prior screen time together.
Rambo III is presented in a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer that, like First Blood Part II, makes this film look the best it ever has on home video. The opening “stick fight” sequence between Rambo and another brawler shows off strong contrast and blacks as the camera switches between tight close-ups and longer shots. The remainder of the film in the Afghanistan desert doesn’t succumb to haze or fuzzy edges and remains remarkably sharp and full of detail. In direct comparison to First Blood Part II, Rambo III’s transfer comes out on top by a hair — even without the benefit of lush green jungles.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a more noticeable step up from First Blood Part II. Where that film relied heavily on the front channels and lacked the depth and bass found in modern releases, Rambo III is a much fuller mix that expands into the surrounds and pulls out deeper bass. A sequence where Rambo battles mindless Russian soldiers in a cavern brings out the mix’s best: scurrying sounds in the rear, the whizzing of arrows, cavernous echoes, and a large explosion to polish off the final invading enemy.
A lone supplemental feature offered outside the film is presented in MPEG-2 1.33:1 video and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. The other extras, and audio commentary and trivia track, are only accessible while watching the film.
Land in Crisis Documentary (29:48) — The documentary offers a thorough investigation of the political turmoil and Soviet occupation that ravaged Afghanistan and how it served as the backbone for Rambo III. Aside from Stallone comments pulled from the same interview used in the First Blood Part II extras, it comes across as something you’d watch on the History Channel which makes it far more interesting than anything presented in the feature film. One interesting tidbit is a scholar calls out none of actors playing Afghan’s talked with the proper Afghan accent.
Out of the Blu Advanced Trivia Track — This trivia track is presented identically to the one on First Blood Part II revealing nuggets of information throughout the film, right down to the graphics aesthetics.
Feature-Length Commentary with Director Peter MacDonald — I held out hope Peter would have more to offer than George Cosmatos did on First Blood Part II, but Peter gets caught up watching the film and adds remarks intermittently. It is strange to hear a British accent with a natural hint of nobility talking about Rambo.
Rambo III is by far the weak link in the Rambo series. Rather than return Rambo to his roots from First Blood, Stallone takes the character on a romp through Afghanistan mostly ripped off from First Blood Part II. Thankfully the fourth Rambo accomplishes what Rambo III failed to do, even if it took two decades to wash out the sour taste and get it done.
Whether wanted or not, Rambo III is still a part of the series. If you’re going to own the whole shebang, take solace in knowing Lionsgate’s high-definition Blu-ray presentation is as good as can be expected.
- Score: 6.7