First Blood 4K Blu-ray Review
Rich, exciting and surprisingly heartfelt
First Blood 4K Film Review
I don't think you understand. I didn't come to rescue Rambo from you. I came here to rescue you from himAfter the glut of anti-Vietnam war films during the seventies, Mr John J. Rambo esquire, Vietnam Vet, decorated war hero and Green Beret comes along, bursts onto the screen and changes the action hero genre for good. Apart from its phenomenal success, it also led to a sharp direction change for its main star’s career. Best known for his Rocky films, Stallone had yet to make it into the action film genre in any substantial way, but that was all about to change and it defined his career path for pretty much the rest of his life.The film is only loosely based on the novel by David Morrell and tells of a Vietnam vet unable to adjust to civilian life and finds himself in bitter man hunt with Sheriff Will Teasle. When unjustly treated and having ‘first blood’ drawn against him, Rambo takes it upon himself to start a war with the sleepy town. I won’t embellish the story further, doubtless it has been seen by just about everyone by now. But it must be said, that, it is not the all-out actioner that it is often portrayed to be; it is far more mature, morose even, and certainly nothing like its ridiculous sequels. But neither is it the character study of the novel. It skirts both these ideas eventually leaning towards the action.
Stallone was perfect casting for this role, playing it as a down-trodden, down-on-his-luck guy (much like reprising Rocky) his first meeting with his dead buddy’s family shows a depth rarely seen in the action genre. He is like a child, explaining short stories about the picture, and once he knows the truth, as devastated as one that has just broken his favourite toy. Compare this to the cocksure jungle combatant at home on the mountain slopes, running on adrenalin, able to take out trained officers as if they weren’t there. And then right back to the child when he breaks down at the end of the film in a passionate speech about the horrors of war and the effects it has had on him. It is this breakdown that adds some incredible depth to the character. There is a motivation and an understanding hitherto unseen in action heroes, especially the needing to be held. It is a break from the book, in which Rambo is killed, and one that allowed the two outrageous sequels to be made. I wonder what would have happened had the novel ending been kept? It would have spared us the sequels, certainly, but it would have also have been a tragic end to what is essentially a tragic character. First Blood manages to rise above its action roots adding pathos to what would eventually become a standard popcorn-fodder genre.
First Blood 4K PictureFirst Blood was shot using Panavision cameras on 35mm film. This release was made using the original camera negative which was scanned at 4K resolution and utilised for the creation of this Ultra HD Blu-ray release. The disc presents a native 4K 3840 x 2160p resolution image in the widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and uses 10-bit video depth, a Wide Colour Gamut (WCG), High Dynamic Range, and is encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec for HDR10. We reviewed the Region free UK Ultra HD Blu-ray release of First Blood on a Panasonic 65DX902B Ultra HD 4K TV with a Panasonic DMP-UB400 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
Noticeable up-tick in terms of detail, colouring and black level
There is a noticeable up-tick in terms of detail, colouring and black level compared to the 1080 image, making this the go to disc for quality. Detail gets a good boost from the greater resolution with skin texture, clothing weaves, rock fascias, forest leaves, bark and debris all having noticeably keener edges. The landscape shots of the cold forest, or the cliff edges are wonderfully realised with cleaner detailing at every turn.
The WGC and HDR add significant depth to the colours, whether that is the greens of the forest leaves, or Rambo’s jacket, the blues of the skies and emergency lights, or the reds of blood. Indeed, all the earthy tones have an increase in vibrancy, so when the sun is going down there is a much richer orange hue, so it looks like sunset. Skin tones are pale but natural.
Black level is good and strong and deeper with more shadow detail than ever before; this is especially true during the night attack and in the caves. The picture has always struggled with black in the forest, particularly during the ambush, and that is still the case here, but the black is that more robust giving a bit more depth and feeling to the gloom. The white end of the scale is also great, no clipping in the highlights that bring out even more detail.
Digitally, there were no compression issues and the original source has cleaned up great, but retains that firm grain sheen to give a nice filmic look.
First Blood 4K SoundUnfortunately, the disc has not been up-graded to the immersive surround tracks, so no Dolby Atmos or DTS-X, what we do have is the same DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that adorns previous releases. It is a reasonably impressive track; there is a good range, and decent bass to give some bulk to the stage. Effects have a left right sweep rather than a front back aspect, but were pretty numerous, even if it did feel a little front heavy at times. Effects such as the vehicle chase, or in the forest, fare well, as does the claustrophobic nature of the tunnel escape, but the all-out gun battles give the best of the surround environment; gotta love that M60 rattle! Jerry Goldsmith's, brilliant, melancholic score was resoundingly reassuring through all the speakers with the bass giving it the thump it needed. Talking of thumps, the LF effects where rather limited, being reserved for explosions and thunder, though both resulted in a satisfying rumble. Dialogue is clean and clear, has a decent natural ring, and is never lost. Compared to modern actioners it is pretty basic, but for its time and the visuals it does well.
First Blood 4K ExtrasUHD
Audio commentary – With Sylvester Stallone who talks about the character, his initial reluctance and many other aspects of the production.
Audio commentary – With screenwriter David Morell, the creator of the Rambo character gives a thoughtful, conversational chat that covers plenty of aspects of the film, his book and America.
Rambo takes the '80s Part 1 – 20 minute feature with interviewees discuss the film’s legacy interspersed with film clips.
Drawing First Blood – 20 minute vintage making of feature in the usual format.
Deleted scene - Dream in Saigon
How to Become Rambo Part 1 - Dr. Franco Columbo, Sylvester Stallone's body building coach, going through core exercises.
The Restoration – Comparisons between before and after.
The Real Nam – 30 minute documentary covering the war.
Forging Heroes – 10 minutes looking at the Special Forces.
First Blood 4K VerdictBefore the ‘action hero’ became the Action Hero!, there was Rambo, a sympathetic, misguided and reluctant veteran, who had no place to turn to except what he knew: war. Mistreatment at the hands of enthusiastic sheriffs of a sleepy backwater town turns into bloody mayhem when they cross the wrong man. Rich, exciting and surprisingly heartfelt, First Blood is unlike most action films in that its lead character is fighting his own internal battle as well as that against the town. It also changed the genre for good and made an American icon out of the lead character.
The 4K UHD from Studiocanal is a decent enough package; the native 4K picture is amazing; bringing out a depth in the frame, detail and colouring unseen in previous releases, while still retaining that film like quality. The DTS-HD MA surround track is a little front heavy, but suitably bombastic when it needs to be, with that awesome score coming through really well. The extras are a pretty good mix as well, with commentaries and features.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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