Rambo Blu-ray Review

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by Chris McEneany May 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review


    Rambo Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £24.79


    Encoded with MPEG-4, Rambo's 2.40:1 image is transferred impeccably from the source. There is a grainy effect to the film that is more noticeable on some occasions than on others, but the majority of the film is clean and sharp, and although certain shots definitely gain the grain, I don't believe that this is an error of the transfer, itself.

    Colour is definitely better than I remember it being the couple of times that I saw this at the flicks. Saturation is more consistent and there is no smearing. The film is earthy - almost drained of colour - for a lot of the time due the locations and the gritty post-production tinkering, but the primaries are, nevertheless, extremely bold and striking. The greens of the fatigues and the foliage produce varying shades, but all are convincing. The blues during the night-time sequences are spot-on, such as on the boat during the pirate episode and the later assault on the prison camp, and the reds, man, the reds are incredible. This was a gory film at the cinema, but the wounds and injuries now literally leap from the screen, the reds are that sharp and bright. The red smoke that one of the Burmese soldiers ignites in the mess shed whilst the dancing girls are being abused diffuses marvellously across the screen. The oranges of explosions are particularly vivid, too. And just check out the white-hot elements of the burning stream from the flamethrowers, especially at the end when the Burmese boat lets rip on the rebels.

    Detail is excellent. Faces, fatigues, wounds etc are deliciously well-rendered. Skin is pore-revealing and stubble can virtually be counted down to the individual hair. Grass, leaves and twigs, and the myriad minutia of muddy terrain is well presented, too. The leaf-and-pebble-strewn ground is good, although I still think that The Brothers Grimm supplied more of an astonishing level of finite forest detail. The grisly evidence of Rambo's rage is all the more apparent now - with ripped throats, severed limbs, blasted bodies and, best yet (if you like this sort of thing), the shredded gobs of flesh on the other side of that steel shield sheltering Rambo on the back of the jeep ... the remains of the driver ... really glistening with raw freshness. The bodies that erupt in explosions also seem much more apparent than I remember them. That gullible soldier from the dog-team, for instance, who lifts up Rambo's trap, now clearly flies apart within the immediate conflagration. Detail on shrapnel and debris from grenades is also much sharper and better defined than I remember it.

    You can now really revel in those numerous decapitation shots! My favourite has got to be the headless body standing up at the front of the truck. No, wait ... the machete-slicing in the jeep with some wonderfully clear thick gobs of grue getting flung about in 1080p!

    Depth is good, but not overly so. This is not a fully three-dimensional image in the way that I, Robot is, for example. Characters and subjects definitely have their place within the image and distance shots - the Karen rebels charging down the hillside, the far-off look at the big explosion - are presented accurately within the picture, but I wasn't wowed by the sense of visual immersion. Close-up shots dealing with people, buildings and foliage offer more of a sense of depth, I feel. Some occasional shots seemed to exhibit softness in objects further back, which became more noticeable during swift sideways panning movements, but this was no detriment to the experience whatsosever. Certain views of the site of the village massacre, with the bodies strewn all over the slope leading into the water-logged fields retain a lot of detail even way back - but different shots of the same thing can be less well-delineated, I feel.

    Blacks are wonderfully deep and totally consistent. Information held within these darker areas is also better presented than I remember it being at the flicks. The poor guy hanging up in the stockade and being gnawed on by the pigs, for instance, seems to reveal a lot more detail. Shadows have plenty of depth and definition and the night-time scenes carry a sense of jungle-weight to them that anchors the image. Contrast, like the palette, has been doctored in post production and some shots exhibit that white-glare on faces, but this is a stylistic choice from Stallone to maintain the hot, hazy and moist atmosphere of the Burmese jungle. Encoding bugbears, such as edge enhancement, noise and artefacting did not pose a problem for me with this transfer. There is some noise in the image, but this takes nothing away from what is a generally very high quality transfer.

    Rambo Picture


    Of course, the big news here is that, once again, Lionsgate have pushed the boat out and presented us with another ear-blistering and super-steered DTS-MA 7.1 audio track. God bless 'em! Well, basically, what I said first time around pretty much still stands. All that audio savagery I praised about the track that played with the film's theatrical run is retained here on disc and, let me also assure you, my hopes that it would sound even better on a properly equipped home set-up have also become fact. This is dynamite stuff, folks. There's talk of the DTS-bomb going around and affecting certain players, speakers, amps - well, it certainly sounds a though a bomb has gone off right in the middle of your living room when that WWII baby goes mushroom-cloud shaped, let me tell you. WHOA!!!!

    Well, it's Rambo, isn't it?

    You surely don't need me to tell you how bombastic Stallone's sound design is for his anti-hero's lastest opus, do you? Reaching the parts that other soundtracks can only dream of, this one is bound to jumble-up your internal organs and leave you feeling very definitely shaken and considerably stirred. Explosions rock the senses with not only the deep bass you expect, but a rolling wave of impact that roars against you. That claymore-cum-nuclear blast is phenomenal - with the lossless DTS-MA you can feel the air being blown first one way and then sucked back again in the stunning aftershock. The tremors ripple beneath the floor towards you - and you'll get to feel a little bit like how Macready must have felt when the Thing tunnelled after him beneath the generator room at the end of, well, The Thing. The scattering of leaves and debris is also far more enhanced and detailed than I recall it being at the cinema. Whilst we don't get any helicopters rotoring around the place, the little chugging of Rambo's boat makes a deceptively reassuring sound. The natural noises of the jungle, however, seem to be downplayed in favour of blood 'n' thunder, so gentle ambience doesn't seem to serve much purpose in this high-calibre part of the world. The rears do still carry some atmospheric touches - voices, babble, natural sounds - but they really come to life when rounds are zipping past you and ricocheting behind your head. The 7.1 configuration is definitely utilised and the ensuing bloodbath is truly lounge-shattering, with literally nowhere to hide.

    Steerage is pin-sharp and precise around what is a nice wide soundfield. The frontal array feels expansive and there is never any trouble with the dialogue. The heavy downfall is well executed and drenches the aural environment convincingly. Gunshots are ... well ... real! Your house is turned into a war-zone and you will love every second of it. The vicious blasts from Rambo's automatic during the pirate encounter rip through the environment with startling intensity. The final battle is guaranteed to make you gape with its all-out sensory overload, but if you listen, the audio copes extremely well at placing all that detail accurately around you. I always thought that mix had got it wrong when it came to Tyler's music during this final set-piece because it sounded quite submerged beneath the effects. But, it transpires that it was Stallone's decision to present it this way - as the extras will reveal, so there would appear to be no errors there. That crazy “budda-budda-budda!!!!!” of Rambo's big gun and the slightly different, deeper bass puncturing of the even more powerful gun on the Burmese boat ensure that weapon-fetishists will be in hog-heaven ... and those of a nervous disposition should run for the hills. This is exactly the type of thing that can induce a cardiac arrest as your heart can't help but race alongside the big deep staccato of the high-velocity rounds ripping round your ears, chewing audibly through acres of vulnerable flesh and whanging superbly in ricochets off metal. Boom-boom and, indeed, shake the room.

    There is subtlety here folks - birdsong, snake-hiss, footsteps on wooden walkways or on the boat, movement through foliage etc - but these are not the things you will be bragging about after you've experienced the devastation of this magnificent 7.1 DTS-MA track, I can assure you. A very definite 10 out of 10!

    Rambo Sound


    Taking full advantage of the next stage in Blu-ray technology, Stallone and Lionsgate go another huge step in making the fans happy with lots of new gubbins ... and all in high definition, too.

    First and foremost, Stallone's interesting commentary. This can be accessed in the conventional manner, with Sly simply talking over the film, or, and this is the way that I would recommend that you do it, via the Picture-in-Picture Bonus-View option, which allows for further delving behind the scenes with extra mini-featurettes embedded within. Either way, this is a great commentary track that Stallone uses well to deliver a frank and earnest chronicle of the production. He covers the original ideas that there mooted to bring Rambo back - one involving a kidnapping that would take him into Mexico was very nearly greenlit. He discusses the character and the changes that he has undergone, the attitude he now has and the weary cynicism that eats away at him. He talks about his cast and the filming process, and the difficulties of a jungle shoot and of being the writer, director and star. But his main focus, and rightly so, is his belief that he did the right thing by drawing attention to the hell that is Burma. The horrifying violence that he depicts he reveals as being watered-down compared to the real thing, although he has documented evidence to validate everything you see being committed on screen and he covers how he altered the action to something he calls “lethal finesse” as opposed to the slow-mo and hyper-stylistic shots that were once the core ingredients of the series - ie, why he chose to go real. “It's inconceivable to the Western mind what goes on over there,” he says.

    But once you engage the Bonus-View option, you can hear the same commentary with Sly sitting in a little box in the bottom right of the screen and be treated to extra featurettes that can be either small box-outs or full screen jobs. The alternate scene of Rambo burning the pirate boat can be seen, partially, here. The theme of the montage dream-sequence is also extensively covered. The special feature is smooth and informative and comes highly recommended.

    Then we get the six featurettes -

    “It's a Long Road: Resurrection of an Icon” introduces us to Sly and his cast and crew. We see them all in individual interviews safely back at the ranch and out of makeup, and also on-set and location in the jungle. Although only 19-minutes long, this is a great little feature that truly gets to grips with why and how Stallone and his producers brought the icon back to the screen. An original idea for the story - with Rambo winding up in trouble in Mexico - is discussed as is the diabolical situation in Burma that hit such a strong emotional chord with the actor/director. The hardships of filming in the jungle, and especially filming just over the border from Burma, itself with all the inherent hostility that caused certain members of the cast - not least the guy playing the main villain who was, ironically enough, an actual freedom fighter with the real Karen rebels in Burma. The feature may be glossy and well put-together, but that doesn't mean that it pulls its punches. Stallone is direct about his style and there is frequent swearing. But the greatest thing about this is seeing Julie Benz without mud and blood plastered all over her. Sporting brunette hair instead of the blonde that we normally see her with, she looks simply gorgeous.

    “A Score to Settle: The Music of Rambo” looks at the aggressive music that Brian Tyler composed for the film. Still only young, Tyler is already a very accomplished composer and musician. He comes over well in this fact-packed 6-minute featurette and it is rewarding to hear the sincere and frequent praise for the late, great Jerry Goldsmith - the main man, and legend, behind the Rambo scores. Tyler discusses his approach to the project and the honour he feels at having been able to rework his inspiration and mentor's famous cues. A full review of his score will be available soon.

    “The Art of War: Completing Rambo” is split into two halves. One covers the editing process and the other the sound design. Taken as a whole, this is a smart and honest account from Stallone and his editors about how the film was put together and how the miles of footage that Sly caught with up to eight cameras just for some dialogue scenes and a whole lot more for the action, was whittled down to the hyper-real and dynamic version that you see now. We also hear about how they sent the full, brutal cut over to the MPAA and fully expected it to come back with the dreaded NC-17 rating, but were shocked and elated that the uncut version actually received the mass-appeal of an R. There is a discussion about how Stallone first wanted the final battle to play out without any music. But the editors agreed that it made the resulting chaos too violent and disturbingly real. As I've already said, the score that Stallone finally allowed back into the sequence is definitely dialled-down, meaning that he still sort of got his way in the end. The music does keep a balance though and reminds you that you are not watching some savage real-life footage. And it is pointed out that this version you are seeing on disc, as well as the one that played the cinemas, is the director's cut, so don't go expecting an even more explicit version to come along.

    “The Weaponry of Rambo” lasts for 14 minutes and in it, Kent Johnson - armourer, props master - takes centre-stage. We learn what weapons were chosen for the film, and why. The awesome sniper rifle that School Boy sports is extensively chronicled - “This is a weapon that when it hits - it demolishes.” Graham McTavish tells how dodgy it was to get the hardware and the enormous amount of ammunition into the country in the first place and Marsden rues the fact that, as his character would be engaging the enemy from a distance, he would be sitting out the Boot Camp that his fellow merc-actors would be going on. “Oh ... balls!” he so eloquently says of the decision. Sly talks blades and why there is a newer, but altogether more primitive knife in this film and we see more of that alternate pirate boat scene.

    “A Hero's Welcome: Release and Reaction” bears witness to the film's premier and we get to hear from the cast and crew about their overwhelming experiences when they first saw the movie with a crowd. Lasting for 9 minutes, this also reveals the extent of the film's popularity - except in Burma, where it is banned (watching the film will get you ten years in prison and selling a copy of it will either get you life, or end it) - and we hear of Julie Benz's mother's feelings on her daughter's involvement in such ferocity, and hear a voice mail from a friend of Marsden's whose son is a .50 calibre gunner for real, who maintains just accurate their recreation of what one of those guns will do to a human being actually was. This is quite an interesting angle on the iconic return of Rambo and his ongoing legacy.

    “Legacy of Despair: The Struggle in Burma.” Just like Rambo III being unable to keep up with real-life events in Afghanistan - what with the Russians actually pulling out of the country just before Stallone's blood 'n' thunder condemnation of their presence there came out theatrically - this drama also falls prey to the current situation in Burma, though not to its embarrassment, this time around. The cyclone that wreaked havoc across the nation obviously happened after this piece was made so, if anything, the situation is now far, far worse. But here we meet humanitarian aid workers, Human Rights activists and a Karen National Union spokeswoman who all tell the harrowing tale of what is going on out there. Lasting for 10.42 minutes, this piece also features Stallone and his motivation for making the picture. But, be warned, there is some sickening real-life footage presented here, too. As a fact-finding mission, this, like the film, is a short, sharp shocker that pulls no punches ... and is required viewing.

    There are four Deleted Scenes on offer. With a Play All these come to 13.44 minutes worth of extra footage. Shown in fullscreen and with some slight contrast blow-out, the first two are merely lengthier variations on Sarah badgering Rambo to take them on the boat, the second of which occurs during the night-time rain and suffers from badly mixed audio. Then there is an extended scene of Sarah subsequently getting to know him on the boat whilst they travel up-river, much to the apparent jealousy of her fiancé, Michael. And the final one, which is an entirely new scene, shows Rambo treating Sarah's sore feet after he has sprung her from the stockade and they, and School Boy, are making their escape into the hills. So, sadly, no more action here ... and nor do we get the full alternate scene of Rambo going mental on the body-strewn pirate boat.

    A Rambo Series trailer gallery comes next, as well as previews for BD releases of War and Crank, and then, if this wasn't enough, there is the Digital Copy of the film, in SD, over on Disc 2, which allows the files to be transferred to an iPod, PC or other compatible media player. A really nice idea this and something that will probably become a lot more popular with many more releases sporting it.

    There is also Molog contents that need to be accessed via the internet - none of which I have seen yet, so I can't really comment.

    But the thing that you take away from this package is that Stallone put a tremendous amount of effort into it. He believes in what he was doing here and the film and these copious, and pretty comprehensive extras only serve to endorse that. At times witty, at times deadly serious and a little earnest about the things he is depicting - and how his fictionalised account, as realistic and as well-documented as it may be, is not a patch on the real barbarity taking place in Burma - Stallone's cartoon character suddenly takes on an altogether more frank and hard-hitting purpose. There was a time after my teenage infatuation with his heroic underdogs when I liked to ridicule Sly and his movies - round about when Cobra hit the screens and from then on until, well, Copland, I suppose - but, in the last couple of years, I have found a tremendous new admiration for the man and a deeper understanding of the thoughts behind what appeared, on the surface at least, to be mere ego-inflating action romps. Personally, I think Sylvester Stallone marries message with mayhem almost to perfection.

    A great all-round package, and although a llittle bit more on the special effects and gore-gags would have been appreciated, this release gets a very strong 9 out of 10 for embracing BD's new gimmicks and supplying good, frank and interesting background to the production.

    Rambo Extras


    Whether Rambo is your cup of tea or not, there is no getting around the fact that Stallone, out of all the 80's action demigods - and this includes Ford's Indiana Jones - is the only one to have made a fully triumphant return to his iconic roots and actually delivered upon his promise. He listened to the fans and gave them what they wanted. Sly, I salute you, sir. The film may not be very good in conventional terms - let's be honest, there isn't a story - but somehow this remains an ultra-powerful statement about violence for violence sake and the cruelty that those in power can sometimes wield over their own people. Stallone doesn't wimp out, doesn't sanitise and doesn't disappoint. You want carnage on a grand scale? You got it. Weak hearts and stomachs need not apply.

    And, added to that, this is one helluva Blu-ray release too, folks! A video commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes, a digital copy - and, hey, they are all good stuff. Couple this with truly awesome AV quality and Rambo is pure nitro-glycerine nirvana that once started proves to be utterly relentless. Do not be put off by that 6 marking for the film, Rambo comes very highly recommended indeed for those who like their action unsanitised and also for those who want to see just how a big screen icon should be given a new lease of life years down the line from his heyday. Thus, all things considered, this package garners itself a 9 overall. Pulverising stuff, indeed. Best warn the neighbours, though.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.79

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