Rambo 4K Blu-ray Review

"When you're pushed, killing's as easy as breathing."

by Casimir Harlow

Rambo Film Review

Returning to his iconic action franchise after some 20 years, Stallone wrote, directed and starred in this impressively mounted and surprisingly brutal fourth film.

It's commonly known that Stallone's John Rambo was supposed to have ended himself in the final scene of 1982's First Blood, with revisions instead seeing him survive to do two increasingly over the top sequels, which turned the character from deadly PTSD-struck victim to all-American action superhero. Rambo II and III can still be enjoyed as action classics, but they simply don't have the same weight as the first film, and put Stallone off returning to the character for two whole decades.

Presented with the opportunity to write and direct a fourth film, framed around the real-life troubles in Burma, Stallone was finally seduced back to the franchise, but only afforded a minimalistic budget, and so he not only returned to the darker tone of his first outing, but he also elected to give it its own signature identity courtesy of an unabashed quota of hardcore violence which, frankly, puts almost every other action movie to shame.

The story sees John Rambo living a seemingly peaceful - if meagre - existence in Thailand, when he is approached by humanitarian missionaries who want him to take them upriver to Burma so that they can attempt to help with the atrocities there. Of course, when these missionaries get into trouble, Rambo is forced off the sidelines to do what he does best and get them back, perhaps even finally finding a cause to live for - and maybe even die for - in the process.

Stallone didn't just want to direct the film, he wanted "Rambo" to direct the film, giving it a distinctively visceral style

Stallone reportedly didn't just want to direct the film, he wanted "Rambo" to direct the film, giving it a distinctively visceral style, with a sense of melancholy and foreboding in the first act, tension in the second, and bloody satisfaction in the third. Even returning to gift audiences a second cut, this was clearly a labour of love for Stallone. And whilst he dubbed it the 'Extended Cut' (c.f. Stallone's Expendables Extended Director's Cut), it was actually not merely longer but indeed significantly different, losing several scenes, and thus gaining plenty more, which Stallone insisted fell closer to his original intentions, painting a much more beautiful set-up and more substantial character arc particularly with regard to his relationship with the missionary woman who appears to see through his tough exterior.

Of course, Stallone wasn't wrong when it came to giving the film a style through violence, as that is frequently what Rambo (2008) is best remembered for, however, he's crafted a surprisingly effective movie on a budget, which enjoys a welcome newfound depth of character and setting, John Wick-like lean efficiency in terms of story, and memorable Robocop (Unrated Director's Cut) levels of ultra-violence.

Rambo UHD 4K Blu-ray Picture

Rambo
Rambo comes to US Ultra HD Blu-ray courtesy of Lionsgate, in an edition which is yet to be announced for the UK and may well be some time given the presence of the extended cut that's never had a Blu-ray release here. For many fans, it won't be worth waiting to find out, with this a very good Dolby Vision-enhanced 4K video presentation, escaping the ostensible limitations of its 2K Digital Intermediate.

The disc presents a 3840 x 2160p resolution image utilising the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 2.4:1. It uses 10-bit video depth, a Wide Colour Gamut (WCG) and High Dynamic Range (HDR) in the form of Dolby Vision, and is encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec.

We reviewed the US Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Rambo on an LG 55B7 Dolby Vision 4K Ultra HD OLED TV with an LG UP970 Dolby Vision 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

A rich new palette for fans to explore

Shot on a limited budget, on location, Rambo was never going to be a particularly pretty picture, but - especially in its Director's Cut - it occasionally affords something bordering on being comparable to the sublime Canadian countryside, as it revels in the Thailand locations (in particularly the aerial river shots). Rather than DNR it to hell and then superimpose some kind of faux grain, Rambo has a beautifully organic grain structure which gives it a welcome textured look. Detail is strong, even through some extreme low lighting conditions (thank you Dolby Vision), and the jungle vistas are tremendous.

The colour grading is potentially more controversial, but hopefully many fans will warm to the choices here, with elevated greens lending some scenes a more teal look that curiously appears to make them feel more stylish. Indeed greens and golden browns dominate, almost lending the film a slight 70s aesthetic, which could be argued to better integrate this alongside its '82 progenitor. Black levels are strong, and HDR, WCG and Dolby Vision all work impressively with this piece, giving moonlight-lit sequences a new lease of life, adding a rich intensity to blood splatter and that penetrating fiery yellow-orange flare to gunshots and explosions. It's a rich new palette for fans to explore.

Rambo UHD 4K Blu-ray Sound

Rambo
Now this is what many fans would have come to the release for - a stomping, no-holds-barred Dolby Atmos track, affording the intense, bombastic audio a welcome high definition 3D object-based immersive audio upgrade.

A stomping, no-holds-barred Dolby Atmos track

Whilst dialogue - from Stallone's gravelly growls to his perhaps surprisingly strong command of native languages, to the yells and screams of almost everybody else - gets keen prioritisation, effortlessly disseminated with clarity and coherence throughout, it's all about the score and effects here, and - eventually - veritably all about the bass. Brian Tyler's score remains restrained for the most part, cleverly playing tribute to Jerry Goldsmith's original signature themes, whilst keeping pace with the structure of the story. The effects follow suit, taking in the low buzz of the boat engines, the swish of the water, the creaking of the boat, and the utterly immersive (and literal, thanks to Atmos) downpour of rain, and initially punctuating it with bouts of quite literally explosive violence - minefield detonations, and then thunderous gunshots to break the tense night standoff - before building in intensity through the rescue mission, affording a near-atomic boom for your LFE to destroy the neighbourhood with, and lending devastating weight to every round of the .50 Cals (both the mounted guns and the long arm). The finale is overwhelmingly intense, and the track puts you right in the centre of it all, delivering everything you could possibly want from an Atmos upgrade to this brutal actioner.

Rambo UHD 4K Blu-ray Extras

Rambo
Lionsgate's release also enjoys a plethora of extras which will likely never reach UK shores in their entirety, not just the Theatrical and Extended Cuts available via seamless branching, but also the superb Stallone Commentary available on the Theatrical Cut, and the tremendous feature-length 84 minute Documentary, Rambo - To Hell and Back (at one time a touted subtitle for the movie), which covers just about every aspect of the production you would want to know about on the long-gestating project, from script all the way through to editing.

Lionsgate's release also enjoys a plethora of extras which will likely never reach UK shores in their entirety

If that's not enough then we also get a series of fairly hefty Featurettes, running 5-20 minutes, but averaging a quarter of an hour, and dipping into bringing Rambo back, scoring Rambo, the weapons, the action, and the release and reaction, rounding out the package with some Deleted Scenes and a Trailer.

Rambo UHD 4K Blu-ray Verdict

9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Rambo 4K Blu-ray Review

Rambo
A surprisingly effective movie, which enjoys a welcome depth of character, John Wick-like lean efficiency, and Robocop levels of ultra-violence

2008's Rambo was a whole lot better than it had any right to be, defying the odds - coming 20 years after Rambo III, which even ardent franchise fans consider was the weakest of the series - and delivering a violent, visceral and surprisingly dark trip up the river.

On the eve of the latest film - another decade in the making - and after the recent 4K UHD releases of the original 'trilogy', it would be rude to skip this strong fourth chapter, particularly when Rambo: Last Blood appears likely to be closest to it in terms of style, tone and violence. Unfortunately, a UK 4K release appears likely to be MIA for quite some time (read: years), but thankfully Lionsgate's US 4K UHD Blu-ray release is a winner, affording strong video, unsurprisingly excellent Atmos audio, and a superb set of comprehensive extras including Stallone's hefty feature-length production diary, Commentary, and - of course - both cuts of the film, which are surprisingly different and not mere scene extensions.

If you're a fan of the series (or just the first one, and maybe haven't seen this yet) then it's well worth hunting down and importing. You may just get it in time to (re-)watch before Last Blood.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Movie

.
.
8

Picture Quality

.
.
8

Sound Quality

10

Extras

.
9

Overall

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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