Sylvester Stallone never courted as much controversy as he did with the screen violence of the Rambo trilogy. From 1982 to 1988, they kept his name above Schwarzenegger's in the muscle hero league, with "Rambo" becoming a descriptive phrase in the language to describe gung-ho aggression (in Japanese, "rambo" means "violence"). The strangest part of the character's success is that originally he had none. Both David Morrell's novel and the original incarnation of First Blood had the Vietnam vet committing suicide after his rampage through small town America. The un-Hollywood ending was changed when Stallone and the producers recognised here was a character with possibilities. First Blood: Part II was co-written by James (Titanic) Cameron, a man who has always recognised box office possibilities. Stallone took a very relevant (to 1985) issue of surviving POWs and created an alternative end to the Vietnam War. This was achieved courtesy of the Cold War animosity that still existed towards the Russians, embodied in a suitably vile cameo from Steven Berkoff. A little love interest helped ground the movie and prevent it from completely turning into a video game, as did the best of Jerry Goldsmith's stirring scores for the trilogy. After saving himself and then his Country, Rambo III was simply about saving his friend Richard Crenna. The code of honour was by this point watered down into a song lyric, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother". Nevertheless the final instalment continues to say something about the indomitable American spirit that will not accept defeat lightly. Patriotism may never have been portrayed quite so bloodily before Rambo's arrival, but at least a generation learned to question attitudes to war veterans, as well as the benefits of carrying a compass in your hunting knife. On the DVD: The Rambo trilogy on disc brings together all three movies in crisp 2.35:1 widescreen transfers. Sadly the extras are a little thin considering how much more was on the old Laser Discs. The first film has but a trailer; the third has a few minutes of behind the scenes material; the second has quite a few mini-documentaries that could really have done with being edited together, and having repeated interviews cut out. But there's still fun to be had hearing how deep and meaningful the movies were in conception.--Paul Tonks
It's easy to forget that this Spartan, violent film, which begat the Rambo series, was such a big hit in 1982 because it was a good movie. Green Beret vet John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) wanders into the wrong small town to find a fellow 'Nam buddy and gets the living heck kicked out of him by the local law enforcement (led by Brian Dennehy). The vet strikes back the only way he knows how, leading to a visceral, if unrealistic, flight and fight through the local mountains. Based on the 1972 novel by David Morrell, this film saved Stallone's then-foundering career and the Rambo character became the inspiration for countless political cartoons. But this film is Deliverance without the moral ambiguity. --Keith SimantonThe Rambo trilogy is also available on DVD as a complete set.
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