First Blood (1982)
By: Devon B. on August 18, 2013 | Comments
Optimum | Region A, B | 2.35:1, 1080p | English DTS-HD MA 5.1 | 93 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy, Bill McKinney, Jack Starrett
Screenplay: Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim, Sylvester Stallone
Country: USA
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I hadn't seen First Blood, or indeed any Sylvester Stallone movie, since the mid-90s, but when I got a Blu-ray player I started revisiting action films I used to love, and find myself wondering why I hadn't kept this one in my collection. Firstly, it's set at Xmas, even though it's not explicitly stated, so it should've made it into my annual alternative Xmas viewing, and secondly, this is a really, really good movie.

Stallone plays Vietnam veteran John Rambo, a man who's aimless after the war. He goes to visit a friend, but that doesn't go well, so he's having a bad day when he runs afoul of policeman Teasle, played by Brian Dennehy. Teasle thinks Rambo's a bum, and wrongfully arrests him. Teasle and most of his force treat Rambo like shit, subjecting him to police brutality, but they fucked with the wrong guy and when Rambo flashes back to 'Nam his training kicks in and he escapes. Teasle goes into Captain Ahab mode and becomes obsessed with bringing Rambo in himself, but Rambo wasn't a normal veteran but a highly skilled Green Beret, adept at the sort of guerrilla warfare that will be required to evade the police force.

If someone said that First Blood is the best US action movie ever, I might find it hard to argue against that. The only other movie I think is better is another Xmas movie, Die Hard, but ultimately Die Hard is a straightforward action movie, and First Blood has some stuff to say. The film looks at Veterans' displacement post-war, specifically those that fought in Vietnam and their improper treatment on return, but also tackles unmentioned costs of war and military training, along with the action movie staple of standing up for oneself against bullies. Most of the performances are good, and Richard Crenna as Trautman, Rambo's mentor, makes a strong enough impression that he reappeared in all the sequels that were filmed while he was still alive. Everyone's favourite backwoods rapist Bill McKinney co-stars, and David Caruso is also on hand as the one decent local cop. I normally like Stallone best when he's funny, and though Rambo has some wit and charm, he's a deeply troubled guy so he's mostly serious. Even so, this is without question Stallone's best performance and film, and he so deftly displays Rambo's emotional plight that viewers couldn't help but sympathise with the rampaging ex-soldier. I wouldn't say Stallone carries the film, as Dennehy is crucial to the movie's success, but Stallone definitely made Rambo the character that he is.

To make that character, a few changes were made from David Morrell's source novel. I'm always harping on about how I hate to read, but I used to read a lot and one of the books I felt it was important to read to better myself was First Blood. The book has absolutely been Hollywooded, with Rambo's general skill level boosted and Trautman's relationship with Rambo made more significant. The biggest change is to the ending, an alteration that tones down the book's main theme. Despite that change a lot of the message is still there, but it still gives the whole story a different perspective. I haven't read the book since the late 80s, but I also think it was more realistic than the movie version, though really it's just two key sequences early on in the film that are totally unbelievable.

An action movie with a worthwhile message is a rare thing, but First Blood has a few. It clearly shows that small town cops in Washington are jerks, and since that's my home State I can say that mirrors my experience exactly. Never had a problem with the State or County police, but never had a good experience with any of the smaller police forces. One of the film's biggest messages, about soldier's lives being forever damaged, may have lost some weight after the sequel and particularly the cartoon version that followed, but I guess it makes sense that children would latch on to Rambo as a hero given how he stands up to bullies. It may also be something similar to Frankenstein's monster, where children can see he's not (intentionally) a threat and he just wants to be treated decently.

Legend tells of the existence of weirdoes that don't like action movies, but First Blood is so goddamn good it can even be shown to these pompous idiots that claim they don't like the genre.
The Disc
I ordered the UK release because I heard it had more natural skin tones and less DNR than the US one, and based on reviews I've read this disc is superior to the US version, but it's by no means a definitive transfer. The film is too dark in places and is a little washed out, so I had to boost the colour and the brightness during my viewing. The image is very clean considering the film's age and budget, with only a few spots and a bit of edge enhancement. It's a clear image, but because the film is intentionally bleak looking, or because it happened to be filmed in Canada, this is not ever going to be reference material. There's room for improvement, no question, and the film deserves deluxe treatment.

This is another film that has undergone a pointless 5.1 remix. I understand some people want everything in surround sound, but the studio might as well put some effort into the remix. This is a very front heavy affair, with only a few directional touches. I guess this means the remix is closer to the original stereo mix, but that just begs the question: What's the point? This 5.1 track will disappoint those that want surround, and annoy purists. Different subtitles are available depending on which region is selected on start up, but choosing Australia means there're no subs available. The box lists "Mexican" subs, which is interesting because that's not a language.

First Blood is certainly worthy of more extras, like the ones it's already had on other releases, but this disc only includes an interview with Stallone conducted in 2008. It's a series overview and is a good extra, with Stallone explaining his decision to alter the ending of the story, which given his reasons seems like the right choice, but he doesn't shy away from discussing the problems with the sequels and how he tried to make improvements for the fourth film.
The Verdict
An action movie or hero with this much heart is unusual, so it makes sense Rambo was so loved. First Blood is a classic and I just hope it gets the deluxe treatment it so deserves, because this Blu-ray is not worthy.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
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