First Blood

It took writer David Morrell ten years from the publication of his novel “First Blood” to see it leap to the big screen. Little did he know that his creation, Vietnam Vet and former Special Forces Green Beret John Rambo would go on to become an international icon. As a matter of fact, Morrell killed Rambo at the end of the novel.

firstbloodThank goodness screenwriter’s Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim and Sylvester Stallone changed that. By the late 1980’s, the country’s wounds over the Vietnam War were beginning to heal. Hollywood was beginning to take the war seriously. Morrell’s book was about a Vietnam Vet who plays out a psychotic episode in a small Eastern Kentucky mountain town, killing everyone who gets in his way. It’s a great read, but not the sort of guy America would root for. Enter Stallone, who was looking for another role that would show his audience that he was more than “Rocky.” Stallone polished the script, made Rambo a more humane character, and took away his psychosis.

Now John Rambo is a man in search of his past, who finds that everyone else in his platoon has died. He feels lost and alone, and betrayed by his country. When he enters a small mountain town on his way up North, he’s greeted by the local sheriff (Brian Dennehy). The Sheriff drives him to the outskirts of town, and gives him some unfriendly words of advice: leave the area and don’t come back. When Rambo defies the order, the Sheriff (doing his best Rod Steiger “In the Heat of the Night”) arrests him for vagrancy. Tired of being treated like an animal, Rambo breaks free from the confines of the police and makes his way to the nearby mountains.

The Sheriff and his men foolishly try to pursue him, unaware of his special forces training and ability to survive in the wilderness. Bad for them, good for Rambo. Unfortunately, they draw “First Blood,” which forces Rambo to do whatever is necessary to insure his survival. Before long, a massive manhunt is underway, and Rambo’s superior, Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna), is summoned to help defuse the situation. It doesn’t take long before all out war is declared, with Rambo taking the town by storm.

Effectively directed by Ted Kotcheff in British Colombia, “First Blood” is a smart, power-driven action film that never lets up. Stallone is excellent as John Rambo, a man who has lost faith in what he fought for. Dennehy delivers as the revenge driven sheriff who instigates the whole thing, while Crenna lends dignity to some of the tougher scenes. “First Blood” featured a lot of firsts, from Stallone’s first buff nude scene (he did that awful “Italian Stallion” when he wasn’t in shape), to the first scene of someone actually sewing up a deep cut. It’s all been repeated numerous times since (nowadays you can’t keep Stallone in his clothes), but the impact it created in “First Blood” sticks with you. Powerful, full-throttle entertainment.



Someone took very good care of the original negative. The Digital transfer is sharp and vibrant most of the time. Some of the darker scenes that take place in the forest early in the film look grainy, but I doubt it’s compression artifacts. It looks more like a film stock problem, because the bookend scenes are very vivid. Nice, strong blacks are evident throughout. The flesh tones are warm, while the color saturation is solid. I did notice the occasional artifact, but not enough to ruin the experience. “First Blood” was transferred in the film’s original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, enhanced at 16:9 for widescreen televisions.


Impressive 2.0 Dolby Stereo Surround track. Booming basses and sharp trebles help your system put you right in the middle of the action. Nice ambient noise, plus a strong dialogue track. Jerry Goldsmith’s score comes through loud and clear. The stereo separation is excellent, especially when the action on the screen gets chaotic. Bullets whiz by your head, and explosions rock the room.


Closed Captioning and Spanish subtitles.


The “First Blood” DVD contains the following extras:

» An alternate audio track featuring running commentary by the novel’s author, David Morrell. At first Morrell might seem like an odd choice for a commentary track, but he’s very literate and tells great stories while waxing eloquent about the differences between the book and the film. Some of his observations are humorous (how the production had to use hair coloring to turn white rats black for a cave scene) to downright sad (Morrell talks about the death of his son at age 15, and how Stallone’s phone call made a difference in his life). Morrell also relates how he came up with the name of his now infamous character. You’ll have to watch to find out.

» Vocally enhanced interactive menus are nicely done, but that monotone voice narrating the cast and crew bios and the production notes gets tiresome real quick. It’s a clever device for people who can’t read or see, but for those of us who read faster than “See Spot Run,” you’re constantly waiting for the narrator to catch up. The scene access menus feature clips from the film, as do the main menus. They also make a nice swooshing noise (like the doors on the Star Ship Enterprise on “Star Trek”) as you jump from menu to menu.

» A “First Blood” Trivia contest that reminded me of the trivia games on Troma DVDs. Guess correctly, and you get a photo of Rambo standing tall, a crowd cheering in the background. Get the answer wrong, and you get scene of Rambo holding a knife to Teasle’s neck, and the sound of an arrow hitting a target. It’s fun but no big deal.

» “The Films of Sylvester Stallone: The Rocky Early Years,” a so-so attempt at covering Stallone’s career up to his appearance in “First Blood.” It’s pretty elementary, and lacks photos.

» “First Blood: A Look Back,” which is billed as a featurette on the outside of the box, and a “documentary” on the actual menu. It’s neither. It’s a four minute compilation of the film’s best scenes put to a pulsating score. It’s a music video, for goodness sakes.

» There’s also a teaser and theatrical trailer, but their quality is dreadful. They look like the original 35mm trailers that have been playing at a drive-in for the past sixteen years. The color is all faded, the clarity is missing, and the print is all scratched up. Still, they have a nostalgic feel to them.


If you’re an action or Stallone fan, the movie alone is reason enough to add “First Blood” to your DVD collection. The extras are just bells and whistles.

VITALS: $29.99/Rated R/96 Min./Color/30 Chapter Stops/ Keepcase/#60465




HMO: Artisan Entertainment

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