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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Rambo III (1988)

"God would have mercy. He won't."
- Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna)

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: May 29, 2002

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna
Other Stars: Marc de Jonge, Kurtwood Smith
Director: Peter MacDonald

Manufacturer: Ritek
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language
Run Time: 01h:41m:05s
Release Date: May 28, 2002
UPC: 012236126553
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-AA- B+

DVD Review

Rambo III is the last installment in the incredibly successful trilogy about John Rambo, the Vietnam veteran who is an undying, one-man army. The film's premise is centered on Rambo helping a small group of freedom fighters in Afghanistan against invading Russian armies. Based on this, it would be incredibly easy for me to formulate an opinion of Rambo III that coincides with my own political views of recent tragic events. Even though much of the dialogue spoken by the Afghani resistance resonated poorly in my head, I will sacrifice personal beliefs for professionalism, keeping in mind that Rambo III is a fictional film. Aside from the irrelevant opening sequence, I can find little to truly complain about. It is not a great film, but it succeeds at generating the level of entertainment toward which it strives.

Usually, the third part in a trilogy is where the franchise falls apart. Surprisingly, Rambo III is a great improvement over its predecessor, Rambo: First Blood Part II. The dramatic moments work far better, with dialogue that feels much more natural. The story flows from one moment to the next rather than simply existing for the sake of arriving at the next action sequence. While not a large accomplishment, Stallone's performance is more enjoyable as well. At first, the character of John Rambo may seem slightly compromised, yet I found his drastic change in personality somewhat believable due to the fact that he is enjoying a long sought after sense of inner peace at the beginning of the film. Regardless of character continuity (or lack thereof), at least this time around Stallone speaks as if he has a pulse, which is much more than I can say for his performance in the previous installment.

The action sequences, while still far-fetched, are appropriately gripping and intense. They excite, they entertain, but they are not reduced to fairy tale status. After the first major onslaught against the Afghani people, director Peter MacDonald takes time to show the resulting carnage and Rambo's withered reaction. This subtle moment of terror helps elevate Rambo III above what could have been another dumbed-down action picture that forgets to show the consequence of war. There are several moments that honor the tension and suspense that was methodically created by director Ted Kotcheff in First Blood. A nighttime rescue attempt through the confines of a prison cellblock is quite suspenseful. This sequence sacrifices a heightened body count for an more effective, quiet approach. It is also refreshing to see Rambo sustain injury during combat. Though the large chunk of shrapnel in his abdomen does not slow him down much, it is nice to see that he is human instead of the tasteless superhero portrayed in Rambo: First Blood Part II.

It may sound as if I am praising Rambo III too much. While a decent film, it is still full of flaws. It suffers from another lackluster screenplay, with the predominant dialogue consisting of "Hold on!" "Look out!" and "We're going down!" and the inevitable Rambo grunts and groans. Once again, credibility is thrown out the window. To a certain extent, this is perfectly acceptable for a fictional film, but the last 10 minutes of Rambo III pushes it further beyond the scope of possibility. Here, we see Rambo take on an entire Russian army nearly single-handedly. Even though the sequence is taut and well-crafted, one cannot help but laugh at its absurdity.

Positive and negative traits aside, I enjoyed seeing Rambo III for the first time since its theatrical release. Fourteen years later, the Rambo trilogy has not aged as well as one may hope, but it does retain a significant place in film history. Rambo III, while deeply flawed, was a noble way to end the franchise and helped to preserve the well-regarded status of worldwide hero, John Rambo.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Rambo III exhibits the finest image quality of the three films in the trilogy. First Blood and Rambo: First Blood Part II look very good, but Rambo III looks stunning. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is as clean as can be expected, with only several miniscule deficiencies. At times, colors appear slightly off balance and the picture frequently exudes an orange hue, yet these distractions are minimal. The image does look somewhat dated and soft, but there are no video artifacts of any kind. Even more pleasing is the lack of any pixelization or shimmering, even within intricately detailed patterns. For a 14-year-old film, this is a top-notch visual presentation.

A pan & scan version is also available on side B. Needless to say, it is a poor presentation from both an artistic and image quality standpoint.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Boasting DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, the audio on Rambo III sounds incredibly natural and impressively dynamic. Dialogue is clean and never unintelligible. Surround presence is quite strong, and split surrounds are often aggressive with circling choppers and crackling gunfire. The LFE channel explodes with deep rumbles that always sound tight and never distorted. This is the surround mix that was desperately needed on Rambo: First Blood Part II.

A Dolby Surround 2.0 mix is also available. By all means, listen to the DTS soundtrack.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Peter MacDonald
Packaging: Keep Case
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:58m:32s

Extras Review: Rambo III contains the same collection of special features as the first two films of the trilogy. The quality of these extras is thankfully similar to those on the First Blood DVD.

Peter MacDonald's commentary contains many gaps, yet he often makes up for his moments of silence with interesting information. MacDonald speaks like a talented filmmaker and appears to know how to dictate an effective commentary. Most of his discussion leans towards the technical aspects of the action sequences, though he covers other interesting facets of filmmaking as well. This is not exactly the best commentary I have heard, but Macdonald held my attention throughout and brought forth a sense of professionalism.

Next is the fascinating documentary, Afghanistan: Land in Crisis. Mostly consisting of interviews with experts on Afghani history, this is an incredibly realistic piece well worth seeing. The interview segments are interspersed with scenes from Rambo III as well as candid footage of real life Afghani people, torn by the endless war in their country. This documentary makes for an excellent history lesson about the ongoing war in Afghanistan. This is a refreshing alternative to the usual DVD features that merely consist of the cast and crew giving each other a pat on the back. Afghanistan: Land in Crisis is one of the better DVD documentaries I have seen, and it was quite a pleasant surprise to be included on the Rambo III DVD.

Also included is a pan & scan theatrical trailer and a teaser trailer. I was quite astonished to find that neither trailer was any less generic than the trailers for First Blood back in 1982. I was under the impression that, come 1988, trailers had become generally more polished than this.

Rounding out the special features is an interesting collection of production notes, as well as biographies and filmographies for the cast and crew.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

I was pleasantly surprised with Rambo III. While not the best film in the trilogy, it does prove to be the best DVD presentation. Near flawless audio and video along with a fantastic documentary make this a package well worth owning.


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