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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Rambo Trilogy: Supplemental Materials (2002)

"This character looms large in the mythology of America."
- Ted Kotcheff

Review By: Brian Calhoun  
Published: May 29, 2002

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, David Morrell, Ted Kotcheff
Other Stars: Andrew Vajna, Richard Crenna
Director: various

Manufacturer: Ritek
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (strong language, images of violence)
Run Time: 01h:57m:58s
Release Date: May 28, 2002
UPC: 012236126553
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-A-B+ A

DVD Review

Throughout the 1970s, author David Morrell was struggling to bring his novel of traumatized war veteran, John Rambo, to the silver screen. It was not until the early 1980s when producers Andrew Vajna and Mario Kassar saw potential in the project and decided that Morrell's novel, First Blood, would be the first major release under their new production company, Carolco. What obviously few studios knew was that the story of John Rambo would later turn into one of the most successful franchises in cinema history.

Even after getting the green light, the road from novel to motion picture proved to be a long one. Robert DeNiro, Gene Hackman, Al Pacino, and Steve McQueen were all considered for the part of John Rambo, but it was Sylvester Stallone who finally caught the eyes of Vajna and Kassar. They insisted that if the film were to be a success, John Rambo would need to be significantly toned down from the murderous psychopath portrayed in the novel, and Stallone seemed to have the quiet intensity they were looking for. Stallone helped seal his fate by penning several rewrites of the already heavily altered script. His focus on a more subtle side of Rambo helped audiences to connect with the character. What was once a novel that contained over 250 slaughtered bodies was now a film that consisted of only one accidental death. Morrell approved these changes, agreeing that violence on the written page translates differently onto a movie screen. One debatable alteration was that of Rambo's life status at the end of the film. In the novel, Rambo is killed by none other than his mentor, Colonel Trautman. Director Ted Kotcheff filmed this version for First Blood, but test audiences found the ending to be an abomination of the spirit of the character. Besides, how could they destroy the franchise as it had only just begun?

After First Blood triumphed at the box office, a sequel seemed inevitable. In 1985, director George P. Cosmatos stepped in for Rambo: First Blood Part II. Cosmatos has been loosely quoted as saying that he wanted nothing more than to create a film that enticed the audience into jumping in the aisles and clapping their hands. For better or for worse, his wish came true. Working with a script written by Sylvester Stallone and later-to-be Titanic director James Cameron, Cosmatos and company let Rambo loose in the jungles of Vietnam and turned him into an unstoppable, modern day Superman. While audiences worldwide reveled in this idea, I found that it demeaned the all-too-human soldiers who fought and died in Vietnam. Either way, Rambo: First Blood Part II went on to be one of the greatest cinematic sensations of the 1980s, raking in over $180,000,000 at the box office.

By the time Rambo III hit theaters in 1988, the Rambo phenomenon had died down a bit from its stellar status in 1985. Though the film is certainly not a failure, Rambo III cannot escape ironic controversy. Directed by first-timer Peter MacDonald, the film once again shows Rambo pummeling the Russian army. However, shortly before its release the long standing Cold War with Russia had finally ended. In present day, watching Rambo join sides with a small Afghanistan army is sure to disturb many viewers, in light of recent political events. Either way audiences look at the film, it seems like cruel irony.

It does not seem possible that the Rambo trilogy came and went in the span of six short years. More difficult to believe is that Rambo III was released almost 14 years ago. Artisan has honored the films better than I ever thought possible with this four-disc DVD box set. The fourth disc, containing the brunt of supplemental material, is more than I ever imagined from a Rambo special edition, both in terms of quantity and quality. What is most impressive is the wide array of special features available for viewers of varying interests. While a large portion of the extra material focuses on the making of the films, the documentaries that cover the real-life situations in Vietnam and Afghanistan are noble inclusions and have heightened my appreciation for the Rambo films. The Rambo Trilogy box set is all any fan could ask for, and perhaps a little bit more.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image quality of these supplemental materials varies widely across the board. Tremendously impressive is the apparent effort that has gone into ensuring a pleasant visual presentation throughout. Even the raw footage taken from the Vietnam War appears to have been tidied up considerably. These aged clips boast commendable color saturation along with a smooth, film-like appearance. The interview segments are as clear as one could ever hope for, with nary a blemish or video imperfection in sight. It is obvious that significant work went into assuring that all of the varying source materials are as visually pleasing as possible. Color me impressed.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: All of the supplements are presented in Dolby 2.0 Stereo surround. There is not much to say about the audio quality except that it is consistently clean and clear. Not once did I find dialogue unintelligible. This is an all-around satisfying sonic experience.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Reservoir Dogs: SE, Dune (TV Miniseries), National Lampoon's Van Wilder
3 Documentaries
6 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Trivia Game
  2. Sneak Peeks
Extras Review: The Rambo Trilogy box set is truly a collector's item. The entire set is structured in a way that will greatly please Rambo fans, and possibly even generate new ones. The packaging consists of a sturdy and attractive tin box complete with embossed lettering and artwork. Inside, one will find a foldout case that contains the four DVDs as well as a handy program booklet. While the special features contained on each individual disc are more than enough to please even the most demanding fans, Artisan has gone to great lengths to make this a package well worth owning with the inclusion of a fourth disc dedicated entirely to supplemental materials. The bonus disc begins with three documentaries:

The Real Nam: Voices From Within (00h:28m:54s)
Of the supplemental materials, this fascinating documentary is the icing on the cake. Interview segments with those who supported the war as well as those who opposed it come together to form an objectively compelling entertainment. Particularly interesting is the inclusion of an interview with a Vietnamese Colonel, which assures that all sides are given a fair shake. These telling interviews are paired together with candid footage and still pictures from the Vietnam War. Much of the documentary is set to Jerry Goldsmith's music from First Blood; hearing it along with these images further exemplifies the power of the score. A documentary this unique and powerful is an admirable and unexpected supplement for the Rambo box set.

Guts and Glory (00h:27m:10s)
Guts and Glory focuses on the essence of the Rambo empire, from its popularity to its infamy. Similar to the previous documentary, the interview portions are incredibly objective, covering the gamut of those who both favor and dispute the Rambo legacy. It is quite intriguing to hear how one character can be received with such wildly varying reactions. Whatever one's opinion towards the Rambo films, Guts and Glory proves to be a thoroughly entertaining feature.

An American Hero's Journey: The Rambo Trilogy (00h:25m:27s)
This is the weakest documentary of the three. The video quality suffers considerably, largely due to the fact that all of the film clips are pan & scan. This piece left me rather apathetic, as it is merely a 25-minute recap of the Rambo films. Many interesting topics are covered, yet none of the information is anything new to a Rambo fan. For any newcomers, this documentary could almost be considered a Cliffs Notes version for all three films in the trilogy.

Next on the roster are six featurettes. They are as follows:

The Forging of Heroes: America's Green Berets (00h:09m:55s)
This interesting featurette consists of interviews with real life Green Berets as well as Special Forces training and combat footage. The startling comments from these men proves what an unbelievably demanding position this is; one that I certainly admire but would never want to be involved in myself.

Rambo-Nomics (00h:03m:17s)
This featurette is dedicated to charting the fiscal side of the Rambo phenomenon. Graphs are used to show the incredible spike of revenue generated by Rambo: First Blood Part II over First Blood, and the steady decline of Rambo III. The one participating interviewee mentions that a fourth installment may possibly be in the works sometime in the near future. I am sure it is all but guaranteed to be another financial success.

Suiting Up (00h:08m:41s)
This section provides detailed specifications on the many weapons used in the Rambo films. The technical information is accompanied by a wonderfully edited assortment of footage from the Rambo films, which show the featured weapon in use. In addition to Rambo's Bowie knife, M60 machine gun, and his Hoyt/Easton bow with C4 explosive-tipped arrows, there is also an admirable focus on the numerous air and land assault vehicles.

Selling a Hero (00h:04m:33s)
A merchandising guide that shows all of the many Rambo toys and how much they cost is a really bad idea for a featurette. Knowing this, the creative team has made this section wildly entertaining by creating a cleverly edited film that consists of a mini-war between the various action figures. This four-minute piece is so witty and fun that I am almost compelled to purchase several of these toys.

First Blood: A Look Back (00h:03m:58s)
The title led me to believe that this would be an interesting discussion on the roots of First Blood, but it is instead an incredible waste of time and space. All that is offered is a montage of pan & scan clips from First Blood set to cheesy synthesizer music. Had the clips been widescreen and used Jerry Goldsmith's original score, I might have found this featurette worthwhile.

Rambo III: Full Circle (00h:05m:57s)
This is the same as the above featurette, only this time the clips are from Rambo III. These two featurettes do not undermine the rest of the strong supplemental material, but I do find their inclusion rather puzzling.

Also included is a trivia game, which tested my Rambo knowledge to the limit. Many of the questions are fairly challenging, as the majority of them pertain to material not covered by any of the supplemental material included in the box set. After a question is answered, a corresponding visual clip from one of the Rambo films will indicate a right or wrong answer. At the end of the quiz, the participant will receive a rank based on overall score. This is a silly though somewhat enjoyable feature.

For those who enjoy irrelevant extras, the sneak peeks section provides trailers for three upcoming Artisan DVD releases.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

The Rambo Trilogy box set is the ultimate way to experience these action classics. This is not merely an attempt to repackage old material and pawn it off as a special edition. This set contains all new pristine video and audio transfers along with a wealth of supplemental material that will fascinate and delight the viewer for weeks. From the aesthetic of the packaging to the enjoyable contents within, the Rambo Trilogy box set is an honorable salute to Rambo fanatics.


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