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Blu-ray Review

Rambo (2008)


Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz and Matthew Marsden
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: 18
Available 23 June 2008

John Rambo having retreated from the world works as a boat owner in northern Thailand, when he is approached by a group of missionaries who are looking for passage into war torn Burma. Initially reluctant to help he finally agrees to take the group; only to have his misgivings about their safety confirmed when they are taken in an attack against the village they are trying to help. With a group of mercenaries hired by the church Rambo once again travels up the river to rescue the group...

Rambo (2008, 1 hr 31 min 31 sec) is the new film from Sylvester Stallone and is written by Stallone and Art Monterastelli - who has mostly worked as a producer and writer for television.

Obviously the first concern that any fan of the Rambo films is going to have is whether Stallone is still young enough to play an action figure. Well he still remains a mountain of a man, a bit older, a bit scruffier, but nonetheless still convincing as the character.

At its heart this is an unapologetic action movie with such a large amount of stylised visceral gore rarely seen in a movie, that this element alone is sure to court controversy. I’m pretty certain that both writers had in mind a moral story about the need to fight for what you feel is right, but you get the feeling that they lost their way somewhere.

The juxtaposition of Rambo’s warrior code and willingness to kill without thought and the Christian view that love and peace will find a way gives the impression that the outcome of the film will be Rambo finding some sense of closure on his past and in part this happens. But there is a little side trip into having one of the Christian's brain and kill one of the Burmese conscripts with a rock, leaving a greater impression that the film's message is really that those who believe that love will find a way are wrong - that they have no real concept of what they are really getting into and will be forced, against all their beliefs, to kill or be killed.

If the film is taken as an action film, it’s a pretty much by the numbers affair, Christians get into trouble, and Rambo, with some help, kills everyone in sight. There are quieter moments in the film that allow for character development, though we’ll skip over the whole Christian smashing the other guys’ cheek. To a certain extent Rambo does go on a journey towards some form of redemption, even given the amount of violence in the film, which often detracts from this journey.

Along with Stallone, the film boasts a fairly strong cast. Julie Benz (Dexter) plays Sarah, the only female missionary and the real reason Rambo goes back to get them. She plays the character with an innocent naivety which finally gets through Rambo’s emotional armour and becomes the catalyst for his change. Paul Schulze plays Michael Burnett, the man who feels that he has the moral high ground on Rambo and learns the difficult truth that sometimes you have to kill to survive. The rest of the cast do a good job, though to be honest most are just there to push the plot along.

Lionsgate have pulled out all the stops for the extras. You’ll find a full length feature commentary from Stallone, which is well worth a listen, with the option of subtitles. A Blu-ray exclusive is the picture in picture commentary (for those with Profile 1.1), with Stallone in a reflective mood, which includes a lot of behind the scenes footage and pushes the films length to a tad over two hours. On the features side you get It’s a Long Road: Resurrection of an Icon (19 min 44 sec) looking at the reasons behind making another Rambo film; A Score to settle: The Music of Rambo (6 min 03 sec), which looks at Brian Tyler’s (Aliens, Star Trek) work on the score; The Art of War: Editing (6 min 47 sec) with contributions from the editor and Stallone; The Art of War: Sound (3 min 15 sec) with the sound editors; The Weaponry of Rambo (14 min 23 sec) which looks at all the various pyrotechnics used in the film; A Heroes Welcome: Release and Reaction (9 min 31 sec) ignores the problematic reviews that the film received and focuses on a more upbeat reflection of the film mostly from the cast and crew, but then what did you expect; and we get a 10 min, 42 sec featurette that looks at the hallowing reality of what is really going on in Burma and the true horrors of the military regime in their ongoing war against their own people - a truly touching piece. The film comes with four deleted scenes (13 min, 51 sec), which whilst interesting adds little to the film. Lastly you get a couple of trailers.

From a technical point of view the film looks great, presented in 1080p with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and a great 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, which will give your system a real work out. For the visually impaired the disc contains an optional English audio descriptive track. There is some great editing and although it does not get as far as presenting an almost 3D picture, some of the scenes, especially the battle, will impress your friends. I had problems with the BD live feature, even though my machine is profile 2.0, which is a shame as I was looking forward to playing with this feature.

One of the things that you will come away with is a slightly more enlightened view of the brutality of the Burmese military government; the film had a laudable ambition to draw attention to this ongoing brutality and to a great extent has succeeded. Whilst there is a great deal of shocking violence, for once little of it actually feels gratuitous. The pace, editing and set scenes all give this film an epic feel which belies its relatively short length.

I liked the first Rambo film and with Rambo 4 Stallone has returned to making a very watchable action flick with something to say.


Charles Packer

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