Sylvester Stallone never courted as much controversy as he did with the screen violence of the Rambo
trilogy. From 1982 to 1988, they kept his name above Schwarzenegger's in the muscle hero league, with "Rambo" becoming a descriptive phrase in the language to describe gung-ho aggression (in Japanese, "rambo" means "violence"). The strangest part of the character's success is that originally he had none. Both David Morrell's novel
and the original incarnation of First Blood
had the Vietnam vet committing suicide after his rampage through small town America. The un-Hollywood ending was changed when Stallone and the producers recognised here was a character with possibilities.
First Blood: Part II was co-written by James (Titanic) Cameron, a man who has always recognised box office possibilities. Stallone took a very relevant (to 1985) issue of surviving POWs and created an alternative end to the Vietnam War. This was achieved courtesy of the Cold War animosity that still existed towards the Russians, embodied in a suitably vile cameo from Steven Berkoff. A little love interest helped ground the movie and prevent it from completely turning into a video game, as did the best of Jerry Goldsmith's stirring scores for the trilogy.
After saving himself and then his Country, Rambo III was simply about saving his friend Richard Crenna. The code of honour was by this point watered down into a song lyric, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother". Nevertheless the final instalment continues to say something about the indomitable American spirit that will not accept defeat lightly. Patriotism may never have been portrayed quite so bloodily before Rambo's arrival, but at least a generation learned to question attitudes to war veterans, as well as the benefits of carrying a compass in your hunting knife.
On the DVD: The Rambo trilogy on disc brings together all three movies in crisp 2.35:1 widescreen transfers. Sadly the extras are a little thin considering how much more was on the old Laser Discs. The first film has but a trailer; the third has a few minutes of behind the scenes material; the second has quite a few mini-documentaries that could really have done with being edited together, and having repeated interviews cut out. But there's still fun to be had hearing how deep and meaningful the movies were in conception.--Paul Tonks
Box set containing the entire Rambo saga. In 'First Blood', disturbed Vietnam vet John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) spends his days wandering from town to town, searching out his old service colleagues. When he resists a local sheriff's attempts to make him leave town, he is arrested for vagrancy. While in prison Rambo is forced to endure the abuse of a sadistic deputy, until he escapes and takes to the woods, relying on his old army skills to survive. In 'Rambo - First Blood Part 2', Rambo is again serving time in a federal prison when his old commander, Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna), arranges his release. A group of American soldiers are still being held as prisoners of war in Vietnam, and Trautman wants Rambo to return to the killing fields on a daring rescue mission. In 'Rambo 3', Rambo has entered a Buddhist monastery in a bid to find inner peace. However, when his friend and mentor Colonel Trautman is captured in war-torn Afghanistan, Rambo sets out to save him.