by HELEN GEIB
To capitalize on today’s DVD release of Rambo, the recent fourth installment in the series, the studio is also putting out a new “collector’s edition” set of all four films plus a lot of old and new special features. It was another promotional tie-in that prompted my post: a nation-wide, one night only, multiplex screening of First Blood, a film I admire enormously. It was as powerful as I had imagined it would be when seen on the big screen, a power little diminished by repeated viewings.
There were many in the audience who had never seen the movie before. I know this not because an audience poll was taken, but from their conflicted reactions to what they were watching. First Blood is a movie about war. The senseless and needlessly destructive war between John Rambo and the sheriff (and his variously small-minded, brutal, and ineffectual deputies) of the fictional small town of Hope, Oregon. The Vietnam War and its national legacy. The war that rages within Rambo’s disintegrating psyche.
Another war played out in the theater. On one side of the battle lines, a movie of driving seriousness, challenging intelligence, and raw, pulsating emotion. On the other, an audience who came to jeer at the mindless, absurd action extravaganza they thought they knew from a few minutes seen here and there on commercial television, the sequels, the posters, and the reams of nonsense that have been written about First Blood in the 25 years since its release. The victory was won by the movie.
The film marshals a formidable arsenal in its defense. The somber opening music and the gray skies of a Northwestern December set the tone for what follows; there are no catch-phrases or clever one-liners; exertion causes fatigue and injury, pain; in its quantity, the violence is almost negligible compared to the bloody summer blockbusters of recent years and in its quality, is taken far too seriously to be easily dismissed.
The audience’s laughter and mocking cheers, never wholesale, became progressively more muted as the film progressed, took on an increasingly desperate edge, and then petered out almost entirely. During the astonishing, revelatory explosion of words that concludes Rambo’s one-man war against the horrors of the past and failed promise of the present, there wasn’t a whisper to break the spell.
Other new releases this week: Cassandra’s Dream, Darfur Now, Grace is Gone, Rambo