DVD of the Week – First Blood (1982)

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

5 responses to “DVD of the Week – First Blood (1982)

  1. We found this cheap on DVD a few weeks ago, but I still haven’t watched it. I really should. Even if I can’t stop laughing at that HAIR. Wow.

  2. Love the review, makes me wish I’d been there. You’ve just gotta love First Blood.

  3. When I think about the great Vietnam War films, the Brian DePalma directed Casualties of War always tops my list. Its protagonist, Michael J. Fox, is forever haunted by what he saw and did during the war, much like John Rambo. Fox will never be remembered for his dramatic work, which is a real shame. It got me thinking about how Stallone is never given his due as a dramatic actor, and to be fair, the man did star in Rhinestone, but in First Blood he is bursting with barely concealed frustration, which can only be contained for so long. It’s a great performance, maybe his best, in a great film.

  4. Great review – I’m going to have to watch it again – probably for the tenth time or so.
    I will say that I read the book just before the movie came out, and as you do, the movie diverged significantly in some points. I enjoyed the book more than the movie; although Rambo is killed by Trautman at the end.

    • Thanks for commenting! I still need to read the novel. It’s certainly not hard to see how the story could be made to come out that way instead. I wouldn’t want to change a thing about the movie’s ending, though. Rambo’s monologue and the deeply somber tone of the final shots are too powerful.

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