Written by: Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim & Sylvester Stallone, based on the novel by David Morrell
Directed by: Ted Kotcheff
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy, Bill McKinney, Jack Starrett
- Running audio commentary with author Morrell
- Documentary: “Drawing First Blood: Creating John Rambo: 20 Years Later”
- Production notes
- Cast and crew info
- Theatrical trailer
Released by: Artisan
My Advice: Rent it.
[ad#longpost]John Rambo (Stallone) is on a pilgrimage to visit some of his old ‘Nam buddies…the ones who made it back stateside. He crosses paths with Sheriff Teasle (Dennehy) and there is no good in it for either of them. Teasle tries to taunt him out of town passing him off as a low-life vagrant rather than the Congressional Medal of Honor winning soldier that he is. In trying to arrest Rambo, the good-ole-boys in the Sheriff’s office cause him to have a series of flashbacks that send him on a rampage that eventually lands him in the woods of Oregon. There he has to trust his survival skills taught to him as a Green Beret. Teasle is in over his head, but isn’t man enough to admit when he’s down and it very nearly gets him killed.
First Blood (commonly and mistakenly referred to simply as Rambo) is a simple story that reflects a certain time in our country’s history and does so on a somewhat extreme premise. We all have heard the stories of how crappy our Vietnam veterans were treated upon their return home from serving in Vietnam, and this movie is based on one writer’s view of that crappy treatment and the possible consequences that no one really ever thought of. Stallone’s portrayal of Rambo is right on the money. You can clearly see a man who is trained to kill and survive and who has also been through the hell of a Viet Cong Prisoner of War camp, but clearly hasn’t been given any treatment for the inhuman amount of emotional and physical stress of having gone through that ordeal.
Dennehy’s Teasle is the stereotypical small town Sheriff who gets in over his head, which is not a negative bit of criticism, since it’s exactly what the script called for. Dennehy seemed to recognize that, so he ran with it. The director seemed to have a firm grasp on the story and it shows in the final product. If you haven’t figured it out by now, the testosterone level of this film is very high, and as such the a lot of the dialogue boils down to men yelling at each other that they are right when it is blatantly obvious to everyone in the audience that both of the men yelling are wrong.
This DVD in the trilogy doesn’t have very much in the way of special features since most of them appear on the fourth disc, but there are some there worth mentioning. The commentary track on this disc is that of David Morrell, author of the novel from which the screenplay was adapted. Even though he spends most of his time pointing out the differences between the novel and the screenplay, he does provide some great insight into why he wrote the story in the first place. It is interesting to point out that most of his inspiration for the novel came from some of his students at the time who were returning from the war and trying to second guess his authority in the classroom, claiming that they had been to war and back and who the hell did he think he was telling them what they had to do? He had several discussions with these students and learned of what is now called Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, the symptoms of which include–among other things–an extreme startle response which can cause veterans to snap. They can sometimes cause unintended harm to a completely innocent person or persons.
The documentary on this DVD is quite good. Rather than retelling the plot or talking about the story itself, it covers the history of the story and what a difficult time it had being made into a film. It features interviews with the director, screenwriters (including Stallone), and the producers. The rest of the features on the DVD are pretty common fare: Production Notes (which cover much of the same information that is featured in the documentary), Cast and Crew bios and filmographies, and two trailers (the teaser and the full trailer).
I think this film did what it set out to do, which was to pay homage to those men who were vilified when the returned home from Vietnam, and to allow the American public come to terms with how horribly they treated those men. If you are a military veteran or a military film completist, you might want to pick it up as a permanent addition to your collection, but if not, it’s worth watching as a piece of American film history that should be seen at least.