(Not) Breaking News: FIRST BLOOD Is a Great Movie

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AndyDursin
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(Not) Breaking News: FIRST BLOOD Is a Great Movie

#1 Post by AndyDursin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 9:47 am

Sat down and watched this over the last couple of nights (these days, I often have only the time to break things up in multiple installments!) and came away with this impression: always thought it was (really) good, but it's actually even better than I remember.

The original FIRST BLOOD is a really, really outstanding film. It's tightly constructed, suspenseful, and not only well-written but strongly performed by Stallone, Brian Dennehy and Richard Crenna. It also, unlike the comic-booky sequels that followed (the terrific, belated 4th entry excepted), believably renders its central conflict between Rambo and Dennehy's sheriff in a compelling way that sees it in shades of grey instead of stark black and white. Dennehy is truly excellent here -- yes he's the heavy, but he's also not the worst "bad guy" who appears, and comes across as a big fish in a little pond trying to do what he thinks is right. He pushes Rambo too far, but Rambo also takes it too far, and that element of the film adds a real layer to the drama absent in most films of this kind. In fact, Rambo comes off as a bit of a damaged creep once he's unhinged -- a far cry from the super-hero of II and III (in David Morrell's original book, Rambo is a legitimate bad guy who kills over 200 people!). You do root for Rambo, but you also come away with the understanding that if everyone had behaved differently, the situation could've been avoided entirely.

That leads to Crenna, who substituted for Kirk Douglas -- and it's probably a good thing he did. One could see Douglas chewing up the scenery as Colonel Trautman, but Crenna underplays for the most part, and he's tremendous. The sequence where he holds back his emotion while Rambo hugs him at the end is truly heartbreaking and effective. His scene with Dennehy where the sheriff is able to admit, roughly, that he was wrong is also perfectly played.

Beyond that, this 93-minute, well-oiled film is one of those films you can't stop coming back to -- it's effectively shot in scope and brilliantly scored by Jerry Goldsmith. The moment when Rambo breaks out of the police barricade at the climax while driving the stolen truck -- are you kidding me? Brilliant, effective, bravura film scoring that nobody does today.

I watched the film in the overseas Remastered Special Edition which has a superior transfer to the U.S. Blu-Ray, plus some extras (trailers, the discarded ending) that weren't included on it. The two commentaries recorded for the film are two of my favorites: David Morrell's is one of the most listenable of all commentary tracks, as he discusses the endless journey his book took to get to the screen, and is hugely insightful about his writing and the process of making the film. It's a track I often come back to. Stallone's separate commentary is likewise compelling and adds much to the piece as well.

In all, what a great movie. A real classic that not only stands up, but looks even better in light of the junk we have out there today.


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Paul MacLean
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Re: (Not) Breaking News: FIRST BLOOD Is a Great Movie

#2 Post by Paul MacLean » Wed Dec 06, 2017 11:15 am

I have not seen First Blood in years (I've owned it on BD since around 2009 -- but still haven't gotten around to watching it!).

This was one of the first R-rated movies I ever saw, and I remember it getting mostly negative reviews (Siskel and Ebert panned it -- but liked the sequel!), and it was dismissed by pseudo-intellectual critics as a trashy, numbskull "violence for its own sake" exploitation flick. In a year when reviewers were fawning over Richard Attenborough's Gandhi (a fine film -- don't get me wrong) First Blood must have struck them as "out of step with the drummer".

Audiences however begged to differ -- because they recognized that First Blood was much more than that. While unquestionably a violent action picture, the action sequences are very imaginative and clever (the mountain hunt, the mine scene), and, as you say Andy, there is a fair degree of character development and depth for this type of film.

Goldsmith's score is one of his best, and the film calls upon some of his most impressive skills, and seems almost tailor-made for Goldsmith to show-off what he is best at (it was also a picture he greatly enjoyed working on). But it was crushingly disappointing that no soundtrack LP was released at the time of the movie (despite a Dan Hill title song), and we all assumed this would be yet another great score we would never get enjoy (though happily an LP finally appeared six months later, when the film was finally shown in Europe -- much as in the case of The Secret of NIMH).

For a budding soundtrack fan, the late-year appearance of scores like First Blood, Monsignor and The Dark Crystal marked a spectacular end to arguably the greatest single year ever for film music, which also gave us E.T., Poltergeist, Conan The Barbarian, Blade Runner, The Road Warrior, Star Trek II and Tron.

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Re: (Not) Breaking News: FIRST BLOOD Is a Great Movie

#3 Post by mkaroly » Wed Dec 06, 2017 12:57 pm

I love this film. It and RAMBO are very moving to me, and Goldsmith's primary theme for the film (heard over the opening titles of FIRST BLOOD) is one of his best themes. It is iconic, and Brian Tyler's intelligent (and correct) decision to use it at the end of RAMBO made me tear up a bit. I have not seen any of the Rambo films in some time; it might be worth going back and watching FIRST BLOOD when I get the chance! Great comments on this film guys!

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AndyDursin
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Re: (Not) Breaking News: FIRST BLOOD Is a Great Movie

#4 Post by AndyDursin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:49 pm

Michael, I'm with you, and at least Tyler orchestrated Goldsmith's music properly in RAMBO, a film I think is a superb action movie on every level.

I plan on rewatching them all, so any additional thoughts can go right here!
Audiences however begged to differ -- because they recognized that First Blood was much more than that. While unquestionably a violent action picture, the action sequences are very imaginative and clever (the mountain hunt, the mine scene), and, as you say Andy, there is a fair degree of character development and depth for this type of film.
It's funny, I don't even think the film is that violent. The first time I saw the movie was the NBC broadcast, as I was too young to watch an R rated movie, and very little of it was cut. A couple of shots here and there (Vietnam flashback) but the film certainly wasn't gratuitous or carried either a large body count or lots of profanity. Maybe we've just gotten too de-sensitized but it's curious the film would have been deemed as excessive. That broadcast also had a few added bits too.

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Re: (Not) Breaking News: FIRST BLOOD Is a Great Movie

#5 Post by Monterey Jack » Wed Dec 06, 2017 2:04 pm

Jeez, I'm gonna sound like an idiot for saying this, but...First Blood is laughable.

I think the first time I sat down and watched it all the way through was on the initial DVD in the early-00's, and parts of it are embarrassingly cartoonish, like the random soldier bellowing, "BULLS-EYE!" after blowing up the mine entrance, and Stallone's hilariously incomprehensible "anguished" monologue at the end (as Leonard Maltin put it in his movie guide, "A Kewpie Doll to anyone who understands more than three words of Stallone's final speech" :lol: ). For such a perceived-classic, and the one moderately-"realistic" Rambo movie, it hasn't held up outside of Goldsmith's admittedly-fantastic score, which adds a lot of emotional heft to an incredibly simple-minded movie. In fact, I find it mildly offensive in its depiction of a Vietnam vet going on a kill-crazy rampage, no matter how "pushed" into it he was by Dennehy's nasty, one-note deputies.

Truth be told, the second Rambo I prefer somewhat, because it had no pretensions outside of turning the character into a steroid-injected mayhem machine, and played the material up in the proper saturated, comic book mode. It's still no classic, but I can sit through the second the easiest of the lot. The third is forgettable, and the fourth is drenched in such ludicrously violent overkill (and shakey-cam direction) it's hard to sit through. It pains me to say this about one of the most iconic 80's action franchises, but the Rambo movies just aren't...very...good. One of these days I should sit down and go through the whole lot again (I was in my mid-20's the last time I watched them), but I remember finding First Blood to be quite poor.

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Re: (Not) Breaking News: FIRST BLOOD Is a Great Movie

#6 Post by AndyDursin » Wed Dec 06, 2017 11:04 pm

Leonard Maltin had a rough year in '82, handing out 1.5 star reviews originally to FIRST BLOOD, BLADE RUNNER and THE THING (ALIEN was also a 1.5 star film for years until it was "revised"). Not sure what he was dealing with at the time, but it must have been something! :lol:

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Monterey Jack
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Re: (Not) Breaking News: FIRST BLOOD Is a Great Movie

#7 Post by Monterey Jack » Thu Dec 07, 2017 12:15 am

AndyDursin wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 11:04 pm
Leonard Maltin had a rough year in '82, handing out 1.5 star reviews originally to FIRST BLOOD, BLADE RUNNER and THE THING (ALIEN was also a 1.5 star film for years until it was "revised"). Not sure what he was dealing with at the time, but it must have been something! :lol:
To be fair, most fim critics panned Blade Runner and The Thing back in the day.

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Paul MacLean
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Re: (Not) Breaking News: FIRST BLOOD Is a Great Movie

#8 Post by Paul MacLean » Thu Dec 07, 2017 12:46 am

Monterey Jack wrote:
Wed Dec 06, 2017 2:04 pm
parts of it are embarrassingly cartoonish, like the random soldier bellowing, "BULLS-EYE!" after blowing up the mine entrance
Well, he was supposed to look silly. Those guys weren't "combat soldiers", but national guardsmen -- civilians who volunteer and train one weekend a month, and are called up in case of a natural disaster or civil unrest to keep order, prevent looting, etc. The joke is how tactically ignorant and undisciplined they are compared a combat-hardened Green Beret. When I rented First Blood and watched it with my dad -- an ex-marine -- he laughed when the national guardsmen appeared and said "That guy has nothing to be scared of from a bunch of national guards!"

It pains me to say this about one of the most iconic 80's action franchises, but the Rambo movies just aren't...very...good. One of these days I should sit down and go through the whole lot again (I was in my mid-20's the last time I watched them), but I remember finding First Blood to be quite poor.
Good or bad, the Rambo movies were hugely influential. Their influence is all over pictures like Uncommon Valor, Commando, Red Dawn, Aliens, Predator, Extreme Prejudice, Die Hard, etc. Canon Films also got in on the action with Rambo-esque exploitation flicks like The Delta Force and the Missing in Action movies. Ronald Reagan famously joked during his presidency "Now that I've seen Rambo I know what to do!" and even Oliver Stone couldn't resist a Rambo-esque finale in his supposedly "anti war" movie Platoon, when Charlie Sheen kills Tom Baringer (a scene which elicited cheers of fury from audiences).

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Re: (Not) Breaking News: FIRST BLOOD Is a Great Movie

#9 Post by AndyDursin » Thu Dec 07, 2017 8:58 am

In fact, I find it mildly offensive in its depiction of a Vietnam vet going on a kill-crazy rampage, no matter how "pushed" into it he was by Dennehy's nasty, one-note deputies
Rambo's "kill crazy rampage" involves the unintended death of ONE character -- Dennehy's sadistic deputy, who plummets from the helicopter after stubbornly refusing to back down. You could make the argument Rambo's stone-tossing that caused him to fall out was in self-defense and that the deputy contributed to/caused his own demise (he had been warned by the pilot to back down, then threatened him as well).

As far as the premise, if you're offended by this film that has a body count of 1 -- I'm just baffled that you don't think the first sequel, with a body count of 75, that basically trivializes the subject matter of the Vietnam war, reducing it to a gee-whiz comic book with a "this time we win" macho-fantasy ending, is even somewhat offensive! Sure, I'm able to take the film for what it is, but as a piece of escapist cinema, II isn't half what the original FIRST BLOOD is, and traffics in "wish fulfillment 80s action fantasy" instead of dealing with realistic and believable themes.

People coming back from Vietnam had problems. Some of them, hell a lot of them, were damaged, and those vets were neither treated right by the general populace or handled properly by a government that didn't know how to handle PTSD. Even in its action setting, FIRST BLOOD hit upon all of those things and was/is an important film in that regard. There are some personal stories I could share but I don't want to steer the conversation into something that heavy -- suffice to say I didn't find it offensive at all.

I found this FIRST BLOOD retrospective on IGN from October earlier today -- the movie just marked its 35th anniversary -- and I think it mostly hits the nail on the head:
Many old movies, when you go back and watch them, feel horribly dated. Some of the best movies might hold up cinematically, but even those can feel ancient when you start to dig into the themes and ideas. As First Blood - yeah, the original Rambo movie - hits its 35th anniversary on October 22, digging back into it proves that while, yeah, it's definitely a movie from 1982, it's also an amazingly prescient one. It's intelligent, vulnerable, and looks at ideas that we're still talking about right now.

We remember Rambo as another one of the silly over-the-top action heroes of the 80s, right along with Arnold Schwarzenegger characters like Dutch (Predator) and John Matrix (Commando), and we remember Sylvester Stallone as a caricature of himself, a slurred voice and dazed eyes. But Rambo didn't start that way, and Stallone delivered on the promise the role offered.

....With First Blood, we're able to look back at the effects of that war in a personal way that we see so rarely these days. Action movies got goofier, and war movies often more jingoistic. First Blood, however, is not the Rambo movie we initially think of when the character is mentioned. No, it’s much better than that.
http://www.ign.com/articles/2017/10/22/ ... ay-as-ever

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Re: (Not) Breaking News: FIRST BLOOD Is a Great Movie

#10 Post by Eric W. » Thu Dec 07, 2017 10:14 am

Fantastic movie. Fantastic music. We just don't get these any more.

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