First Blood (1982)
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna
IMDB: First Blood
Why I wanted to watch it: Rambo is an iconic character, so I felt it was one of those movies I had to see.
Plot Synopsis: A mentally unstable Vietnam war vet, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), begins a one man war after being abused by a small town's police force.
Thoughts: I was not expecting this coming into First Blood, but what struck me the most was how many beautiful shots there were for an action movie. The film takes place in the Pacific Northwest and was shot on-location in British Columbia. The landscape and gorgeous backgrounds are almost their own character. Most of the movie takes place in the woods and it is fascinating to see how Rambo adapts to and then uses this environment to his advantage. Jerry Goldsmith puts in a good score which complements the scenery, although the song sung over the end credits felt a bit out of place. The directing was quite suspenseful, as this is really more of a thriller than an action movie. Much of the movie is about Rambo trying to survive as it is about him fighting the police and National Guard. The focus shifts from Rambo's point of view to that of the police force and national guard, so that we don't know what Rambo has in store for the police force. We see Rambo making preparations but since we never get a good, long look at what he is doing, we don't know exactly how he will fight back. The way Rambo used the landscape to fight against, or really hunt down a large group, reminded me of Predator. How is there not a Rambo vs. Predator comic?!
First Blood has a lot of great lines such as "Hunting? We ain't hunting him, he's hunting us!" "God didn't make Rambo, I made him!" and "a good supply of body bags!" My favorite had to be when Rambo takes a solider driving a truck at knife point and says: "Don't look at me, look at the road. That's how accidents happen."
At its core First Blood is a film about the Vietnam War. However, it is not a war film and takes place in America years after the war. Besides the treatment of Vietnam vets, another theme is that of generational conflict. When it boils down to it, this movie is really Rambo vs. Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy).
Something else I noticed was that the portrayal of Rambo in popular culture seems to be taken more from the sequels than from First Blood. First Blood is a suspenseful thriller and not "war porn" like the sequels may lead you to believe. The film has a shockingly low body count (one death and Rambo isn't even directly responsible, although there are several injuries). The movie doesn't contain that much blood or gore given the subject matter. I think if First Blood came out today it would be rated PG-13 since that rating did not yet exist when the film was released in 1982.
Col. Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna) enters the story late for a main character as he doesn't appear until about a third of the way in. However this works since by this point in the film we know Rambo, but not much about his background other than the fact that he fought in Vietnam. So when Trautman is introduced we are instantly intrigued as we want to know more about the man who trained Rambo and served as him commander in Vietnam. Trautman also adds to the plot's conflict and suspense. While we want to know if Rambo or Teasle will win, we also want to know if Trautman can get Rambo to stop his crusade against the town.
Stallone puts on what is arguably his best acting performance. He does a good job of bringing the character emotion, especially in the final scenes. John Rambo is human, not just a mindless killing machine like the popular image of Rambo, which is parodied in everything from UHF to Robot Chicken.
Although I liked the film, it is not without its flaws. How was Rambo not more seriously injured when he jumped off the side of a cliff and used a tree to break his fall? That said, I have a feeling this movie is still a lot more realistic than the sequels. Also, I don't understand why Rambo starts walking back to the town after the sheriff drives him away and tells him to leave. I know he was trying to prove a point, but couldn't he have a least waited until the sheriff drove away? I think the answer is that Rambo had to get revenge once the sheriff kicked him out of town for no reason. In the words of Rambo, Teasle "drew first blood" which forced Rambo to retaliate. Still, this could have been more clear as it took away some of my sympathy for the character at the moment.
Trivia: Although most people don't know it, First Blood is actually based on a book written by David Morrell. In the book Rambo dies at the end, as well as Sheriff Teasle. On a similar note, the original ending of the film was that Rambo would kill himself with Trautman's gun. However, test audiences found the ending too depressing so it was changed. It would have been hard to make the sequels had they kept that ending!
While its hard to believe, Ted Kotcheff is actually the same director who brought us Weekend at Bernie's!
A lot of big name actors were considered for or turned down roles in this film. Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Nick Nolte, John Travolta, Dustin Hoffman, James Garner, Kris Kristofferson, Michael Douglas, and Terence Hill all could have been Rambo. Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall turned down the role of the sheriff, while Lee Marvin, Kirk Douglas, and Rock Hudson all declined the part of Col. Trautman.
David Caruso has a minor role as Mitch, a young officer in the town's police force. Caruso is well known for his role as Lt. Horatio Caine on CSI: Miami.
Closing Thoughts: First Blood was a pleasant surprise as I liked it more than I thought I would. The directing, cinematography, and acting were all better than I expected. I'm glad that the focus was on the characters and not the action. Unfortunately this does not appear to be the case in the sequels.
On Saturday I'll discuss some movies that I actually would like to see remade! Then on Sunday I'll post the Weekly Round-up.