‘Rambo: The Complete Steelbook Collection’ 4K UHD Blu-Ray Review – Action Icon Gets A Stunning Release

Just in time for the holiday season, Lionsgate Home Entertainment has collected all five films in the Rambo franchise and released them in a lovely new Steelbook collection that will have you fawning. Those who want to own these films in the best format available and in the most aesthetically pleasing packaging will want to keep an eye on this Best Buy exclusive. Read on to get impressions on these films and the 4K UHD Blu-Rays they are given. 

First Blood (1982)

He never fought a battle he couldn’t win–except the conflict raging within his own soul. Academy Award®-nominee Sylvester Stallone stars as war hero John Rambo. An ex-Green Beret haunted by memories of Vietnam, he was once the perfect killing machine. Now he’s searching for peace, but finds instead an over-zealous, small-town sheriff who’s spoiling for a fight. All hell breaks loose when an unjustly imprisoned Rambo escapes and becomes the target of a massive manhunt. Now he must use all his cunning, combat skills and weapons training to stay alive and outwit his pursuers. Co-starring Brian Dennehy and Richard Crenna, First Blood is an explosive action-thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final, powerful frame.

Those who are unfamiliar with the franchise outside of imagery that crops up in popular culture might be shocked to learn of the humble beginnings of the character. John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) was not always the unyielding killing machine that he would become in later films. In First Blood, Stallone and the creative team actually deliver a socially relevant and biting drama that paints Rambo as a victim of the war in his mind and by society. More than any others, this film allows Stallone to exercise some of his wonderful acting chops as this nuanced, tortured man. Rambo is not a character that wants to engage in the violence that he is dishing out, but he feels backed into a corner and on edge due to the effects of the war. Brian Dennehy gives a menacing performance as the perfect foil to our protagonist; a sheriff who is hell-bent on making a bad situation the worst version possible. Like much of the series, the action within the story is extremely unbelievable at times, but the film gets you so invested in the character that you forgive the more outlandish aspects. First Blood feels almost quaint with its body count compared to what would come later, and this is what makes it so special. In terms of actual quality, it is hard to beat this first entry. 

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

He’s back! Superstar Sylvester Stallone is John Rambo, the ultimate action hero, in this explosive Oscar-nominated sequel to First Blood that boasts a riveting screenplay by Sylvester Stallone and James Cameron (Titanic). Although the Vietnam War is officially over, Rambo remains the perfect fighting machine. But his survival skills are tested with a vengeance on a top-secret mission that takes him back to the jungles of Vietnam in search of American POWs. For when Rambo is double-crossed, this “expendable” hero, armed with just a bow, arrows and knife, must defeat savage enemies equipped with deadly firepower.

It is in this sophomore entry where we get our first taste of Rambo the infallible merchant of death. Whereas the first film attempted to ground the proceedings in a thoughtful story, First Blood Part II serves as an all-out, over-the-top blitzkrieg of violence and vengeance. For action fans, there is a ton to love here including massive amounts of senseless killing and big explosions that cause not even a hint of damage to our hero. In the previous film, he did everything in his power not to kill those who were pursuing him, but that idea would be laughable here. The Rambo franchise is not made to be over-analyzed – that’s not what most fans care about – but it is worth noting that this is where the film first indulges in the one-note depiction of evil foreign forces that fit perfectly into the fears of the time. Stallone the screenwriter has always had a troubling time with giving his adversaries anything but stereotypes to play with. The few females that do pop up here do not get the opportunity to be given much to do outside of giving Rambo an extra reason to kill. As an action film, this entry is wild fun, but those who appreciated the more thoughtful approach of the first film are in for a rough go of it in the remaining entries. 

Rambo III (1988)

The battle rages on as superstar Sylvester Stallone detonates the third blast in the action-packed Rambo series. Combat has taken its toll on John Rambo (Stallone), but he has finally begun to find inner peace inside a monastery — until his friend and mentor Col. Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna) shows up to ask for his help on a top-secret mission in Afghanistan. A war-weary Rambo declines, but when Trautman is captured, Rambo erupts into a one-man firestorm to rescue his former commanding officer and decimate the enemy. It’s an intense, pulse- pounding adventure that boasts unrelenting action and suspense from start to finish!

This third and final entry in the franchise – for a while- gleefully picks up where the last film left off and ups the ante in nearly every respect. I could tell you that this film is insanely violent, and you would likely nod your head and not think much about it. But seriously, the Guinness Book of World Records deemed this film the most violent film ever made, a record that would stand until a film was released that we just might be talking about momentarily. Rambo has long stopped caring about who drew “first blood” because we all know he is going to be able to surf down a river of blood by the time we get to the end of this film. The film uses his former commander Trautman (Richard Crenna) as a reason for all the mayhem, but audiences really did not need much of a reason to watch Rambo dispatch all these foreign terrorists. This particular entry is odd to watch through a modern context, as the importance of Afghanistan to the plot leaves you feeling a bit ill at ease. The film is patently ridiculous, but it sure does know how to plot a jaw-dropping action sequence. That is the best thing the film has going for it, and it is perfectly acceptable if that is all you need. 

Rambo (2008)

The ultimate American action hero returns – with a vengeance! After spending several years in northern Thailand operating a longboat on the Salween River, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) reluctantly agrees to carry a group of Christian missionaries into war-torn Burma. But when the aid workers are captured by ruthless Nationalist Army soldiers, Rambo leads a group of battle-scarred, combat-hardened mercenaries on an epic, last-ditch mission to rescue the prisoners – at all costs.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder… In the twenty years since we last saw the character of John Rambo, he has had a lot of time to reflect on his choices, and he kind of resents his penchant for dealing out death when he is called upon. Rambo cannot have a calm life, which means he has to help the humanitarian missionaries when they need him. This is what he does, and he does it so incredibly well. As you may have guessed from my take on the last film, it is Rambo that excitedly takes the crown as the most violent film ever made. In terms of over-the-top ridiculousness, Rambo is my preferred flavor among all the entries in the franchise. It is not wildly different from any of the other post-First Blood efforts, but it lacks some of the cheesiness that plagued the previous two sequels. Rambo is not high art or anything, but its severe take on this hurricane of violence gives it a bit more weight. This film also serves up an Extended Cut that improves the film even more by shifting some scenes around a bit and adding some character moments that add some texture to the relationships. Outside of the first film, this is my favorite entry in the series. 

Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

Almost four decades after he drew first blood, Sylvester Stallone is back as one of the greatest action heroes of all time, John Rambo. Now, Rambo must confront his past and unearth his ruthless combat skills to exact revenge in a final mission. A deadly journey of vengeance, Rambo: Last Blood marks the last chapter of the legendary series.

Stallone returns for what is said to be the last time in the titular role, and with what we get here you mostly hope that promise sticks. As per usual, Stallone is pretty incredible in this role that he has been living with for over 35 years. This is a more mature John Rambo who is trying not to be the unrelenting killing machine that he was in the previous film, but a gentle life is sometimes more that one can hope for in this cold, cruel world. The depictions of him living in relative happiness early in the film with his makeshift family is heartwarming enough to wish that this could be an easygoing domestic drama – for John’s sake. This is obviously not in the cards, and this is where we arrive at the primary issue with this finale: the script feels influenced greatly by hot-button political issues, and not in a good way. Last Blood takes a one-track stand of foreign people = evil. The villains are such over the top caricatures that it is embarrassing. While the franchise has long since gotten away from the humble PTSD-awareness beginnings, it is disappointing to find it devolve into a rote plot that seems made for Liam Neeson. Yet, I cannot say I was not incredibly entertained during the bonkers finale where all hell breaks loose and bodies stack up so high. I almost feel guilty for how delighted I was by the last thirty minutes of the film. Last Blood is not really the best way to end the franchise, but it is a franchise that needs to end. It was very clumsy, but it at least goes out in an incredibly violent fashion. 

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Video Quality

All five films in the Rambo: The Complete Steelbook Collection are direct ports of the 4K UHD Blu-Ray releases previously released by Lionsgate Home Entertainment. Due to similarities in quality, I will be grouping these films together when appropriate to give an overview of the releases while pointing out noticeable differences. The first three films were prepared from a 4K scan of the original camera negatives and serve as a significant step up from their previous Blu-Ray releases. The previous releases were disappointments to various degrees, but Lionsgate largely knocks the video portion of the disc out of the park this time around. 

In a bit of a surprise, the last film in the original trilogy serves as the weakest of the transfers, even though it is no slouch. The filmic quality is preserved for all the movies in the set with natural grain that yields a pleasing amount of detail. There does not appear to be any artificial sharpening, so grain remains pretty thick without being unnaturally clumpy, except for portions of Rambo III. Skin tones look nice and natural throughout with an impressive amount of detail on display from the normal faces, as well as those covered in blood, grime or camouflage. Colors pop off the screen with an impressive vibrancy that make this set a real visual treat. First Blood in particular showcases some deep greens in the foliage, while the desert-like settings of the following films have a strong brown palette. Black levels are incredibly deep without giving way to any unwanted crush. There is no hint of compression artifacts or banding to be found. This transfer allows a lot of texture and depth to shine through in the vast locations and costumes. These new discs are by far the best the series has ever looked.

The two newer films in the collection offer a nice uptick in overall quality in comparison to the solid accompanying Blu-Ray. The movies stylistically employs a more muted color palette, and the discs recreate the worlds beautifully in 4K. The black levels are especially strong throughout, staying deep and inky with great detail. When compared to Blu-Ray, the 4K version allows for way more depth, clarity and stability to the image. Both films are intentionally grimy in its cinematography while in the jungle or traversing around Mexico. The image is as gorgeous as the source material will allow. The white levels are balanced with no instances of blooming to be found. The movie finds many pleasing ways to show off the High Dynamic Range, especially in some notable explosions. Fine facial details are easily observable during this presentation, especially the deep age lines of Stallone. This is a very natural looking transfer that gives the film a three dimensional feel that’s a marked improvement from the Blu-Ray.

Audio Quality

The first three films in the set come with incredibly active DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks that create a truly enveloping world. Dialogue always comes through crisp and clear while rarely being stepped on by the score or any explosive sound effects. Action sequences and more kinetic moments are given the appropriate power in the mix with a forceful showing in the low end. Ambient sounds are also precisely placed in the rear channels. The spatial awareness of the track is pretty insane at times, and the panning techniques are used to great effect. The differing locations also yield different environments for the tracks to convey, and none of them ever fail to bring their world to life with the appropriate sounds. The audio presentations here are fantastic on all levels. The only fault I have with these tracks is the fact that having Dolby Atmos tracks to accompany the newer films would have been insane.

As mentioned, these 4K UHD Blu-Ray discs come with a lively Dolby Atmos presentation for the two newest films that handles the action incredibly well. The track offers expert level immersion into the environments so that even the subtlest elements are represented. The Atmos presentation takes full advantage of the expanded channel allotment. During some of the action set pieces in Rambo you will be left dazed by all of the activity happening in the track. All of the sounds are balanced well during the action sequences from hand-to-hand combat to explosions. The many fights and other such kinetic moments provide a fantastic amount of activity in the low end. Directionality of sound is never an issue with this track, and dialogue is reproduced with supreme clarity. Speakers remain remarkably engaged throughout the film, even during the few quieter moments. The audio presentation is a wonderful experience from start to finish. 

Special Features

The main reason for this new release is to get all of the films in a stunning new Steelbook collection that is truly a marvel in person. The artwork features a nicely animated depiction of Rambo’s greatest hits around the outside of the package. Each film is given a dedicated Steelbook with unique artwork that is safely housed in a foam padding. The spine of each case is numbered and displayed above the title. The interior artwork sports depictions of weapons from the franchise, and the discs have artwork to match the exterior case. Photos of the Steelbook collection can be found at the end of this review.

First Blood

  • Commentary #1: Sylvester Stallone gives an engaging commentary track in which he discusses the development of the project, how he approached the character, his opinions of his co stars, his favorite artistic choices in the film, experiences with stunts and more. Stallone is a really interesting guy and it is fun to get his thoughts on this initial film. 
  • Commentary #2: First Blood author David Morrell discusses some of the differences between the film and the book and why certain choices were made. Morrell also provides some anecdotes about his first screening of the film, what scenes really made the audience go wild, his inspiration for the novel and more. It is good to get the thoughts of someone outside of the industry on this. 
  • Rambo Takes The 80s Part 1: An 18-minute look at this first entry in the franchise with various media personalities and people associated with the film discussing what makes First Blood so unique. Through this you get a deeper understanding of how this reflected the tensions of the time, why this film is taken more seriously than a lot of the mindless action films at the time, Rambo as a cultural figure, the internal conflict within the character and more. This is a well-made piece that features talking heads interspersed with clips from the film. 
  • Making Of: A 23-minute archival featurette which delves into the various aspects of the film including inspirations for the story, the process of getting a studio on board, troubles in the production, why they changed the ending and more. 
  • Alternative Ending: A two-minute ending that would not have been ideal for continuing with the franchise in the manner which it did.
  • Outtake: A minute-long take that could not quite avoid some laughter at the end of it. 
  • Deleted Scene: A nearly three-minute unused scene in which Rambo reflects back upon what we shall call “happier” times in Vietnam. 
  • The Restauration: A nearly two-minute before-and-after look at the restoration with various scenes used as comparison. The cleanup effort looks really great and is appreciated by fans. 
  • The Real Nam: A 27-minute featurette which takes an in-depth look at the Vietnam war with people who participated in it. The stories told in here are really powerful and at times shocking, but surely worth a watch. 
  • Forging Heroes: A ten-minute supplement that gives a closer look at Special Forces and what makes these people so special. 
  • How to Become Rambo Part 1: A 14-minute discussion with Dr. Franco Columbo, Sylvester Stallone’s bodybuilding coach, in which he takes you through the guaranteed way to get into Rambo shape. 
  • Original Trailer: Two minutes of trailers are provided here which don’t really seem to capture the spirit of the film. 
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Rambo: First Blood Part II

  • Commentary: Director George P. Cosmatos gives an in-depth commentary in which he reveals stories from the shoot including sets being destroyed, Stallone designing the knife, working with snakes, collaborating with Jerry  Goldsmith on the score and more. 
  • Rambo Takes The 80s Part 2: This series continues with a 12-minute look at the sophomore entry in the franchise in which the same participants discuss the completely different tone from the first film, the bulking up of Stallone, the leaning in to the action elements, the James Cameron script and more. 
  • We Get To Win This Time: A 20-minute archival making-of featurette in which the participants discuss the different approach to the sequel, the desire of audiences to feel like they “won” after the Vietnam war, the new cast members in the story, the reception of the film and more. 
  • Action In The Jungle: An eight-minute archival piece that looks at the physically demanding shoot in Mexico and how it impacted the cast, crew and equipment. 
  • The Last American POW: A two-minute look at real-life POW Robert Garwood and how the film set about telling a similar story. 
  • Sean Baker – Fulfilling A Dream: A two-minute archival piece detailing a special fan of First Blood.
  • Interview with Sylvester Stallone: A two-minute archival interview in which Stallone discusses what he wanted to accomplish with this entry. 
  • Interview with Richard Crenna: A nearly two-minute archival interview in which Crenna discusses the way in which he believes this film will inspire passion and conversation. 
  • Behind the Scenes: A two-minute fly-on-the-wall look at moments from the production. 
  • The Restauration: A minute-long before-and-after look at the restoration with various scenes used as comparison. The cleanup effort looks really great and is appreciated by fans. 
  • How to Become Rambo Part 2: A 15-minute discussion with Dr. Franco Columbo, Sylvester Stallone’s bodybuilding coach, in which he continues to take you through the guaranteed way to get into Rambo shape. 
  • Original Trailer: The three-minute trailer shows you how the film upped up the action in nearly every way. 
  • Original TV Spots: Three minutes of television spots are shown that do a good job of showcasing what you are going to get from the film. 

Rambo III

  • Commentary: DIrector Peter MacDonald provides a track in which he details his unusual journey to directing the film, shooting in Bangkok, working with Stallone, getting hurt during the shoot and more. 
  • Rambo Takes The 80s Part 3: This series continues with a 11-minute look at the third entry in the franchise in which the same participants discuss action films in the 80s, how Rambo inspired so many imitators, increased budgets and more. 
  • Full Circle: An archival six-minute piece that basically serves as an extended trailer for the film. 
  • A Hero’s Journey: A nearly 26-minute archival piece that details the original trilogy from the inception of the series to action-heavy sequels. This piece tackles a lot of the information from the first two films, but it is still worth checking out. 
  • Rambo’s Survival Hardware: A nine-minute look at some of the weapons at Rambo’s disposal throughout the franchise. 
  • Alternate Beginning: A four-minute unused beginning that opens with a bigger bang, but does not take you straight to Rambo like the one in the film. 
  • Deleted Scenes: Seven minutes of unused material is provided here which shows Rambo forging weapons, an interrogation scene with Trautman and more. 
  • Interview with Sylvester Stallone: A nine-minute interview in which Stallone discusses the trilogy with a focus on the first film. This covers a lot of the same ground as previous supplements.
  • Afghanistan – A Land In Crisis: A thirty-minute documentary piece that attempts to provide some historical context to this action-packed tale by exploring the country’s history. 
  • Guts and Glory: A 27-minute archival piece that delves into the franchise in popular culture and how audiences flipped over the character. Participants playfully debate whether some of the depictions in the film are problematic or harmful, but seeing as it is on this disc you can guess which side people side with for the most part. 
  • Behind the Scenes: A six-minute vintage piece which showcases moments from the production of the third film along with some interviews with the cast and crew. 
  • The Restauration: A nearly two-minute before-and-after look at the restoration with various scenes used as comparison. The cleanup effort looks really great and is appreciated by fans. 
  • Trautman & Rambo: A nearly three-minute look at the relationship between these two throughout this trilogy. 
  • How to Become Rambo Part 3: A 15-minute discussion with Dr. Franco Columbo, Sylvester Stallone’s bodybuilding coach, in which he continues to take you through the guaranteed way to get into Rambo shape. 
  • Original Trailer: A two-minute trailer that builds on the goodwill of the first two films while highlighting the impressive action moments from this third entry. 
  • Original TV Spots: Three minutes of television spots are provided here which accurately detail what this film provides to audiences. 

Rambo

  • Theatrical & Extended Cuts
  • Audio Commentary: Sylvester Stallone delivers a commentary track over the theatrical cut of the film in which he details what he was trying to accomplish with the film, the brutality in the film, working with real Burmese people, working with real cobras and more. Stallone does a good job of keeping things interesting throughout. 
  • It’s A Long Road – Resurrection Of An Icon: A twenty-minute look at the origins of the film with the cast and crew in which they discuss the independent nature of the production, finding the right story to tell, keeping things honest and more. 
  • A Score to Settle – The Music of Rambo: A nearly seven-minute look at how composer Brian Tyler wanted to honor the score of Jerry Goldsmith from the original trilogy while creating something that suited this new film.
  • The Art of War – Completing Rambo: A two-part ten-minute look at the editing and sound mix of the film. It is interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look at Sly’s creative process. 
  • The Weaponry of Rambo: A fourteen-minute look at the various tools of destruction that are in play in this fourth entry into the franchise. 
  • A Hero’s Welcome – Release and Reaction: A nearly ten-minute featurette which details the premiere of the film, the response from the audience, the new audience that they gained and more. 
  • Legacy of Despair: An eleven-minute look at the real-life struggle in Burma which gives you a deeper look at the human rights violations that plague the country. 
  • Rambo: To Hell and Back – Director’s Production Diary: A 1-hour-and-24-minute look at the production from the first day to the last. This is an incredibly thorough piece that details the many challenges of making the film and seeks to answer nearly any question you could ever have about the film. 
  • Deleted Scenes: Four scenes of unused material totaling fourteen minutes are included here featuring the missionaries pleading with Rambo to help them, some more personal moments between Rambo and Sarah (Julie Benz) and more. 
  • Theatrical Trailer: The two-and-a-half-minute trailer gives a nice tease of the basic story and some of the action elements. 

Rambo: Last Blood

  • Drawing Last Blood – Multi Part Production Diary: A five-part making-of documentary totaling 50 minutes featuring behind-the-scenes insights from Sylvester Stallone, director Adrian Grünberg and more. This gives greater insight into how and why this film came together and what went into pulling it off. 
  • From First Note to Last Blood – Music for the Massacres: A seventeen-minute look at the score with Brian Tyler. This is one of the stronger aspects of the film so it’s nice to get to dive deeper in this. 
  • Theatrical Trailer: A minute-long trailer that plays up the history of the character and the violence that is in store. 

 

Final Thoughts

The Rambo franchise is one that has endured for a long time from its more meager beginnings to the large-scale battle pictures that completely changed the way you looked at the character. Not all of the films are good, but they are usually quite watchable. One thing that you have always been able to rely upon throughout this franchise is the totally committed performance from Sylvester Stallone. His dedication to the character is something to be admired, even when you are left wishing he would not have returned for a “final” time. Lionsgate Home Entertainment has collected all five films in the franchise into one stunning Steelbook collection that sports excellent A/V presentations and a massive amount of special features. For fans of the franchise, this is simply an amazing set that you should be proud to display in your collection. Highly Recommended

Rambo: The Complete Steelbook Collection is currently available to purchase on 4K UHD Blu-Ray exclusively at Best Buy.

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the 4K UHD Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Lionsgate Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this set free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

 

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