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Peter MacDonald
Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Marc de Jonge, Kurtwood Smith, Spiros Focás, Sasson Gabai, Doudi Shoua, Randy Raney, Marcus Gilbert, Alon Abutbul
Writing Credits:
Sheldon Lettich, Sylvester Stallone, David Morrell (characters)

God would have mercy; John Rambo won't!

When Col. Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna) is captured during a top-secret mission in Afghanistan, Rambo erupts into a one-man firestorm to rescue his former commanding officer and decimate the enemy. This intense, heart-pounding adventure boasts unrelenting action and suspense from start to finish!

Box Office:
$58 million.
Opening Weekend
$16.745 million on -unknown- screens.
Domestic Gross
$53.715 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2/0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 102 min.
Price: $9.98
Release Date: 11/24/2004

• Audio Commentary With Director Peter MacDonald
• “Survival Mode” Interactive Feature
• Deleted Scenes


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Rambo III: Ultimate Edition (1985)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 19, 2008)

Most thought that 1988’s Rambo III would reign as one of the year’s box office champs. Of the three films in the series, it was the only one with much pre-release hype behind it. 1982’s First Blood and 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II became surprise hits that arrived in theaters without big expectations.

After the $150 million gross of the 1985 flick, however, Rambo III couldn’t sneak up on anyone. Along with another 1988 sequel - Crocodile Dundee II - the newest iteration of the Rambo series was supposed to scarf up some big bucks.

It didn’t happen, at least not for Rambo. According to IMDB, Dundee II actually made a good piece of change; that source relates that it earned a positive $109 million. That doesn’t live up to the $174 million of the 1986 original, but it seems pretty good. In my memory, I retained the thought that Dundee II bombed, but if this data is correct, I was wrong.

However, my memories of the fate accorded Rambo III don’t seem erroneous. IMDB states that it made a mere $53 million, which represented barely a third of what the prior film earned. It also didn’t even manage to surpass its own $63 million budget. Since the Rambo films play well overseas, Rambo III ended up in the black with a worldwide take of $189 million, but it nonetheless had to be a considerable disappointment for its producers, and it killed the franchise – well, for 20 years, at least.

First Blood offered a pretty good action drama that actually had a reason to exist. It presented the pain of the Vietnam vet in a superficial but still interesting manner. First Blood Part II, however, degenerated into nothing more than a killfest and boasted little resemblance to the original film.

Rambo III takes us even farther from the character as originally conceived. Any semblance of his emotional distress or trauma vanished as Rambo became a larger-than-life prototypical American hero. During those “morning in America” years of the Reagan presidency, however, people seemed to want that. I thought - and still feel - that First Blood Part II stunk, but it obviously connected with a substantial audience.

So what happened to Rambo III? Perhaps the character became too generic. At least First Blood Part II continued the Vietnam theme of the first film. Rambo III strayed from that path. While this seemed to be a wise decision - another Vietnam-based flick would risk serious overkill - it appeared to backfire, as audiences clearly didn’t care to see Rambo turn into a general action hero.

Ironically, I actually think Rambo III is a better film than First Blood Part II, despite its silly name. (As many noted at the time, it should either be Rambo II or First Blood Part III.) However, I consider that to be faint praise. While Rambo III offered a moderately more engaging experience than did its predecessor, it still seemed bland and inane.

As we start Rambo III, we quickly learn that our man’s (Sylvester Stallone) taken up residency in Thailand. There he helps out at a monastery and earns spare change as a stick fighter. His old boss Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) comes to recruit him for yet another mission. This time he wants Rambo to assist with the anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Rambo declines to participate; he seems content to live his simple life.

Trautman proceeds but gets captured by the Soviets. As one might expect, this spurs Rambo into action, especially when the local bureaucrats - led by Griggs (Kurtwood Smith) - decline to make any official response. They toss him a bone and set him free to do what he can.

In Afghanistan, Rambo meets his contact Mousa (Sasson Gabai), who doesn’t think our hero can accomplish the mission. Nonetheless, he offers aid and Rambo starts his task. Inevitably, he runs up against Soviet warlord Colonel Zaysen (Marc de Jonge), a sadistic sort who tortures Trautman. Rambo soon comes to save the officer, but their escape won’t come easily, as they go up against superior Soviet numbers. Gee, I wonder who’ll win?

Yes, folks - that’s sarcasm, and in its lowest form, too! It’s hard to resist cheap shots when I encounter such a generic film, however. As I noted, I do prefer Rambo III to First Blood Part II, simply because it executes its story with a bit more life and a little less cheese. The dialogue still stinks, but the script includes fewer groaners.

However, Rambo III tries much harder to offer comic relief. Those moments start slowly, but by the time Rambo and Trautman team up, they turn into a regular comedy duo. They trade lame witticisms that further marred the dramatic imagery originally accorded to the Rambo character. In prior films, neither Rambo nor Trautman seemed too light-hearted, so while their comments here never appear ridiculously jovial, they come across as forced and artificial.

But so does the whole movie. Yes, I like Rambo III more than First Blood Part II just because it seems more competently executed and it lacks the same level of stupidity. However, at least the second film offered a certain level of iconic power that totally evaporates here. Rambo became an archetype in the first sequel, but here he turns into nothing more than another generic action hero, replete with silly one-liners and unbelievable action sequences. As a mindless shoot-em-up, Rambo III has some moments, but it never does anything to distinguish itself.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio A- / Bonus C+

Rambo III appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. For the most part, this was a mediocre transfer.

Sharpness was erratic. Much of the film showed decent delineation, but I saw a fair amount of soft shots as well. This meant the movie often came with tentative definition. No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects interfered, but I noticed mild to moderate edge enhancement at times.

Source flaws were a more prominent concern. Some grit and marks appeared, and I saw quite a few examples of speckles. These never became excessive, and they declined as the movie progressed, but the nonetheless provided distractions.

None of the Rambo films offered bright and vivid palettes, and Rambo III stayed with a pretty subdued color scheme. However, the DVD represented those tones well, as it showed clear and concise hues throughout the movie. Black levels came across as fairly deep and dense, while shadow detail seemed a little inconsistent. Most low-light scenes looked fine, but a few of them appeared a bit murky and hazy. Rambo III was watchable, but with its specks and occasional softness, I thought it deserved a “C+”.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix of Rambo III provided very strong audio. The soundfield featured solid use of all five channels and seemed surprisingly active given its age. Admittedly, 1988 wasn’t all that long ago, but most mixes that came out prior to the common use of digital surround in the early Nineties sound pretty dated. Rambo III managed to offer a rather lively and compelling affair. The various effects always emanated from logical places, and they blended together quite well. Panning and movement between channels was clean and well delineated. The mix also showed a lot of ambient sound as well as many elements that made this an active piece. The rear channels worked as active partners and even featured a fair amount of split-surround material.

Audio quality also appeared solid. Speech sounded reasonably natural and distinct, and I heard no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Music seemed bright and vivid and showed good range. Some explosions occasionally demonstrated a little distortion, but the effects usually came across as clean and vibrant, and they packed a pretty good punch. Bass sounded slightly boomy at times, but those problems weren’t major. Ultimately, Rambo III provided audio that seemed excellent for its era.

By the way, this new Rambo III fixed a subtitle problem found on prior releases. Those lacked translations for Russian dialogue, but this DVD finally offered the appropriate text.

This “Ultimate Edition” of Rambo III provides a modest mix of extras. We get an audio commentary from director Peter MacDonald, who delivers a running, screen-specific piece. Though not as bad as the clunker from First Blood Part II director George P. Cosmatos, MacDonald’s chat stands as a fairly weak commentary. The biggest negative relates to the amount of information he provides. On occasion, extremely long spans of time pass between his statements, and when MacDonald does speak, he often just tells us what we see.

However, he does periodically manage to provide some good facts about the shoot. MacDonald presents a reasonably candid personality and he offers information about various problems encountered on location. He offers enough information to make the track worthwhile for big fans of the film, but others may find it to seem excessively frustrating.

Eight Deleted Scenes appear. These include “Alternate Opening” (3:37), “Rambo Prepares Knife” (1:18), “Afghan Wedding” (0:40), “Zaysen Interrogates Trautman – Again” (1:10), “Rambo Shoots More Russians” (1:48), “’A Lost Tourist’” (0:25), “Alternate Ending”(1:35), and “Joke Ending” (0:30). The “Opening” shows us the Russian threat in Afghanistan and the failure of prior Americans there; it’s superfluous because we don’t need to actually see this material before we re-encounter Rambo in Thailand. “Knife” is just another of the “Rambo prepares for battle” bits, so it doesn’t add anything.

“Wedding” provides nothing more than a cheap one-liner joke, while “Interrogates” seems as redundant as its title implies; how much Trautman torture do we need? “Russians” is simple more mayhem, though I do think “Rambo Shoots More Russians” should’ve been the title of the film. “Tourist” just throws out another one-liner from Rambo. “Ending” is actually almost interesting, as Rambo decides to stay with the Afghans; it’s an intriguing character choice, though I’d assume it was dumped because it would’ve hamstrung any more sequels. “Joke” provides a lighter – and really lame - conclusion between Trautman and Rambo.

An interactive feature called Survival Mode offers some additional options. Periodically during the film, an icon appears onscreen to notify you that you can access “Survival Mode” components. Hit “enter” and check out the material as the flick progresses.

I don’t care for features that make the movie stop and start like that, so I’m happy the DVD includes a “Direct Access” area that gathers the “Survival Mode” pieces under one roof. “Access” breaks into five domains. “Metabrief” shows us “intelligence dossiers” for six characters: John Rambo, Robert Griggs, Mousa Ghani, Colonel Zaysen, Masoud Hamadi and Colonel Trautman. These contribute fairly interesting – though stat-oriented – biographies for those personalities.

“Metascope” provides info about a mix of topics that crop up during the film. It tells us a little about Thai stick fighting, Rambo’s knife, Rambo’s facial scar, Buzkashi, land mines, cauterization, and grenade launchers. Though these are presented as running clips, they mostly consist of text; they appear as video footage so we can see the movie sequences in which they appear. As with the “dossiers”, these are rudimentary but enjoyable.

Over in “Metasight”, we get a weird look at some of the threats posed to Rambo. It views these concerns as though seen through the eyes of the Terminator and analyzes the various dangers. It’s an odd feature and not one that adds anything to the package.

Next comes “Metapoint”, a similarly strange effort. It displays a bizarre – and not useful – topographical grid to track Rambo’s movement. As with “Metasight”, it seems like a waste of time to me.

“Survival Mode” ends with “Metamap”. It follows in the same path as the prior two components as it shows an awkward global satellite view of two segments. Maybe someone will enjoy it, but I think it’s useless. Really, “Metabrief” and “Metascope” are the only moderately involving “Survival” features – and even they aren’t anything special. The whole “Survival Mode” feels like a silly gimmick much of the time.

Though it was supposed to make a mint, 1988’s Rambo III tanked and killed the franchise – well, at least until Stallone decided to revive it 20 years later. In its own right, Rambo III isn’t that bad, but it certainly doesn’t offer much that seems original or compelling. The DVD features mediocre picture along with excellent sound. The extras include a sporadically interesting audio commentary along with some deleted scenes and a borderline useless interactive component. This is a decent release but the lackluster supplements and erratic visuals mar it.

Note that this “Ultimate Edition” DVD of Rambo III can be purchased on its own or as part of a three-disc set. The latter also includes First Blood and Rambo: First Blood Part II. Each of the three films can be found individually, but the collection saves you some money if you want all of them. Bought separately, they’d go for a total of about $30, but taken as a package, they list for $22.98. That’s a good price if you do like all three flicks.

To rate this film visit the original review review of RAMBO III

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main