24 January 2008

Reminiscence on Rambo

I’ll be in the Las Vegas this weekend, so I won’t be around to see Rambo in the theaters. You may wonder why I would want to see it all. I’m not a Rambo fan, but the character’s history has always intrigued me, and he came from good stock. Regardless of what we may think of the “Rambo” series overall, the original First Blood (from my beloved 1982) was a very good movie, based on an even greater book. If you’ve never read David Morrell’s First Blood, it’s high on my recommend list; if you only know Rambo from the movies, the book will shock you.

I barely remember Rambo III from 1988, except that Stallone got in a stick fight, went to Afghanistan (apparently to help the rebels who became the Taliban—spooky), and drove a tank into a helicopter. I’ve seen the other two films multiple times. First Blood continues to be powerful movie, and hasn’t aged poorly at all considering the subject matter of a returned Vietnam vet. Morrell had imagined the story through the lens of the classic Western, where the vet comes back home as “the baddest gun in the West,” and I think that contributes to the timelessness of the film. Rambo: First Blood, Part II, on the other hand, is a pure World War II-era propaganda flick set against the backdrop of recent politics. It’s a Reagan ‘80s museum piece—but that’s why I like it. Macho, brainless, posturing, reactionary, but so undeniably itself that it is impossible not to enjoy the big loud dumb thing. The Russian villain played by Steven Berkoff (a duplicate of the character he played two years earlier in Octopussy) is such an outrageous stereotype that you have to love him. Rambo’s constant monosyllabic overkill turns into weird art. The action is nonstop, and reminds you of the days when videogames weren’t sophisticated enough to warrant comparisons to action movies. Its cheese to the nth degree, but it sure won’t bore you.

Now we have a fourth film, with the confusing title Rambo. The title inconsistency on this series is bizarre, starting with First Blood, changing to the logical Rambo: First Blood, Part II, but then jumping to Rambo III even though there’s technically no Rambo II, and then just using Rambo even though there already is a film with that title, but not using the First Blood subtitle. To be strictly true, the new film’s title should be Rambo III: First Blood, Part IV. Or maybe Rambo: First Blood, Part II, Part III, this being the third part of the second movie, or… oh forget it.

What was I saying? We have a fourth film, and even if it is an insulting over-the-top piece of dreck, I’m interested in seeing what Rambo has to say to us twenty years after he last appeared. It’s also interesting to see what Sylvester Stallone has to say about him, since this is the first of the movies he directed himself. I should also mention my interest in the Burmese setting because of my late grandmother’s background there.

One key player in the Rambo mythos is gone, however. Jerry Goldsmith scored the first three films—superbly—but he died in 2004. Brian Tyler, who ironically replaced Goldsmith’s music on one of his last films, Timeline, when Goldsmith was too ill to continue with a re-score, provides the music this time out. It just won’t be the same without Goldsmith’s magnificently gritty and recognizable music style. Perhaps Tyler’s score will reference the piece “It’s a Long Road,” which Goldsmith used in all three of the ealier films.