Rambo (2008) 4K UHD Review


The Boat Man

In one of Rambo’s earliest scenes, religious missionaries approach John Rambo, asking to be taken into genocidal Burma. Rambo stares at them through cages, tossing helpless mice into the pens for ruthless cobras inside. The missionaries do not catch Rambo’s intended symbolism.

In twenty years since Rambo III, the character didn’t travel far from the place of his tragedy. He’s living in Thailand, maybe only miles from the Vietnam border. Rather than go home, there’s a sense Rambo feels obligated to fix the mess he caused in this region. He’s less a man of country than self now. If anything, Stallone plays Rambo as a man divested from his nation. Angrily talking down co-star Julie Benz, he calls out, “a few men at the top,” chastising them because, “nobody tells the truth.” It’s as much a post 9/11, Bush-invades-Iraq allegory as it is the continuing story of a veteran beyond his years, still scrambling for stability.

For a moment, forget Rambo III’s rambunctious ‘80s camp kookiness; Rambo ‘08 certainly does. Instead, narrow in on Rambo II, where Stallone charged back into Vietnam to rescue captive American soldiers. That was the heart of the “we can still win” sub-genre that left Apocalypse Now’s angst behind. Rambo subscribes to the same ideology, but now without the patriotism. It’s a drastic turn, flush with scenes in jungles and huts (that although set in Burma, may as well be Vietnam), but with an angrier, frustrated philosophy. Do what’s right not because of country, but morality.

In a gruesome way, Rambo shows that yes, at times it’s necessary to intervene

The missionary leader (Paul Schulze) swears off violence. He doesn’t bring guns to Burma, just bibles. A scene shows Burmese citizens in school, learning about Jesus, and in another hut, doctors work to suture war injuries. Turns out non-violence doesn’t work – a bomb shreds the village. Government soldiers burn people alive, shoot kids point blank, and imprison women. In a gruesome way, Rambo shows that yes, at times it’s necessary to intervene. By fault or intent, there’s no leeway to the villains. They hardly speak, and certainly say nothing of note. Instead, their brutal reign is all that’s needed. No diplomacy. This is where the war needed to be according to Rambo, not Iraq.

But then comes the finale which brings a cornucopia of gore so utterly extreme, not even Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Meyers – combined – can match the litany of shredded bodies. It’s utterly absurd and graphically intense with no apologies because as made clear, these unrelenting foes need killed. Even the once pacifist Christian grabs a rock, smashing the face of a Burmese offender. Through vengeance, everyone reverts to their animalistic roots – foreshadowed by Rambo’s dialog earlier – and finally allowing this character to use his pent up depression, anger, and resentment for a force of unmistakable right.

Then Rambo goes home. It’s finally done. He’s at peace with himself and all that he’s endured. Rambo didn’t fix a nation’s faults; he knows he can’t. Rather, he showed others the truth so they can take the mantle and prevent the next men at the top from repeating the same mistakes.

Video

Lionsgate issued excellent 4K releases of the original Rambo trilogy. This is the straggler, releasing months afterward to coincide with another upcoming sequel. The delay did not do this transfer any favors; it’s quite awful. This does not look newly mastered, and in fact, is likely sourced from the same 2008 Blu-ray release. Shot on film with a 2K finish, the fattened grain looks pulled from a 1080p disc.

So too does the lagging detail, with limited sharpness and unsatisfying texture. Images of jungles sour, lacking firmness. Shot partly in Thailand, there’s a case to be made about location conditions (Predator famously struggled in similar humidity), yet this doesn’t have the appearance of weather-weakened film stock, rather weak mastering. Plus, the encode does this image no favors with occasionally visible mosquito noise on contrasting edges.

This all applies to the Dolby Vision pass too, adding almost nothing to the end product. It’s worth double checking to make sure the UHD is in the drive and not the Blu-ray. Assuredly, the UHD is in, but the contrast is not. In fact, Rambo’s HDR application is dire, suffering from pale highlights and dim black levels. Existing in a muddy gray area, the lack of punch makes it fair to ask if anything was done at all.

Same goes for color, glazing flesh tones slightly, if adding no depth to jungles. The aesthetic is faded, yes, while missing a sign that deep color is even active. Bummer.

Audio

Rambo cranks the volume and dynamic range to extremes. Arguably, it’s a little too much. When the bombs first hit in the village, the sheer loudness is likely to shock anyone, even those expecting the blast. In the soundtrack, certain highs sound blown out, muddying fidelity as if this mix was improperly calibrated. That shouldn’t happen in something from 2008.

Taken at its surface, new Atmos touches create space. A conversation between Stallone and Benz during a storm utilizes heights for ambient rain splashes. That works. During the finale, dirt mixes with blood to rain overhead, falling into the surrounds and stereos for a complete effect. Gruesome, but necessary to match the visuals. For a little of everything, the tall boy bomb explosion dominates the low-end with a rush of wind destroying scenery, sending sound everywhere.

Certainly, Rambo tracks gunfire accurately. Crowds light up the soundstage. As needed, LFE extends deep, with no reservations as to how far. Mounting a machine gun during the finale, Stallone becomes a lone army, each shell exiting the barrel joined by a stellar bump from the subwoofer. Of course, by this point, some volume correction probably brought things into focus.

Extras

Stallone’s production diary runs nearly as long as the movie at 83-minutes, a fantastic look behind-the-scenes, and better than Stallone’s solo commentary (although that’s worth a listen too, and part of the theatrical cut only). The first featurette is titled It’s a Long Road, an honest look at why this sequel happened when it did and why. Although, do note some of these statements (from 2007-ish) clash with the existence of the new sequel.

The Art of War dives into post-production, especially Stallone’s editing process. This runs 10-minutes. Additional pieces on the weapons and music fill gaps from elsewhere on the disc. Footage from the premiere doesn’t add much, but at least it’s featured. The most important bit on the disc is Legacy of Despair, detailing Burma’s ugly history. It’s not up to date, but focusing on the timeframe of Rambo brings light to a situation that received little press. Do note all of the extras reside on the 4K and Blu-ray.

Rambo
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

Angry, violent, and unafraid of showing everything, Rambo brings the character back as a dejected hero, divested from his country.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our Patreon-exclusive set of 34 full 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: