Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Reel 30

“They drew first blood, not me.”
This month marks the 30th anniversary of FIRST BLOOD; Sylvester Stallone’s debut of the John Rambo character.

Often mistaken for a blood-and-guts, mindless shoot-em-up film, FIRST BLOOD was a post-Vietnam psychological thriller; a trait which would separate it from its own sequels and eventual copy-cats.
Directed by Ted Kotcheff, it was adapted from David Morrell’s 1972 novel of the same name. After years of being stuck in development, the film gained momentum when Sylvester Stallone was cast as John Rambo, the troubled Vietnam Veteran who was now a jobless wanderer in the Pacific U.S. Stallone, who was fresh off a few bombs and flops outside of his own ROCKY franchise, beat out names such as Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Nick Nolte, John Travolta, Dustin Hoffman, James Garner, Kris Kristofferson and Michael Douglas for the role (Douglas would later be cast as Col. Trautman, Rambo’s mentor and Commanding Officer before dropping out). Stallone’s star-power enabled him to influence some alterations to the script; the original novel and screenplay had Rambo committing suicide at the end. Stallone, who once toyed with the idea of his own Rocky Balboa dying in the ring, kept the man alive at the end, and also took many steps to make the character more sympathetic to the audience (the original idea was for Rambo to be a madman). Stallone’s changes paid off, as audiences were able to click with the character, and Rambo’s survival would eventually lead to three sequels, an animated TV series, several spin-off novels, and action figures.

FIRST BLOOD wound up as one of the best reviewed films of 1982, and Empire magazine would rank it as one of its 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. It gave Stallone another monster of a franchise of his own, and more importantly, drew attention to the thousands of traumatized and forgotten Vietnam Veterans who had come home to nothing.

As a wee-lad with family connections to the Vietnam War and the famed Green Berets (of which Rambo was one), FIRST BLOOD was one of those cool films which always seemed more mature and a step above the other films of the 1980’s which focused more on booms and bangs than characters, stories, and motivations. Still, the film inspired this younger Blogger and his friends and cousins to “play Rambo” in the back woods with toy guys and stick-traps. Years later, as wisdom and a beer-gut sinks in, the significance of FIRST BLOOD is clear; it’s focus on a Vietnam Veteran’s adjustment back to the civilized world, along with well-written and well-executed psychological mind games to this day separates the film from the many, many action films which would follow. The filmmakers of the eventual DIE HARD Part 37 would do well to remember FIRST BLOOD.

“God didn’t make Rambo…”


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