The explosions and gunfire in ‘First Blood’ aren’t what make it an action classic.

This 1982 classic values its words more than its weaponry.

First Blood
  • The first film in the Rambo series, First Blood, is not your usual action picture; it deals with serious issues such as police brutality and trauma while still offering spectacular pleasure.
  • Ted Kotcheff, the film’s director, brilliantly blends dramatic action with stunning photography, portraying nature’s grandeur and the protagonist’s solitary fear.
  • While First Blood offers plenty of action and thrills, it also takes the time to establish a rich and emotional plot, which sets it apart from other films in the category. It culminates in a dramatic climax that highlights Sylvester Stallone’s outstanding performance.

When you think of action films, you immediately think of absolute bombast. These are noisy films full of shooting, explosions, one-liners and a furious tone, always looking for a good time. It’s unusual for products in this genre to take their time to make you feel anything other than exhilaration, to have a good plot, or to have more than one-inch character depth.When you think of action pictures, you think of pure bombast. These are loud flicks with a lot of gunfire, explosions, one-liners, and a frantic tone that is constantly seeking for a good time. It’s uncommon for items in this genre to take their time making you feel anything other than ecstasy, to have a compelling narrative, or to have more than one-inch character depth.

One of the best is 1982’s First Blood, the first film in the Rambo franchise. For the most part, First Blood is a chase scene, complete with all the explosions and gunshots you’d anticipate, but tempered with a peaceful atmosphere that allows the audience to absorb in its weightier thoughts on police violence and trauma. Forty years later, the film remains not just the finest in the series, but also one of the greatest action films ever created.

Those unfamiliar with the Rambo franchise may mistake every installment in the series for the same sort of film, and they would not be entirely wrong. The majority of this series is standard action filmmaking 101, with a jacked lead shooting countless rounds of shots at legions of faceless baddies. The explosions keep coming, and the films keep getting bloodier as they are created. However, John Rambo’s (Sylvester Stallone) big-screen debut in First Blood is a straightforward, emotional tale. Despite the fact that it is an action picture, First Blood is about more than simply the action.

The First Rambo Film Was Inspired by a Novel

The film is an adaptation of David Morrell’s 1972 novel of the same name. The original novel contains a harsher tale than the eventual film, which would be headed by Stallone. The Rocky star utilised his power to have some adjustments made from the novel to the big screen in order to make the primary character more sympathetic. In the film adaptation, Rambo goes to tremendous measures to protect himself, but unlike in the book, he never directly kills anybody. Stallone set out to create a figure that viewers would care about, and he succeeded admirably.

While Stallone was significantly involved in bringing the persona to the big screen, Ted Kotcheff would be the director. Kotcheff and cinematographer Andrew Laszlo shoot most of the film in wide views, depicting the stunning natural scenery of British Columbia (which serves as a stand-in for Washington) on a massive scale. Rambo spends much of the film walking or sprinting while surrounded by a sea of trees, unending white water rapids, and towering waterfalls.The way Kotcheff crams so much natural beauty into these images, positioning Rambo in the midst of it all, generates a sense of both amazement and solitary anxiety. It’s a cozy-looking film as you go around the little town of Hope, Washington, and its surrounding forests, but it also has a real sense of dread as you wonder where one of Rambo’s threats may emerge from.

‘First Blood’ Moves More Slowly Than Most Action Films

First Blood takes its time telling its narrative, and this choice of pace enriches it. Rambo is initially seen in the film heading around the bend of a mountain down a long dirt road. On his quest for his old friend Delmar Barry, who served with Rambo in Vietnam, he stumbles upon a little village curled up alongside a long, clean lake. The scene opens with bright, joyful music and the sounds of children playing, but the tone rapidly darkens when Rambo begins conversing with a woman in town.Rambo explains his connection with Barry in a shot that lasts little more than a minute. Kotcheff allows the dialogue to linger, and Stallone’s performance is just long enough that you know what’s going to happen before anything is spoken. Stallone’s expression changes from calm astonishment to serious acceptance as the audience hears that Barry died from cancer complications. It’s an outstanding performance. This sequence, which occurs just around the four-minute mark, tells you all you need to know. This isn’t Die Hard or Point Break; First Blood is on an other level entirely.

He then travels to Hope, Washington, where he is promptly hounded by Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy). He informs Rambo that the community does not like drifters and takes him to the outskirts of town, where Rambo turns around and returns to Hope. Teasle, enraged, captures Rambo and transports him to the police station, where he is constantly abused and provoked by police officials. Their treatment of him sets off his PTSD, bringing back unsettling memories of his time in Vietnam.This ongoing preparation just intensifies the eventual action. These early episodes not only add to the complexity and depth of Rambo’s character, but also make him sympathetic. Not only that, but Kotcheff gives you all you need to know about Hope’s law enforcement in just a few scenes—they’re just a bored collection of cops who, once they have someone to push around, will wring their situation completely dry, even if it means driving someone to the brink.

‘First Blood’ Is a Subdued Action Movie

Rambo makes his way out of the police station and into the forest in no time. The film’s protracted chase and, more significantly, action truly take flight here. While the action set pieces in First Blood aren’t the most fun in the world, they are spectacular, and the sombre tone stops the picture from being too lighthearted. Throughout, there is an exhilarating music by Jerry Goldsmith, but for the most part, Ketchoff lets the film’s sound breathe with the noises of nature.The film’s sound is so quiet that you’re always listening for anyone who could be approaching, which works well with the film’s wide open photography. It’s quite nice when the tables shift and the cops realise they’re the ones being sought instead of the other way around. The picture achieves a few audience-pleasing moments as Rambo continues to fight back but never kills them. First and first, this is a story and character-driven picture, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t give thrills.

Without giving anything away, the film finally culminates in a sequence in which Stallone delivers maybe the best scene of his career. Rambo dramatically explains his post-Vietnam everyday mental and social challenges in two long takes. Stallone is extremely impressive in this role. Despite the film’s exhilarating nature, this moment completes the film’s apparent intentions: the narrative of a Vietnam veteran who gave so much for his nation but received so little in return. It’s a sequence that the rest of the franchise seems to have forgotten. While the other Rambo films are entertaining, it’s strange to imagine that a crazy action series was born in the aftermath of this one.It’s a similar predicament to Stallone’s Rocky trilogy, which began modestly with a picture that placed a great focus on plot but gradually devolved into typical blockbuster filmmaking. That’s not always a bad thing; the Rocky pictures are fun, as are most Rambo films, but they seldom return to what made their original flicks so wonderful in the first place. Four sequels and forty years later, the Rambo series would have a lot of fun, but it would never be as excellent or return to its calmer, serious origins discovered in First Blood, one of the best action films of all time.

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