Completely Misunderstood — First Blood (1982)

Posted: August 24, 2010 in Alex Miller, Film, Reviews
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[Reviewed by: Alex Miller]

Better known as “Rambo 1” these days, First Blood by itself is actually a classic piece of American cinema. But wait it was just a big action flick with a lot of killing and no story right? Wrong! People who say that either didn’t understand the movie or have had their memories of it erased by the sequels. Something people don’t even remember is that only 1 person actually gets killed in the ENTIRE movie, and it’s more or less an accident even in that case. This film is actually a look at how the public treated Vietnam Veterans shortly after the war. Sylvester Stallone even describes it as a modern-day Frankenstein in that we (the American public) made him that way and we refused to accept him. Col. Trautman could also be looked at like the scientist. “God didn’t make Rambo, I made him!” Let’s take another look and see exactly why it’s not the brainless action flick the parodies and the sequels would have us believe.

They just don’t make them like this anymore. This film was made for a fourth of the price but was infinitely better when compared to its sequels. What truly makes it stand out in my eyes is the character John J. Rambo. He isn’t an invincible, emotion-less, killer. Not in this movie, anyway. He’s a well-trained Veteran, who spends half the movie crying, having flashbacks that drive him to the brink of insanity, and goes out of his way NOT to kill the people chasing after him. Although he is the center-figure, about 20 minutes in we start to see him through the eyes of everyone around him. Rambo is quiet and scared. It is in fact the Colonel who’s warnings make us fear him not Rambo himself.

“I don’t think you understand. I didn’t come to rescue Rambo from you. I came here to rescue you from him. “–Col. Trautman

When we actually hear Rambo talk, it’s totally different.  He really doesn’t want to hurt anybody, he just wants to live a normal life but is somehow unable to.

“[Surrenders] There’s one man dead! It was not my fault! I don’t want anymore hurt!”–Rambo

This recalls the story of Frankenstein who accidentally kills a young boy in the woods not knowing his strength.  Rambo was merely trying to avoid getting shot so he hurls a rock in retaliation which causes the man to fall out of the helicopter he is hanging out of.

“It wasn’t my war! You asked me, I didn’t ask you! And I did what I had to do to win! But somebody wouldn’t let us win! And I come back to the world and I see all those maggots at the airport, protesting me, spitting. Calling me baby killer and all kinds of vile crap! Who are they to protest me? Who are they? Unless they’ve been me and been there and know what the hell they’re yelling about!”–Rambo

This is a large theme in Frankenstein, the abandonment by the creator.

“I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.”–Victor Frankenstein

Now don’t get me wrong, this IS an action film.  From helicopter chase scenes to blowing up gas stations, its got plenty of violence.  I think it was all very well-executed.  All the stunts were real, there was no CGI.  Stallone actually had to fall down a tree and his screaming is real.  A stuntman broke his back while doing a big jump in the police chase.  It all translates into the film being very believable when in reality it has no right to be.  One man, Green Beret or not, would not be able to hold up long against 200 National Guardsmen.  Yet during the film you don’t really question it that much.  The sequels are a different story.  As if by definition, sequels are always trying to be bigger than the first.  Rambo never delivers a one-liner in the film (although the Col. does).  But having watched the sequels, you would think one-liners were all he knew how to say.  I actually think, as action films, the sequels work, but it is a shame that sometimes sequels retroactively harm the originals.  In this case, helping make us forget that the first was more than just action.  In any event, having action/violence doesn’t mean a movie can’t be deep.  This is further shown in even more violent but deep films about Vietnam like Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket .

If the sequels weren’t over-the-top enough to make you forget how good First Blood is, the parodies were.  The character is just so well-conceived that he has become a subliminal staple of American society.  People spoof Rambo without even knowing it.  Hell, I bet a fair amount of Army Soldiers will admit in private that the character Rambo had something to do with them joining the military.  It’s possible even the military training itself was influenced by the movie.  I went to survival training in the same exact woods they shot the movie in, quite a coincidence.  Like the movie or not it’s embedded in our culture. Although, the parodies of Rambo are always exaggerated beyond belief.  They usually talk in a low whispered voice (apparently trying to repress their rage) and speak in the language of the one-liner. Hot Shots: Part Deux is probably the funniest example of a Rambo spoof.

“Listen, I’m not saying I don’t trust you and I’m not saying I do, but I don’t.”–Hot Shots: Part Deux

People’s perceptions of a film change over time and that’s normal.  Time, sequels, and parodies can do a lot to alter your memory.  However, if you get a chance take another look at the original that started it all.  It started it all for a reason.  It’s damn good.  Not all good movies have to be artsy dramas.  They don’t need to have subtitles to be deep.  Classic films come in all shapes and sizes.  This one comes in XL.



  1. Lauren says:

    I was just thinking about this movie the other day. Everyone knows about the Rambo movies but I only saw it for the first time about a year and a half ago. I had seen so many spoofs I thought I knew what it would be about. I was really surprised when I watched the movie to learn that it was set here and that it really wasnt some bloody mess like I expected. There is plenty of fireworks and moments that get you on edge.. but because of the story behind it its so much more than your typical action movie. Its one of my favorites, it really is a classic, and I hope those who havent seen it will give it a chance.. it may surprise you as well! Thanks for reviewing this :)

  2. […] Completely Misunderstood — First Blood (1982) […]

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