Not many movies are, at the same time, both open and impervious to the clarifying effects of a digitally remastered, high-definition makeover as "First Blood." The 1982 movie is an entertaining camp classic, which tries to walk a line between over-the-top action and social issues. Yet rarely have said ingredients exploded together into such a thrilling mess as in this movie.
As it's influenced countless imitators during the 25 years since its release (not to mention its own three sequels), "First Blood" and its post-Vietnam, Reagan-inspired worldview have become ever less easy to evaluate. This new release, spiffed up and set for a one-night-only, 450-theater nationwide event May 15, supposedly sports an alternate ending that might clear up what makes Rambo tick. In the original version, however, the character's clear initial motivations are confused by a finale that seems to reveal another personality entirely.
It's easy enough to see why Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), "an expert in guerrilla warfare," would want first to ambush the bullying sheriff (Brian Dennehy) and his deputies, wage a private war with them in the mountains, and then single-handedly burn down their entire town. They picked on him. They drew first blood.
By the time the town is destroyed and Col. Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna) has arrived to quell Rambo by talking some sense to him, whatever his muscle-bound pupil has to say is beside the point. He's already outrun screaming police cruisers on a dirt bike, brought down a helicopter with a rock, saved himself by jumping off a cliff, stitched up his own wounds, confounded police dogs, run through roadblocks in a military truck and brought down entire city blocks with an M-60 heavy machine gun.
Why Rambo then decided to go on a diatribe about winning the Vietnam War was inconsequential at the time, a mystery since, and not likely to be illuminated by any remastering. Maybe the new ending will clear things up, but touching up his battle of wits and weapons with Sheriff Teasle and putting it back on the big screen is more than enough reason to surrender to "First Blood." (R) 94 min. S