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Blu-ray Reviews: First Blood

Last updated 29 June 2009

First Blood cover First Blood
1982 - Universal Pictures (Australasia) Pty Ltd
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy, Jack Starrett, Michael Talbott, Chris Mulkey, John McLiam and David Caruso

Movie: 4 Picture: 4 Sound: 4 Extras: 1

First Blood (HD DVD)

Originally published in Sound and Image, Oct/Nov 2007, v.21#2

Well this is it, the movie that spawned the universal term of anti-militaristic abuse: Rambo. Sly is Rambo, and effectively reprises his acting and character from the original Rocky. The Rambo epithet came, I suspect, from those who either never saw the original movie (and certainly never read the quite nuanced novel upon which it was based). Rambo as the targeted WMD appeared in the sequels. In this his goal is merely to preserve his life and mental integrity.

The movie is sympathetic to Vietnam veterans, to the point of an embarrassingly hackneyed speech by John Rambo near the end. Before that, the movie is an involving tale of survival of a highly competent survivalist, being chased by hundreds intent on destroying him.

The VC1 video encoding on this movie does a startling job. It doesn't resurrect it from being a little old, but it makes the movie look, well, just like it did at the cinema all those years ago. There isn't an apparent increase in sharpness compared to the DVD, but where it shines is in the distant background images which become discernible on HD DVD, but turn to mush on the DVD.

For some reason the sound is presented on DTS Master Audio in 5.1 channels. That sound standard is about as good as it gets, but since the movie was recorded in the early 1980s for presentation in standard 'Dolby Stereo' (the cinematic term for what is known in the home theatre world as Dolby Pro Logic), about all it guarantees is that the original sound is faithfully delivered. There is some use of the surrounds, but it still sounds dated.

The disc also has a moderately useful video configuration screen (for brightness and contrast setting), and an audio configuration element for balancing your speaker's channels.

Later thoughts in 2008: Has this movie been undergoing a general reassessment of late? One of the fields on my DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD database is for the IMDB rating, and the date on which I checked the rating. For this movie the date on my DVD entry for First Blood is 18 April 2005 and the rating is 6.8 out of 10. But today, on 16 July 2008, the IMDB rating is 7.3. That's a big swing in three years. It is possible that I mis-transcribed the figure, I suppose, although I'm inclined to think I was accurate.

Running time: 93 minutes
Picture: 2.35:1 anamorphic, 1080p24, VC1
Sound: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 3/2.1; German, French: DTS-HD High Resolution 3/2.1 @ 1,536kbps
Subtitles: English, French, German, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Extras: HD promo (4 mins); Audio and Video configuration screens

First Blood Blu-ray cover

First Blood (Blu-ray)

Not previously published

Blu-ray note: after a bit-by-bit comparison of 257 frames, the video encode appears to be identical to the HD DVD.

Running time: 93 minutes
Picture: 2.35:1 anamorphic, 1080p24, VC1 @ 17.05Mbps
Sound: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 16/48 3/2.1 @ 1834kbps (Core: DTS 16/48 3/2.1 @ 1536kbps); German, French: DTS-HD High Resolution 3/2.1 @ 2.046kbps (Core: DTS 16/48 3/2.1 @ 1536kbps); Portuguese, Spanish x 2: DTS 16/48 2/2.0 @ 1536kbps
Subtitles: English, Portuguese, Danish, German, Spanish, French, Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish
Extras: Featurette: 'Sly vs Rambo Interview - Paris 2008' (1080i50, VC1, DTS2.0 @ 768kbps - 9 mins); Audio and Video configuration screens
Restrictions: Rated M (Australian rating); Locked to Regions A and B

This is the video bitrate graph for this movie, generated by BDInfo 0.5.2:

First Blood video bitrate graph

Comparison: Blu-ray vs PAL DVD

Here are some comparisons between the PAL DVD and the Blu-ray version of this movie. The DVD is the Australian Universal release 8226697A. The Blu-ray is the Studio Canal version issued in Australia by Studio Canal, and it unlikely to be the same as the US version.

In the following examples, at the top of each is the full frame (suitably shrunk down) used in the comparison, with a 250 pixel wide detail from the frame underneath. The left side is from the PAL DVD. The image was captured digitally from the disc, scaled up from its native 720 by 576 resolution to 1,024 by 576 (to present in the 16:9 aspect ratio), and then, in order to be comparable to the Blu-ray version, from that to 1,920 by 1,080. The detail is from that last scaled version, and has not been rescaled again. The right side is from the Australian Blu-ray. This has not been scaled at all.

The detail is from that last scaled version, and has not been rescaled again. The right side is from the Australian Blu-ray. This has not been scaled at all. Different applications were used to capture the two frames, so I am not comfortable comparing the colour between the two, merely the detail and sharpness. For visitors from NTSC lands, generally the PAL DVD is just a touch sharper than the NTSC DVD.

For reasons which aren't entirely clear to me, chrome and general metallic looks seem much more real in Blu-ray than in DVD:

Comparison 1

Blu-ray detail rules when it comes to hair, and also the small lines of a young Horatio's forehead:

Comparison 2

Comparison 3

The loss of resolution in the DVD makes Stallone's right eye loop droopy, giving him the appearance of having had a stroke:

Comparison 4

Here are a couple of crops from the same frame. The first allows you to admire the realism of the rockface behind Rambo's falling body -- with the Blu-ray, anyway, for the DVD washes out all detail:

Comparison 5

Comparison 5a

Even if the aftermath of Rambo's ministrations, the greater Blu-ray detail is useful:

Comparison 6

© 2002-2009, Stephen Dawson