Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How fun painstakingly bad can be

Last night I watched a DVD containing what is probably the worst big production movie ever made. The funny thing about it is that I saw it when it was first released and don’t remember having had the same reaction, I certainly don’t recall having been completely shocked at the lack of as much as a speck of quality, be it acting, storyline, musical score or dialog. It dates back to 1985 and after having given it a lot of thought I guess what has happened since is simply that movies are better. Either that or bad movies just don’t age well. Any more than bad books do.

I know that the movie had everything going for it at the time; it was a follow up to a huge blockbuster based on a character from a very popular book that I read and liked at the time – although I would not chance reading it again considering how ridiculous I found the film (it should be noted that this was a sequel and had nothing to do with the book aside from the main character). But, despite having had a huge budget, a big star and a screenwriter that would go on to become “master of the universe” – the movie today has the feel of a production by teenagers. The movie was Rambo: First Blood Part II.

So what was so wrong with it, why did I laugh more than feel the thrill it was supposed to evoke? Here are a few samples of why:

At some point Rambo lost half of his clothes and was naked from the waist up for the rest of the movie. I do not recall this having happened for any particular reason, in one scene he was fully dressed in combat gear, in the next wearing nothing but oil and bronzer, pants aside. To me it is unclear for what part of the audience this was done, I am pretty sure this look does not appeal to many women. Especially after he had ripped off a part of a dead woman’s dress off to make himself a headband with no apparent function. (Lesson to screenwriters – less is not always more).

There are a couple of scenes in a room that one of the characters describes in terms similar to “filled with the best technology available to man”. All of the actors are super impressed when they see the clunky computers stacked against the walls, although they all also look a bit nauseous due to the green hue that the text on the tube screens throws into the room. In the next to final scene Rambo brings in a machine gun and shoots the room and the goofy looking computers to shreds in a fit of agitation and anger. This is supposed to be quite shocking seeing how valuable and awe inspiring the technology is, but this is lost on today’s viewers, one knows that the computer in an average oven clock has more capacity than all of the computers in the movie combined. (Lesson to screenwriters – avoid making technology central to any scene)

The plot was about as watertight as a sieve. Vietcong is keeping 6 American soldiers captive, men that they captured during the war in Vietnam (which ended in 1975 or 10 years before the movie is supposed to take place). These men are used as farmhands and since labor is such a valuable commodity in this area the Vietcong has a whole army watching over them to make sure no one escapes or is rescued. The men sleep behind bamboo bars that would not keep a kitten contained. This might be the reason that, offhand the ratio of prisoner to soldier is about 1:30. But this is not enough as the Russians are also in the area to make sure the captives remain just that, when these soldiers are added to the mix it is a wonder the prisoners haven’t been trampled to death by accident. But these numbers are no match for Rambo, armed with only a knife and a bow, after having lost all of his weapons in an odd parachuting incident where he gets caught up in a seatbelt when jumping out of the plane taking him into the forest. (Lesson to screenwriters – read up on labor costs and also: no one thinks the main character is going to die parachuting at the beginning of a movie)

Rambo takes on these two armies that, due to some mix up in the costume department, wear three different types of uniforms so you are not sure who is who at points. He starts off by killing them one by one, my favorite killing was one where a Russian is running around searching for Rambo, stopping to look around next to a tall bank of mud. All of the sudden the bank of mud has two eyes and - lo and behold – Rambo has covered himself with mud and made himself one with the bank. He kills the unsuspecting soldier. (Lesson to screenwriters: never overstretch “the right man in the right place”)

The Russians and the Vietcong are evil. They torture Rambo and one of the prisoners. This, and the keeping of 6 men captive and forcing them to work in rice fields, is supposed to make the viewer upset at the savagery and sheer evil of this master ploy. This does however seem a bit insignificant when the body count begins to tick – Rambo kills a man a minute, Vietcong and Russian soldiers that can’t be any less human than the 6 soldiers Rambo is out to save. (Lesson to screenwriters: Never kill more people than you are out to save).

Oh there are so many other things I would like to mention but won’t – it would be to long for a blog. Seeing is believing, I really recommend to those that have an hour and a half to spare to see the movie. I promise you more laughs than you can expect from an average comedy. Including the most preposterous love scene I can recall –oh how fleeting love can be. But if you don't want to, something I can understand) here is the mud scene mentioned above, be sure to also enjoy the wonderful music that accompanies it.

Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. Yrsa, unless viewed as a comedy, forcing someone to watch this movie would be a violations of the Geneva Conventions. (Does anyone remember those old-fashioned agreements?)

    There was that brief time in what was not the Golden Age of Cinema when Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were thought of as actors. Arnold has announced that next year, when he can't be governor anymore, he is going to resume his movie career. He was born in 1947 and he plans to return as the Terminator. Who will he be terminating? It can't be easy being an action hero when wearing bifocals.

    Stallone was born in 1946, no longer quite the buff man he was Rambo or Rocky. If he tried running up the stairs as he did in the penultimate scene in "Rocky", there would have to be an oxygen tank at the top.

    Talent they did not have. Chutzpah they had in abundance as they laughed all the way to their banks.

    The man in the mud reminded of me of Majory, the trash heap, in "Fraggle Rock". It was less silly when the Muppets did it.


  2. Beth,

    Being, as I am, in California, I think it safe to say that the ex-governor never gave up his Terminator role...exhibit A the fiscal state of his state.

    As for Rocky, I always loved his Bullwinkle exploits.

  3. Bless you, Yrsa -- funniest thing I've read all week.

  4. The governator and Rambo/Rocky were in a Stallone written and directed movie called "The Expendable". It did well at the box office largely in part, I assume, that the young people who keep movie theatres alive saw it as a comedy - Grandpa as action hero.

    Was Stallone's sense of humor in play when he choose the title?


  5. So you don´t like Rambo? ;)

    I think it´s a bit like when my students ask me to let them see some old horror film when we have read a couple of horror stories. I saw Stephen King´s Carrie a few years ago, and the crude special effects only made us laugh.

  6. Hello all - I have now watched half of the third installment of this Rambo thing and unfortunately "the third time is the charm" does not apply. It starts off with Rambo living in a Buddist monestary (and yes - there are very many steps leading up to it). But this peaceful existance was not what fate intended for him so before you know it he is in Afghanistan on a rescue mission to save an old army buddy that has been captured by the Russians. The first scene with the Russian head army honco was so cheesy that it was unbearable. He sat behind a desk, in front of him a chess board and a bottle of vodka. Lenin was hanging in a frame behind him. Is that the best they could do? A Russian with a chess board? It would be interesting to do a survey on how many Russian movie characters have one or both of these items close by, i.e. vodka and a chess set.

    Anyway - I gave up when Rambo began playing some kind of polo on horseback with a dead sheep with Afgahn freedom fighters that we now know as the Taliban. I could take no more and turned it off.