Francis Bear Vs Sylvester Stallone

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Well not quite, but a guest post by the author of Francis Bear*, Silent Army comic artist Gregory Mackay ( Francis Bear, Terminal, Syndrome, Morrisey Minor etc ), flexing his military-buff chops here to dissect Sylvester Stallone’s latest military entertainment fireworks. ( *Week in and week out, Francis Bear’s review of Scott McCloud‘s Making Comics remains one of the most popular posts on skynoise. )

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The fourth film in the Rambo legend has a few, perhaps unintentional qualities which make the film more entertaining than first intended. As an action film the story is generally secondary but in this version of the Rambo myth, Rambo is redeemed back to his former self by enacting the will of a Christian organisation going to its doom in the jungles of Myanmar. Rambo once again employs his typical Green Beret load out from previous films. In this case however Stallone revisits the blacksmith qualities of Rambo, cut from previous films, to make a handy Machete from a truck leafspring. It reminds a little of the Jawbone of a donkey used by Samson to smite some heathens. The famous knife maker Gil Hibben, who was responsible for all previous Rambo knives, was also asked to create this new monstrosity. It takes a great craftsman; it seems, to turn to a lump of truck into a sharp Rambo lump of truck. Rambo also makes a handy propeller for his boat out of some rebar.

The film takes advantage of the Digital Intermediate process, which enables digital manipulation and colour grading before a negative is printed. The cinematographer takes full advantage of this method showing of skills he learned on the Martin Short masterpiece “Jiminy Glick in Lalawood”.

In interview Stallone has remarked on the subtlety of the Christian overtones of this film. The crucifix hanging from his wrist as he performs the last rites of the heathen with a 50 calibre machine gun is about as subtle as you can get. Also rescuing a bunch of peace loving missionaries from themselves is also pretty righteous, as long as you have a bow and arrow. Why does Rambo carry a bow anyhow? In particular a Hoyt recurve bow. Firstly the fisherman angle of hunting fishes out of the river, secondly the silent a deadly state-trained mass murderer angle. The bow does not reveal your position to the enemy and nothing says ‘situation pear-shaped’ like an arrow in the head.

One thing really intrigues me about this film. The evil militia are forcibly recruiting soldiers from the villagers the missionaries are trying to brainwash. Rambo then has to save the Missionaries and villagers from the assaulting evil militia. This means that Rambo is in fact killing the villagers who are working against their will for the militia, and is indirectly performing the ethnic cleansing the militia has been tasked to complete. Thus the moral fibre of the enemy is reversed, they look like militia but are mostly villagers forced to be such, sort of a ‘reverse terrorist’ or unwilling combatant. This makes Rambo’s twilight world of post traumatic stress a little easier to understand as he attempts to redeem himself as some kind of righteous warrior in an obviously confusing scenario. It also helps that the evil militiamen’s commander is a paedophile and must be killed! The use of large calibre rifles and machine guns is also interesting. The film is rated R in Australia because of limbs and heads flying off after the catastrophic attentions of a Rambo commandeered Browning M2 machine gun. The realistic effect of these weapons is more disturbing than simple limb and torso detachment widely seen in the film. In reality bodies in contact with this type of high energy round are dispersed rather like gel or other similarly dense liquid. A bullet like this passing close to you carries enough energy to kill you, mostly from pulmonary barotrauma (exploding lungs). Limbs flying off are far more ‘Rambo’ then someone simply disintegrating or dropping dead.

Made under protection in Thailand from the Thai army, the film borrows heavily from the plight of the entirely underrated Free Burma Rangers who it is said inspired the movie. The first minute of the film is filmed by the FBR in Burma. The FBR is kind of represented in the movie as the rebels who show up now and again in the film somehow attached to the plight of the missionaries and generally saving the day. A great Rambo flashback is also incorporated into the early stages of the film with the use of an unused alternate ending from First Blood where Rambo is killed by his creator Col. Trautmen.

The film ends with a five minute continuous take of Rambo walking along a country road and disappearing into a far off building presumably to be meet his dad; it’s pretty much a shot of grass growing, unless you’re distracted by the credits. It represents a kind of fin de siècle for the Rambo legend with Rambo finally getting to where he was going to before Brian Dennehy pissed him off in the first movie. Stallone however will now go on to write and direct his next feature ‘Poe’ about the great and varied life of Edgar Allen Poe (no machine guns) (( Apparently this is true – jp ))

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( Am inserting obligatory reference to Rambo death chart here, in which the “Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies at Ohio University” neatly maps the evolution in violence across the Rambo franchise. In short – everything increases exponentially, except for the number of men killed by Rambo wearing no shirt ( decreases dramatically ), and the number of Rambo sex scenes – a steady zero. )

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3 Comments

  1. In a scene reminiscent of Rambo’s inner turmoil, I’ve struggled not to leave this comment, not fearful of a Gods judgment like Mr Rambo, just worried that I’m the pedantic film buff I try not to be… Gill Hibben designed the knives in Rambo 3 and 4, but it was Jimmy Lile who designed the knives from First Blood and Rambo. ahhh… that feels soooo much better…..

  2. Thanks for the clarification minty d. . I know Rambo Mission Knives are an involute subject but Lile was rejected by Stallone after making prototypes for Rambo 3 and being replaced by Hibben. For some reason I lumped Hibben with Mission knives from First Blood and Rambo instead of clarifying that Lile carried the title.. Maybe I was too keen to explain the scene where John shoots that guy in the head with an arrow. As fear as edged wepons go Lile for me is the Harley Earl of mission knives whereas Hibben is like George Barris. Maybe we can settle this with a knife fight?

  3. Pingback: skynoise » Francis Bear Reviews Larry Gonick

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