Blog Archives

Rambo, (2008)

Written by: Art Monterastelli and Sylvester Stallone (with, natch, due credit acknowledgements to David Morrell).

Directed by: Sylvester Stallone

A fair old while ago, while (whilst?) attempting to justify my fondness for The Brotherhood of The Wolf to a friend of mine, I wrote the following words:

Firstly, it’s because I think bits of this are the best Sword and Sorcery film, ever.

[…]

(Parenthetically, the other best serious Sword and Sorcery film of recent times, I think, is the fourth Rambo film.)

Was I pissed, I wonder, or had I simply run mad? Well, quite possibly; but I still agree with myself, to be fair…

The lengthy (and excellent) entry on ‘Sword and Sorcery’ in the John Clute and John Grant edited The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, [1997, and henceforth EoF] (the S & S entry was written by Clute and contributing editors Dave Langford and Roz Kaveney) begins thusly (words in CAPS, here and afterwards, are EoF cross-references):

In 1961, Michael MOORCOCK requested a term to describe the the fantasy subgenre featuring muscular HEROES in violent conflict with a variety of VILLAINS, chiefly WIZARDS, WITCHES, evil SPIRITS and other creatures whose powers are — unlike the hero’s — supernatural in origin [915]

Now, it seems we might have struck a problem straight away here with the requirement of the villains’ powers to be “supernatural in origin”, but, I’d aver, by choosing as the story’s backdrop the the horrifying and ongoing conflict in Burma, the scenes where the soldiers of the military regime prey on villagers with mines, sub-machine guns, etc. have the same effect (in literary terms) as the destruction of peasant villages with magic and supernatural weapons in a more “traditional” S&S tale. [1]

Too, setting the film in the jungles of the Thailand/Burma border make it easier to imagine the tale taking place in the WATER MARGINS of a LAND OF FABLE, particularly as the EoF entry continues:

The geography of S&S is designed as an arena for heroes and heroines who awake each morning at the beginning of their lives; it is designed for more to happen [915].

This is certainly true here.

So, Rambo. By presenting him here as a virtually elemental force of nature (EoF: “the hero (and from an early stage the heroine) of S&S does not age in the mind’s eye; he or she fights on for ever, in the dawn of the day we do not wish to end.” [915]) the portrayal of Rambo here is, in fact, the best screen version of Conan yet filmed (and the eternally buff Stallone, in his Rambo mode, even looks more like Conan than anyone else ever has. Too, in Rambo, before travelling down the heart-of-darkness river to the main action of film, he doesn’t tool up with hi-tech weaponry in the modern action film mode, but, rather, forges a sword…)

Ah, Conan, and Robert E. Howard.

Penguin Modern Classics in the UK recently (2009) issued an edition of Howard’s stories, selected and with an introduction by John Clute. In this piece, Clute says, of Howard:

here is a young man in rural Texas, late at night in his bedroom, typing a story. So caught up is he in the thrust of creation, that (as his neighbours have attested) he is shouting the tale aloud into the night…[x]

And in his review of a collection of Conan stories from 2001 (collected in Scores: Reviews 1993-2003), Clute says of Howard’s writing:

It does not stop for a second. It is full-blown with the hard clarity and momentum of some rare dream not subject to paraphrase, as though Conan and story that tells him were coterminous [328].

This is why Rambo is a great Sword and Sorcery film. Stallone actually says in one of the featurettes on the DVD that his directorial idea was that the film was “directed by Rambo”; and the (admittedly, by some standards at any rate, barkingly OTT) violence recalls nothing so much as the delirious, frenzied, unstoppable intensity of the action scenes of Howard’s best fantasy stories. If Howard had lived long enough to write screenplays for the films we have now, surely this would have been one of them…

And finally, measured against today’s bloated running-times, Rambo’s 92 minutes or so renders it virtually a short story, just like Howards 70-80 year-old yarns for Weird Tales….

.

[1] In purely structural terms, at least. I’m conscious here of the potential to appear extremely insensitive and oavish. Rambo is set against a real, and desperate and heartbreaking situation, of course, but (for reasons of utter unqualification) I’m not commenting on that, or the film’s presentation of it, here — merely its (genuine, I think) merit as a work of fiction…