First Blood showed me a different kind of Rambo: the original. The Rambo in First Blood is a young man with needlessly long hair, a troubling past, and a severe chip on his shoulder. In these ways he isn’t much different from Stallone’s portrayal. But what sets book Rambo apart from movie Rambo lies within his personality. Whereas Rambo in the movies is called to action, Rambo in the novel in many ways seeks it out. Perhaps the biggest difference of all is that the story we read in First Blood is that of a killer.

Through the novel and the movie, the long term effects of war on veterans has remained a central theme to Rambo’s story. However, both mediums take different approaches to its portrayal. In the movies, Rambo is severely traumatized and never seeks to take a life without reason. In the novel, Rambo retains an element of apprehension towards conflict. But at the same time he still pushes for it. The story of First Blood centers on Rambo and Teasle’s push-pull effect on each other, how they continuously pressed the other’s buttons until finally both of them snapped. Rambo admonishes himself for his own role in bringing forth the war which ensues, but Rambo’s acknowledgment of his own responsibility in the situation isn’t enough to stay his hand or change the path of his bullets. In the novel, he’s a machine and the only reason people escape from him is because he’s injured or made a mistake.

So how does a story like Rambo’s become such a blockbuster? Sylvester Stallone’s star power played a role; however, the story was already set to be adapted even before he was cast and started making revisions. As someone who has now read First Blood before seeing the movie, I was disappointed to learn of the tone down of violence but these changes allowed for the film to become a series. His actions increased the story’s marketability not only as a series but as a standalone film. Otherwise, there comes a point in the story where Rambo becomes difficult to sympathize with. I would assume for many that it would be right around the time he starts taking aim at civilians, whether for self-defense or not. This becomes an especially hard sell when once the reader learns that there’s a pride in Rambo, part of him that acknowledges that deep down he wanted to show off his skills in slaughter.

Stallone’s revisions to the plot painted Rambo as more of a hero with Sheriff Teasle as an outright antagonist. But Teasle in the novel was significantly more human and ventured through his own struggles with pride, lost love, and the guilt for the loss of his family and men. By the end, both men remained enemies but had come to somewhat appreciate the other’s perspective and thus shared a mutual respect and understanding for how things ought to end between them. There’s a beauty in that bitter rivalry.

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