Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Renting 'Rambo'

My friends in fourth grade had seen “Rambo” and it’d been out on VHS for only a few days. Explosions, helicopters, automatic weapons and rocket launchers -- I couldn’t see the movie soon enough.

My parents had recently divorced, and being the oldest boy in the family, I was tasked to take over the “man things” in the house like open the pickle jar for my mom when the cap was on too tight, kill predator bugs when they got past our front door and keep our VCR from blinking 12:00 after power outages. “Rambo” was necessary viewing if I wanted to battle bigger problems facing our suburban household.

Bad guys were everywhere in the mid-‘80s. Just ask my mom -- she made us come inside when it got dark because of the dangers in the night. I bet Rambo never had to worry about coming in early.

Around this time, the VCR was still fairly new to my family, and Friday nights were for renting videos. When my mom got home from work, she’d take my sister, my brother and me to the video store to pick out a few “fun” movies for the weekend. I didn’t want fun. I wanted “Rambo.”

The shelves had endless possibilities: “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” “The Parent Trap,” “Freaky Friday” . . .

“Look at this one, Mom,” I said showing her the video box for “Rambo.” The cover showed it all -- Rambo with scars all over his huge muscles (not unlike the scratches on my own pythons), massive artillery in Rambo’s hands and a fireball filling the entire background. Rambo wore a really cool headband. I could cut up that shirt Mom made me wear on Easter Sunday (I’d never wear it again) and turn it into a headband of my own.

Words like “fire storms,” “explosive” and “warheads” immediately caught my attention.

“Look, Mom, P.O.W.s,” I said pulling a word from the synopsis on the back of the box.

“Do you know what that means?” she asked.

“Yeah. They’re like special ops in a battle. Or something like that. Can we get it?”

It was too late. Every copy of the film had already been rented.

Determined to get the movie, I asked the video store clerk to get one from the video return box. I was sure someone had just dumped a copy in there as we sat there and talked.

There were no “Rambo” videos on the premises, the guy said, and all copies had been reserved through the next week anyway.

“We do have ‘First Blood,’” he told me.

“What’s that?”

“That’s the first Rambo movie.”

He took me to the video on the shelf. The name Rambo was nowhere on the cover. There was no fireball, just a simple white background. On the real “Rambo” box, the title character was holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Here in this lame movie he was holding a mere machine gun.

“How about ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?’” my mom asked.

“I guess I’ll take ‘First Blood.’”

The clerk took our video membership card, tried to rent us a VCR in hopes we didn’t have one at home yet, rang up the two films and reminded us to please be kind and rewind. I reserved the real “Rambo” for the following weekend, then we got some dinner next door at Tony’s New York Pizza and we went home to watch “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

I sort of didn’t care which movie we watched first. The movie I really wanted to see was in someone else’s VCR.

After “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” everyone was ready for bed. I wasn’t tired. I put in “First Blood” and gave it a shot.

The movie started exactly as I imagined -- no action at all. A melancholy song plays and some guy plods over a hillside. He finds out a friend he was looking for is dead, so he walks some more.

Then gradually this guy (Rambo) starts blowing my mind. He slowly reveals himself as a fighting machine. A whole army can’t stop him. Guns, guts, explosions . . . war! It was everything a fourth-grade boy wanted to see. Well, almost everything, anyway. I figured I’d really get what I wanted in the second film.

“Rambo: First Blood Part 2” delivered. It was packed full of all the action and battle I knew I needed to protect my family. I watched it over and over again until I had to return it two days later.

As time passed, however, I would forget Part 2. I haven’t even seen it again since childhood. The first film, on the other hand, has stayed with me. The way Rambo slowly reveals his super powers in that movie and then the turn at the end is what really made it one of my favorite films of all time, one I still watch again and again to this day. I sometimes wonder if I ever would’ve rented it had the second film been available that Friday night at the video store.

Fast-forward to the other day. My 10-year-old son asked to see a movie his friends had already seen. Butt jokes, silly action, pranks and a singing goat -- he couldn’t see the movie soon enough.

We streamed it instantly on Netflix.

-January 2014

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