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Soundtrack review: John Rambo (Brian Tyler, 2008)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: John Rambo (Brian Tyler, 2008)

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One of the most important heroes of my childhood has aged very well…When I met Rambo, I was 14-15 and in a very acute hero phase. I had seen the movies but the impact hadn’t been strong. But then I read the books, and I discovered the hero. I came back to the visualizations of what was happening there and the movies became among my favorites. Rambo’s untamed sense of honor, his thirst for unstoppable vengeance and all the injustices that were done to him appealed to me. I clenched my fists hoping for him to come out of those situations, I cursed at his captors. For quite some time after that I used his name as my alter ego whenever I’d play a game, or write something, or even later when I started being active on the internet, the old bulletin boards.
Rambo left then and we didn’t see each other for some 15 years. I thought he was gone for good, but he came back from seclusion one more time. The fourth movie is the hardest to watch. It’s the most violent movie I’ve ever seen, but the atrocities of war have to be presented in that way to have any sort of an impact. Rambo is even darker than he was before.
I loved the old Rambo theme composed by Jerry Goldsmith. It suited the character very well; it mirrored his loneliness, his depth, his wish to find peace. For the fourth installment in the saga, Brian Tyler was brought in. He came and he gave the theme and the hero the makeover they deserved. The only thing that stops this score from being my favorite Brian Tyler score and, quite possibly, in my top 20 ever, are the 7 minutes long tracks. There are four of them, and Tyler didn’t quite get them right.  “No rules of engagement” is excellent, but I couldn’t give the other three five stars. They are just missing something.
Brian Tyler’s version of the Rambo theme is out of this world. It’s beautiful, it’s emotional, it’s heavy and it carries the burden of all the years he had to fight. It respects the original theme, and when it starts I can almost see young John Rambo coming down a country road looking for his war buddy in the first scene of the first movie. I love how Brian Tyler brought the theme to the current time, just like the movie brought the character.  The Rambo theme is more grown up now, and I feel a world of compassion towards this tormented hero every time I hear it.
Variations of this theme can be heard all throughout this score. I especially love how it sounds in “Aftermath” or “The village”. These are two of the cues that, especially heard in context, can bring a tear or two in the corner of my eyes…
I felt again that rush I used to feel when reading or viewing Rambo’s revenge scenes in the tracks “Rambo returns” and “When you are pushed”. He always returned, he never left anyone behind, me included.
The final three cues of this score (“Battle adagio”, “Rambo main title” and “Rambo end title”) are pure perfection. The main theme comes and sweeps me off my feet in all these cues in different variations. The soft choral insertions in Adagio are like star dust sprinkled over a track that was already magic. It slowly builds up in the “Main title” and it explodes with a vengeance in the gorgeous “End title”, probably my favorite track from this score. Here it echoes back strongly to Jerry Goldsmith’s “First blood” theme.  I can close my eyes and picture Rambo walking off into the sunset, trying to find his small measure of peace once again.
If I haven’t stressed it enough, the Rambo theme is one of my favorites of all time. Like John Rambo himself, this theme will stay with me forever, and it would be on a list of cues to play to someone who asked me why I love film music so much. It’s playing right now and I love to write about it. It’s beautiful, it’s strong, it’s heartbreaking and it’s legendary. Give this score a listen, you won’t regret it.
P.S. If you want to read more of my Brian Tyler reviews, check out Turtles and Into the storm. And if you want to read more Stallone movie reviews, I got you covered: Rocky IV and Tango & Cash. I promise there’s a lot more to come in this category.
My ratings:
Cue score: 88 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 45 / 76
Album excellence: 60%
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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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