Rambo's Dad Speaks

Prolific novelist David Morrell is best known for writing

target="_blank">First Blood

, the novel that introduced Rambo in 1972. Twenty-six years later the character's still a living icon in Stallone's

fourth installment of the

franchise

. Morrell, who lives in Santa Fe, saw the film over the weekend and agreed to share his thoughts with our writer

Dave Maass.

So... what was your initial take on the film?

Overall, I'm pleased. The level of violence might not be for everyone, but it has a serious intent. This is the

first time that the tone of

target="_blank">First Blood

the novel has been used in any of the movies. It's spot-on in terms of how I imagined the character--angry,

burned-out, and filled with self-disgust because he hates what he is and yet knows it's the only thing he does well.

The character spends a lot of time in the rain as if trying to cleanse himself. There's a nightmare scene involving

vivid images from the three previous films, all emphasizing the burden of his memories. There's a scene in which he

forges a knife and talks to himself, basically admitting that he hates himself because all he knows is how to kill.

At the start, he is gathering snakes in the jungle, and he's so comfortable with them, it's as if the most developed

part of him is his limbic brain. In the violent climax, he uses a machine gun that explicitly evokes the way William

Holden uses a machine gun at the end of

The Wild Bunch

. Indeed a whole lot of the film has Peckinpah overtones while it also uses tropes from my novel.

Again, for example, Rambo is being hunted by dogs. It's not a 4-star movie--the villains are superficial, and the

climax is overextended. But this is a solid three stars. It's daring--an anti-war Rambo movie. Even the

New York Times

treated it well. I was surprised to discover that Stallone, who directed, gives me an additional credit. The

contractual one is a single card "created by" credit before the names of the screenwriters. But then, at the end,

after the final surprising, poetic, redeeming sequence, another credit says "From the novel

First Blood

by David Morrell," as if acknowledging that the series has returned to the intent of my book. That's not the way

Hollywood usually treats a novelist. To say again, the violence is a solid R, but the intent in terms of the

character is serious. I was blown away.

Did you have any involvement in the film whatsoever?

I wasn't involved with the film. Back in the 1980s, I had a close relationship with the production company,

Carolco, that made the first three Rambo movies. I wasn't involved with those movies either, but the producers

did keep me up to date about what they were planning. While the Rambo movies were enormously successful, some

other Carolco films didn't do as well, and the company went bankrupt. At auction, Miramax bought the Rambo

film rights and later sold them to Nu-Image/Millennium, the current production company. For reasons I don't

understand, that company has been distant. I knew little about the movie until I saw it.

Did you ever imagine this franchise would have such longevity?

I was a graduate student at Penn State when I first had the idea for

First Blood

. That was in the late 1960s when anti-Vietnam-war demonstrations were spreading across the country. The basic

theme of the novel was to bring the war home and dramatize what a small version of it would feel like in the

United States. Rambo was meant to be a veteran who'd been so ravaged by the war that he became the equivalent

of a disaffected radical. The police chief who opposed him was meant to represent the Establishment. In the

end, they both died. It was an allegory about where escalation leads.

I certainly didn't imagine the various incarnations of the character. To my amazement, Rambo became one of

the most famous characters of the twentieth century, as well known as Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, and James Bond.

Now the character has moved into the new century, and there is talk about yet another film. My novel was

published in 1972 and has never been out of print, including around the world, almost unheard of when it comes

to a 36-year-old book. No one could have predicted that kind of longevity. For that reason, I sometimes call

myself Rambo's father. The way one's offspring grows up is out of a parent's control.

Does middle age Rambo reflect at all how you would've imagined him

this far down the line?

A lot of fans have gotten in touch with me to suggest that maybe a younger actor would have been better for

the fourth movie. What they aren't remembering is that Rambo (unlike James Bond) is specific to a historical

period--the Vietnam War. My novel was published in 1972. If Rambo were a real person, he would have been

perhaps 22. In 2008, he would be 58. Sylvester Stallone is a few years older than that, but basically he is

the correct age, and in the new movie, he interprets the character in an older way. That's one reason he put

on the weight -- so he would look different from the trim muscular image he had in the 1980s Rambo movies.

As writer who's no doubt picking up royalties on this film, does it take on extra meaning during the

writers' strike?

I have profit participation in the films, yes. Usually, that doesn't mean much. The joke in Hollywood is

that profit participation is like the horizon -- it recedes infinitely. But the first two Rambo movies were

so financially successful that I actually saw some participation money. As one of the Carolco producers said

to me in a good-natured humorous way, "David, we made so much money that we don't know where to hide it all,

so we're going to give you some."

As for the Hollywood writers' strike, my fingers are crossed that it'll be settled before the Academy

Awards are broadcast. When the Directors Guild negotiated their new contract, they provided a template that

the Writers' Guild is considering. Talks are in progress. Everyone is hopeful.

Morrell's latest book,

target="_blank">

The Successful Novelist

, was released in January by Sourcebooks, Inc.