Nearing its 25th anniversary and a haphazard remake, “The Karate Kid” is still well seated as a cinematic icon of the 80’s, as well as simply being a classic in general. Even if you’re of the few that have managed to exist through the late 80’s and early 90’s that haven’t seen it, you have no doubt been exposed to a plethora of parody and references based on this film – even if you weren’t aware of it. At the very least, you’ve most likely heard of the legendary character of Mr. Miyagi, played by Pat Morita, launched by this very movie. Either way, none of it really prepares you as to how the movie turns out once you sit down and give it a proper watching. As long as you don’t have some irrational, or justified, fear of traversing the 80’s culture for an hour and a half, then the movie has held up pretty well after 24 years.
A fatherless teenager faces his moment of truth in THE KARATE KID. Daniel (Ralph Macchio) arrives in Los Angeles from the east coast and faces the difficult task of making new friends. However, he becomes the object of bullying by the Cobras, a menacing gang of karate students, when he strikes up arelationship with Ali (Elisabeth Shue), the Cobra leader’s ex-girlfriend. Eager to fight back and impress his new girlfriend but afraid to confront the dangerous gang, Daniel asks his handyman Miyagi(Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita), whom he learns is a master of the martial arts, to teach him karate. Miyagi teaches Daniel that karate is a mastery over the self, mind, and body and that fighting is always the last answer to a problem. Under Miyagi’s guidance, Daniel develops not only physical skills but also the faith and self-confidence to compete despite tremendous odds as he encounters the fight of his life in the exciting finale to this entertaining film.
Brought to us by the same guy that gave us another film icon, “Rocky,” John G. Avildsen’s “The Karate Kid” introduces to a spunky kid, played by Ralph Maccio, taken out of his natural habitat of Newark and thrown into California only to find himself karate-experienced villains in the form of a group of “the cool kids” by the name of Cobra Kai. Of course, as the plot demands, the leader of the group is also the ex-love affair of Daniel’s (Maccio) new girlfriend, played by Elisabeth Shue. This leaves the movie switching, rather drastically at times, between the motivational drama of dealing with pride and standing up for yourself and a somewhat contrived love triangle. A lot of focus is put on the tribulations of the relationship, hinting ever so slightly that they could be foreshadowing future troubles, but little if any of it turns into an actual plot twist. In the end, the love drama feels as though it was solely used to not have to worry about what to do with the girl for a portion of the film, and is eventually resolved pretty easily. Although it doesn’t really manage to tarnish the movie at any point, it does feel weird when the girl is finally important to the story again.
Ralph Maccio, Pat Morita and even the supporting cast all give a strong performance, with only the Cobra Kai cronies ever falling flat. Most notably is Daniel’s foremost arch nemesis, Johnny Lawrence, played by William Zabka. His performance pretty much centers around him appearing intimidating, since his lines were never strong enough to really influence a sense of hatred or arrogant smugness. In fact, if it weren’t for the frequent brutalizing of our protagonist, you’d wonder why Daniel wasn’t simply shrugging it off. Pat Morita, of course, steals the show with his elderly and wise character of Mr. Miyagi, as the film series is most known for. However, it’s not as perfect as one would expect it to be. Miyagi frequently changes from a bit rough to more peaceful, even when it isn’t in context of the varying reactions to Daniel’s insistence of being taught karate. Despite that, he manages to be as enjoyable as you surely expected, and we’re even given a look into a dark history of Miyagi, which garners appreciation for his peaceful outlook even further.
Overall, if you’re like me and managed to make it for so long without seeing this movie, then I Highly Recommend that you check it out. It’s not perfect despite its esteemed reputation, so I can’t promise that you’ll love it, or go with the idea that it’s a classic, but you should still manage to enjoy it plenty.
Sony has released the first two of the films in a double set (I guess the third and fourth are being ignored as best as they can be) on Blu-ray and also by themselves. The individual releases arrive in standard Elite Blu-ray cases with the usual round of inserts inside. The only difference between these and the “box set” is that you forgo a cardboard sleeve to hold the two films in—not a big deal, but the dual set is admittedly a bit cheaper than buying the films individually.
While it seemed obvious to me at first to review the two films A/V presentations separately, after viewing them I realized that it seemed entirely pointless to do so. The films are a mere two years apart in production time so the variance between the two transfers is minimal; not to say that they’re both incredibly flawless and gorgeous pictures mind you. As can be expected from 20+ year old films, they have a big of age tossed into the mix, with a suitably grainy transfer accompanying both films. There’s also a bit of the usual softness and haze that goes into these older films, but everything else you’d expect to see is pretty much kept at a minimum. Banding, blocking and some opening credits wobble is present, but nothing that truly distracts the viewer for more than a few seconds. The two films definitely look their age, but the Blu-ray format offers them up in stunningly clear ways regardless.
Predictably the audio mixes for both films sound dated as well. The DTS-HD 5.1 MA mixes are presented strong and clear in the front channels and…well, little else. As is often the case with older films the audio is a bit muffled and lacking in channel dispersion; the only real spread we get here is from the films soundtracks. The first film is noticeably lacking in surround and LFE output, but the second at least tries to toss some subwoofer action into the mix, albeit briefly and rather mundanely. The two mixes certainly aren’t bad, but they just don’t really evoke any real sense of envelopment. Which is truly fine considering these are rather breezy little films that don’t really need to provide a sonic visual and aural experience; truth be told the films both look and sound better than I expected and I don’t think I can really have hoped for much more than that. Sony did a really fantastic job on both films.
Extras for The Karate Kid include:
“Beyond the Form” Featurette
Commentary with Director John G. Avildsen, Writer Robert Mark Kamen and Actors Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita
“East Meets West: A Composer’s Notebook”
“Life of Bonsai” Featurette
“The Way of the Karate Kid” Multi-Part “Making of” Featurette
Blu-Pop (TM): Activate the exclusive Blu-pop feature to reveal pop up trivia, interviews and more secrets from the film!
Yup…Sony really went all out on this first release. Well, they did in 2005 at least which is when all of these (sans the “Blu-Pop” thing) first appeared on the Special Edition for the first film anyway. There’s plenty here to enjoy, especially the commentary track as there’s a lot of great technical and general chatter about the making of the film. Sadly none of the extras are presented in HD, but all of the featurettes add up to about an hour’s worth of goodness so there is plenty to watch even after you’ve watched the film. Definitely a Recommended release.
The Karate Kid is now available on Blu-ray.
Film review by Andrew
Blu-ray review by Zach Demeter