Sony Pictures | 1984 | 127 mins. | Rated PG
I was just about to turn eleven when The Karate Kid hit theaters in the summer of 1984. Likely because of my age, I was immediately drawn in. Directed by John G. Avildsen (Rocky), the story combines the coming-of-age teenage drama and the feel-good, inspirational, come-from-behind underdog story. Though I saw it in theaters at least three times that summer, I hadn’t seen The Karate Kid in many years until I received the Blu-ray. I was surprised that even twenty-five years later, the film remains a highly entertaining and inspirational tale. While there are moments of corniness to be sure, what stands out most is the bond of friendship that was sealed through karate.
After a cross-country trek from New Jersey, 15-year-old Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) is finding it hard to adjust to life in Reseda, California. His mom (Renee Heller), is excited about California and a new job, but Daniel’s transition is less than smooth. Though he meets and instantly connects with the beautiful and wealthier Ali (Elisabeth Shue), he incurs the wrath of her former boyfriend, karate champion Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). After being chased down on his bike, and beaten up by Johnny and his gang of thugs, Daniel soon resigns himself to a teenage life of misery. Things take a turn for the better when he befriends his apartment complex’s maintenance man, the elderly Okinawan Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita).The bond becomes even stronger when Miyagi rescues Daniel from a five-on-one beating and witnesses firsthand the dangerous teachings of Johnny’s dojo instructor John Kreese (Martin Kove), It is then that Miyagi agrees to teach Daniel the art of karate so he may defend his honor and stand up to Johnny and his Cobra Kai bullies at the local All-Valley Karate Tournament.
With only two months to catch up, he undergoes intense physical training—doing things that at first glance seem to have no relevance to karate—under the watchful eye of his unassuming sensei. As the tournament draws near and Daniel’s skills improve, he continues to build his budding relationship with Ali while weaving a close-knit relationship with his gently powerful master.
Typical of what one might expect of an eighties teen movie screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen (Taken), shows Daniel dealing with typical teen angst—dealing with bullies, trying to win the heart of a girl in a different socio-economic class, trying to get along with mom, and just trying to fit in. More unique, id the character of Mr. Miyagi; not portrayed as a stereotype or cartoonish figure, he’s fleshed out and given real personality and notable characteristics. In a drunken confessional scene between Miyagi and Daniel, the character bares his soul, with motivations not emerging from a place of cliché, but of heartfelt emotion, as Miyagi finds a deep connection with Daniel that his life had been missing for decades. The interplay between Morita and Macchio is seamless, humorous, and playfully abrasive, breathing life into revelations that define the film’s sense of partnership and instruction. 26 years later, the “Wax on, wax off” payoff still delivers goosebumps: that very moment when Daniel realizes that all of those domestic chores have taught him the fundamentals of karate from which everything else will come, is magic.
Sony has done a great job with this Blu-ray release of The Karate Kid. Retaining its original 1.85:1 framing and boasting a 1080p high definition picture quality that is obviously done to a fairly high standard. Though there’s some evident telecine wobble accompanying the opening titles, a slight bit of blocking and banding here and there, and several shots that appear noticeably softer and smudgier than others (coming mostly in medium- to long-distance establishing shots), this is otherwise a consistent and crisp, and stable transfer of a film that’s more than a quarter-century old. Details are nicely rendered throughout; heavy sweaters, stitching in karate uniforms and other objects throughout the picture enjoy boosted texturing and clarity thanks to the 1080p resolution. Colors stick out as a bit unnaturally over-saturated, but flesh tones generally retain a neutral shade and blacks are consistently deep and dark, exhibiting only slight crush here and there. Simply put, The Karate Kid looks fantastic on Blu-ray, despite a few noted flaws.
The audio is strong from start to finish, both with dialogue and music. Vocals come through with loud and crisp tones, while the soundtrack features music that is well placed, timed and easily audible. Natural background noise, especially punches and kicks, take a dominant but not overwhelming role. The English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio soundtrack is redone with clear precision. Additional choices include a Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA option and a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 choice. English, French, Portuguese and Spanish subtitles are accessible.
The Karate Kid comes with the following special features:
• Blu-Pop is a new feature for Sony Blu-rays. This one mixes new PIP interviews with stars Ralph Macchio and William Zabka with pop-up trivia tidbits on various subjects, most centered on karate and filmographies. It’s easily controlled by your remote, made downright invaluable by the inclusion of Zabka, who has much to share about the formation of Johnny.
Ported over from the 2004 DVD release—
• Feature-length audio commentary with director John G. Avildsen, writer Robert Mark Kamen, and actors Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita The group discusses about the making of the movie, showing heavy concentration on their screen appearances. They discuss shooting conditions, bouts of poor continuity, on-set relationships, stunt work, etc..
• The Way of the Karate Kid: Part 1 (24:00) and The Way of the Karate Kid: Part II (21:25) is a rather in-depth and communicative pair of making-of featurettes. Interviewing cast (sans Shue) and crew, the journey goes from origin to release.
• Beyond the Form (13:03) talks with martial arts choreographer Pat E. Johnson, who highlights the discipline and innate beauty of karate, while chatting up his experience making the movie.
• East Meets West: A Composer’s Notebook (8:17) sits down with Bill Conti, who explores the diversity of his work on the film (with assistance from Zamfir), and how his music fits into the larger scope of the sound mix.
• Life of Bonsai (10:00) delves into the green art with Ben Oki, bonsai master and eager educator, helping viewers understand the effort that goes into creating these specialized plants.
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