There are very few things as memorable or as easily recognizable as the film The Karate Kid. It is one of those films that even if you haven’t seen it, through some form of osmosis you know it well enough to recognize moments, names, scenes, and characters. I refer to this as the Pop-Culture effect. If something rises to a certain level of notoriety or fame it gets nuanced into popular cultural items. It could be as simple as T-Shirts, being referenced in a song, or, with the film at hand, it is more than likely the sheer amount of times it has been parodied. Parodied might even be the wrong word for how The Karate Kid has been treated over the years. Most parodies come from a place of critique or a joke that the item/event/movie being parodied is not privy to. No, The Karate Kid is almost always lovingly referenced. Whether it’s wax-on/wax-off or the infamous (illegal) Crane Kick, you’ve seen it hundreds of times undoubtedly.
We are currently in an age where nostalgia is valued higher than original content. This can be a rather good circumstance if, for instance, you loved Star Wars and went to see The Force Awakens in theaters. That little kid inside you was jumping for joy that this was real and, for the most part, it delivered. I know someone who took his daughter and he had the chance to see her discover Star Wars on the big screen right before his eyes, he wept. This nostalgia that we are so desperate for has led to an interesting development with the very film in question here. Yes, I am referring to Cobra Kai. The Karate Kid’s very own Wicked-Esque two sides to every story series that just recently made its way to Netflix. Now, this review isn’t about Cobra Kai and seeing how the odds of them ever being one (this is a physical media review site for the most part) I will be introducing some opinions based solely on how Cobra Kai treats the original film. Without further ado let’s rub our hands together and discuss that old Magic Miyagi Touch that made The Karate Kid so memorable.
Our film follows Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio), a High School Student who has just moved to San Fernando Valley. He is desperately trying to fit in and get the girl (Elisabeth Shue) but unfortunately, starts being on the receiving end of some bullying from a young man named Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and his gang of Karate miscreants. One night of particularly rough bullying, Daniel finds himself being rescued by the mysterious Handyman of his building, Mr. Miyagi (“Pat” Morita), who happens to be a Karate Master. He decides to teach Daniel karate in an effort to help the boy make his way. The question is, can he use his newfound skills to survive High School, beat the bully, and get the girl? SPOILER ALERT you won’t be shocked.
The film is without a doubt problematic. Like all things that age, some of the scenes and plotlines when held up to today’s scrutiny are not so great. In fact, over the years there have been several YouTube Videos discussing how Daniel was actually the bully and Johnny was the innocent one (I will let you dive deep into that dark trench). However, one could argue this is one of the defining marks of a great film. That is, if it is able to hold up to scrutiny that it is truly great. While there ARE problems here, none are too problematic that the film is less enjoyable…yet. Ask me again in five years. The acting isn’t particularly good, but it IS eighties great (you know exactly what I mean). I am convinced fully that the entire film hinges on Morita though. It honestly works without Macchio, and I would watch an entire film from Miyagi’s perspective and I would enjoy it twice as much, guaranteed.
The Film 4/5
Here is an example of a film where I ask the question, why? Why did the film of this content and age need to be upgraded to Blu-ray? I only ask because some films around this age have been upgraded and suffered for it. Remember! This movie was filmed in such a way where the Director and Director of Photography achieved the look and feel they were going for. Does upgrading the quality jeopardize their artistic vision? The only example I have of recent note is Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The original film is a pillar of special effects and innovation. Truly a marvel. I recently purchased the 4k version of it and it comes off too crisp, showcasing some of the tricks they used and ultimately spoiling a bit of the mystery for me. Nevertheless, The Karate Kid has been upgraded and, luckily, maintains its magic. Some scenes have an added clarity, like the moment after putting on glasses, while the background stays noticeably grainy and reminiscent of a film of its actual age. This feels like a great balance to me, personally I enjoy a bit of grain to my nostalgic film favorites. The added clarity gives the film a breath of fresh air so maybe some new generations can enjoy it. I should mention that this film feels a certain way that encourages you to root for the underdog. This may feel familiar especially to any eighties film fans who have seen Rocky, which shares Director John F. Avildsen and Cinematographer James Crabe. There are almost ten years between the two films and as a result, I feel like the director gave The Karate Kid a much more personal feel to it, as if this story holds something dear to the heart.
Picture Quality 4/5
“You’re the best! Around! Nothing ever gonna keep you down.” Did it work? Did you start singing or hearing it in your head? Well, you thank the legendary Bill Conti for that. Here the movie has one of its best qualities, memorable eighties music. Conti has been involved with some of the most major/memorable songs from films including Rocky’s “Gonna Fly Now” or the Dynasty Theme song, and even “For Your Eyes Only” from, you guessed it, For Your Eyes Only. Beyond the amazing soundtrack, our Blu-ray didn’t seem to give me any viewing issues. No volume issues beyond that weird moment or two where the audio sounds different than the rest, undoubtedly an issue suffered while filming (I’m thinking specifically of the beach scene, had to be hard to block wind on location and however they managed the audio seems off).
Audio Quality 3/5
Here is where I am really disappointed. The version I received feels and looks like a copy you find at the giant bargain bin at a big chain store. The artwork feels thrown together, tacky even. They try to make up for it by including artwork on the inside but even this feels a little cheap. The image is in black and white, quite transparent, and, for some reason, it spans both sides blocking half the artwork. I do always appreciate when they include artwork on the disc itself and here they picked a rather iconic image, although, it seems to be edited in such a way that the silhouette seems off as if the aspect ratio compromised the image.
The Packaging 2/5
Here the film actually succeeds quite a bit, although with a film so culturally significant I can’t help but wonder if/what a criterion edition may look like and provide. Nevertheless, the blu-ray version includes quite a few fun features. My personal favorite being the “Blu-Pop” feature, a little pop-up trivia, interviews, and more about the film. This reminds me of the TCM channels trivia feature they used to run (i have no idea if they still do) which is still the reason I know so much about Die Hard. We get three featurettes in addition to the commentary and “Blu-pop” one of which is a multi-part featurette. The special features included are as follows:
- Blu-ray Exclusive Feature: “Blu-Pop”: Activate the exclusive Blu-pop feature to reveal pop-up trivia, interviews and more secrets from the film!
- Commentary with Director John G. Avildsen, Writer Robert Mark Kamen and Actors Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita
- The Way of the Karate Kid Multi-part Feature
- “Beyond the Form” Featurette
- “East Meets West: A Composer’s Notebook”
- “Life of Bonsai” Featurette
Special Features 5/5
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (26.95 Mbps)
Resolution: 1080p High Definition
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
French: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 16-bit)
Portuguese: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48 kHz, 16-bit)
Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish
Film: 127 Minutes
We have an absolute classic on our hands here. One that has been thrust back into the spotlight with controversial points of view and a brand new series that shows us what happens after the hero wins, way after. It’s a great film with great lessons and while some have aged better than others, it is still a worthwhile film. The upgrade is wonderful adding some new clarity and IMO the perfect balance of hi-def and grain. This still feels The Karate Kid to me and that’s a good thing. If the film wasn’t so monumental it would be relevant in today’s world the way it is. As far as spending your money, I would recommend getting it if the price is right. I would be more interested or more willing to recommend an instant buy if more care had gone into it. If you’re looking to add The Karate Kid to your collection, the Blu-ray is available now.