PG Dir: John G. Avildsen | Sony | 2h 6min
Plot: What’s it about?
Looking back on the wonderful decade of the 1980’s, there are a handful of films that I’d look back to. For every E.T., Back to the Future or Ghostbusters there were others that helped epitomize the Reagan-era. And, lo and behold, I’d consider The Karate Kid one of those films. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “Wax on, wax off” you have this movie to thank for that. Under the direction of John G. Avildsen, who helmed Rocky a decade prior, is the story of Daniel Larusso and his mother. I still remember coming out of the theater doing karate kicks (as I’m sure every ten-year-old boy did) and feeling like a million bucks. It’s not often that films do that to people, especially me. With that said, does the film still pack the same punch it did nearly four decades ago?
Looking for a better life, Lucille LaRusso (Randee Heller) and son Daniel (Ralph Macchio) head West to sunny California. But transplanted teen Daniel catches the eye of a pretty blonde, Ali (Elisabeth Shue) which doesn’t sit too well with her jealous ex-boyfriend, Johnny (William Zabka). He and his buddies use their karate skills and teach him a lesson. Daniel finds solace in a maintenance man, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) who instills him with karate lessons, but also the self-confidence he was so lacking. All of this comes to a head, of course, at the valley karate tournament where Daniel must once again face off against Johnny – albeit in a more organized format. The ultimate prize, though, is the film’s central theme.
Looking back on the movie nearly four decades later, a lot has change for me. I’m no longer the ten-year-old boy I was when I first did a kick coming out of the theater. And the “film critic” in me realize that the movie is somewhat formulaic and predictable, but it’s still got that magic that made me like it in the first place. I was never Johnny; I was always Daniel. I moved around, had to make new friends and find social acceptance. It wasn’t easy. The film shows us that it truly is what’s on the inside that counts. It’s not about how much you have in the bank, how good-looking you are or how fast your car (or in this case, motorcycles) go – it’s how you treat others. That message has never waned in the film and makes it part of its everlasting appeal.
Video: How’s it look?
There are some studios that churn out re-issues and “anniversary editions” just to make a few bucks. But the folks at Sony seem to take their time with their titles and The Karate Kid is no exception. A new 4K master was used for this edition and it shows, on the most literal level. Everything has been improved: color, clarity, contrast, black levels…you name it. It’d been a while since I’d sat down to watch the film, so I was pretty blown away at how things looked. Having seen it time after time over the years, the detail, HDR and colors just popped. I have to imagine there are so many films from this era that could look this good if only they fell under the direction of the right studio. Nevertheless, The Karate Kid has never looked better than it does here.
Audio: How’s it sound?
I wouldn’t think that a Dolby Atmos soundtrack of a movie from the mid 80’s would sound this good. I’d be mistaken. While not the end all, be all of 4K soundtracks, I’ve never heard the film sound this good. “Cruel Summer” has never sounded so good! Vocals are pure and crisp. Surrounds are used often as are the LFE which really give a new layer of dimension to the film. Just like the visual presentation, this new audio mix simply makes the movie that much more enjoyable – if that’s possible.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Remembering The Karate Kid – The lone new supplement to this disc is a rather short (10 minutes) reflection back on the film and its long-lasting appeal. Stars Ralph Macchio, William Zabka and Martin Kove offer their .02.
- Audio Commentary – Previously-released, this features Avildsen, Macchio, Pat Morita and writer Mark Kamen as they go through the various stages of the film with shooting information, casting and the film’s warm reception.
- The Way of The Karate Kid – Digging even further back into the archives is this “documentary” (I use the quotes deliberately) with some various interviews with the cast and crew. You know it’s old when a feature from the DVD looks old.
- Featurettes – Three short ones are included:
- Beyond the Form – We learn a bit about the martial arts used in the film.
- East Meets West – All you ever wanted to know about the film’s score and soundtrack.
- Life of a Bonsai – If you’re like me and don’t have a green thumb, this won’t have any impact. But does have some interesting tidbits about those little trees.
- Blu-Pop – If you want to have some visuals and don’t want to listen to the commentary track, this is for you.
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
The Karate Kid inspired two sequels and a reboot in 2010. As of this writing, Netflix has a spinoff starring several members of the cast. If that doesn’t show how popular the film was, then I don’t know what does. Still, The Karate Kid manages to entertain and convey a timeless message. Sony’s 4K disc has improved audio and video as well as a new supplement. Growing up in the 80’s, I’d say this one is a staple and probably deserves a spot in your 4K collection.