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'Daniel... with an L.'


Ah, catalogue titles, how I love thee. For one thing they often represent the long-awaited release of some childhood favourite, but almost as exciting is the fact that they don't require lengthy synopses. For the one person who's been living under a rock for the last twenty-six years, here's a brief run-down of the plot.

 Karate Kid, The
The Karate Kid is a 1984 coming-of-age movie about young Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio), who moves with his mother from Newark, New Jersey to Reseda, Los Angeles. Daniel meets pretty cheerleader Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue), but earns the ire of her ex-boyfriend, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), the top student at the Cobra Kai dojo where the sengsei teaches a brutal form of karate. Daniel is subjected to numerous beatings at the hands of Johnny and his gang until the intervention of kindly Okinawan handyman, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). Miyagi takes it upon himself to instruct Daniel in the ways of martial arts and prepare for a showdown with the Cobra Kai dojo at the All Valley Karate Tournament.

That's a pretty basic outline, but to be honest it's all you really need to know. The Karate Kid follows all genre tropes, from the victimised outcast and wise old instructor, to the showdown with and eventual triumph over the arch villain and the hook-up with the girl. Even as a kid you knew how the film was going to end, and it didn't matter. It was feel-good entertainment that had children up and down the country enthralled. I’m pleased to say that years later the film retains much of its charm, and I still enjoyed the father/son dynamic between Pat Morita’s Miyagi and Ralph Macchio’s Daniel. Sure it’s a little cheesy and dated nowadays, but the core elements—that of the underdog embarking on a journey of self-discovery and eventually triumphing over adversity—are still relevant, and the film has the sort of heart that's often lacking from today's films.

 Karate Kid, The

'Wax on... wax off.'


Arriving with a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer (1080/24p AVC), The Karate Kid looks pretty darn good on Blu-ray. The photography has that eighties 'soft focus' look to it, but even so detail levels are quite impressive for the majority of the runtime and certainly a big improvement over the DVD. Colours are strong and natural, contrast is good—revealing plenty of detail in the darker areas of the screen—and although blacks aren't as deep as they could be they are at least consistent. I'm also pleased to report that the grain structure is intact, and although heavier in darker scenes I never once found it obtrusive (other studios please take note). The print is also in very good shape, with few film artefacts and no obvious sign of digital manipulation. The Karate Kid is another in a long line of impressive catalogue titles from Sony, and it should certainly please the film’s fans.

 Karate Kid, The

'Banzai!'


The Karate Kid on Blu-ray benefits from Sony's now-customary DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 treatment. The track is a pretty front-loaded affair, with occasional movement between channels and clear, warm dialogue reproduction throughout. The rears are used to reinforce the frontal array, but far less aggressively than with most modern productions. Surround channel utilisation is mostly limited to atmospheric effects such as chirping crickets/birds, the ocean and crowd noise, but the eighties soundtrack also finds a home there for much of the running time. Speaking of which, Joe Esposito's 'You're the Best Around' sounds great here, as do most of the other eighties tracks. Bass isn't called upon particularly often, and neither is it terribly strong, but it does offer impact during some of the songs. A couple of the highs sound a little harsh, but that's the only real criticism I have. Demo material it is not, but it is a pretty respectable reworking of the original audio mix.

 Karate Kid, The

'Sweep the leg.'


Blu-Pop: First up we have Sony's new (to me) pop-up trivia feature. At first I thought it was going to be another run-of-the-mill trivia track, but it actually has pop-up video segments in which Ralph Macchio and William Zabka discuss certain elements of the production. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a picture-in-picture commentary because the video segments are spread too thinly, but it's still a nice addition to the disc.

Director, Writer and Cast Commentary: Director John G. Avildsen (of Rocky fame), writer Robert Mark Kamen, star Ralph Macchio and the late Pat Morita team up for a warm and entertaining commentary track that strikes a good balance between anecdotal recollection and production-based facts. I had a lot of fun listening to this one, which isn't something I can always say about commentaries.

The Way of the Karate Kid: Part 1 (24:00 SD): This is the first segment of a two-part documentary that examines the genesis of the story, casting, production, thematic elements and more. There is plenty of interview footage and clips from the film, and Pat Morita gets a bit deep.

 Karate Kid, The
The Way of the Karate Kid: Part 2 (21:00 SD): The second half of the documentary picks up where the first left off, again featuring interviews and film clips. This segment focusses more on the physical aspects of the production, such as stunt work and fight choreography (although it's not in-depth).

Beyond the Form (13:03 SD): Martial arts choreographer Pat E. Johnson discusses his experiences on the set of the film, training the stars, the  philosophies of karate, and the impact that the film had on the sport.

East Meets West: A Composer's Notebook (08:17 SD): This conversation with Bill Conti (also of Rocky fame) explores how the composer developed the various themes used throughout the film, the importance of source music, and more.

 Karate Kid, The
Life of Bonsai (10:00 SD): Bonsai master Ben Oki discusses the art of cultivating bonsai trees.

Trailers (02:16 HD): There’s actually only one trailer, for Ice Castles, which looks like the sort of film my Mrs would love.

BD-Live: Sony’s usual link to their online portal is included, but as usual there’s very little of relevance to the film on the disc.
 
 Karate Kid, The]

'You're all right Larusso!'


The Karate Kid was a childhood favourite and I’m pleased to say that it has stood the test of time (fashion and hairstyles aside). Any child of the eighties is sure to enjoy this trip down memory lane, and the themes of honour, respect and self-belief are just as relevant today as they ever were, if not more so. The Blu-ray itself presents a faithful audio-visual experience with a collection of supplemental features that both entertain and enlighten, continuing Sony's fine run of form with their catalogue titles.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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