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Large crowd celebrates First Blood’s 35th

Organizer says he’s excited for a reboot of Rambo.
Brian McKinney of the Hope Visitor Centre led an unusually large Rambo First Blood tour around the town’s streets last Saturday as part of the celebration of the film’s 35th anniversary. McKinney was raised in Hope where the Hollywood blockbuster was filmed. (Greg Laychak photo)

First Blood 35th anniversary event organizer Brian McKinney lost his voice over the weekend but still has goosebumps as he looks to the future.

“I’m glad it’s over,” said McKinney on Tuesday. “We’re heading to Harrison Hot Springs this afternoon and I’ve already been told by my wife that if I mention the word or the name Rambo once in the next two days, she’s going to basically drown me in the Harrison hot spring.”

Last weekend’s event came together after months of effort on McKinney’s part as well as community members such as staff at the Hope Visitor Centre, Hope Secondary School and local resident Art Green. Key to the event’s success was McKinney’s Visitor Centre colleague Tracy Paynter. Paynter looked after merchandise, retail, contests and business relations.

“It was probably actually about three or four years ago that Brian first reminded us that the 35th is coming up and there will be an event for it,” said Visitor Centre manager Helen Kennedy. “And then in the last year and a half or so, they’ve been going out to contact businesses and individuals who were involved in the 30th (anniversary).”

The event brought a certain busyness to the town, attracting international visitors from Japan, Germany, England, Italy, the United States and the Netherlands.

“People love Rambo,” said Kennedy, when asked about Rambo’s international popularity. “It’s no surprise to us that we had that many people there.”

Kennedy explained that the reasons vary depending on country of origin. Kennedy said that it was the highest grossing film in China and that she has met Eastern Europeans who watched it on the black market just before the Berlin Wall came down. They identified with Rambo’s rebellious, anti-authority persona.

Hope Secondary School’s Leadership class helped kick off Saturday with activities including painting camouflage on participant’s faces, tying people up with Rambo knots and wrapping people in bandanas, setting the tone and atmosphere from 9 a.m. at the Visitor Centre. At the same time, the Hope and District Arts Council hosted a exhibition of Rambo-inspired art featuring over 12 local artists displaying photos, paintings, artifacts and pottery.

McKinney then led the walking tour, where he took participants to the various filming locations from downtown to the Othello Tunnels. The tour also made a stop at the Canyon Golden Age Society, which served as the sheriff’s station in the movie. Inside, visitors enjoyed coffee, explored the building and looked at photos.

The event lasted from noon to about 4 p.m with an estimated participation of 90 to 100 people at its peak. Comparatively, only about 30-40 people participated in the 30th anniversary’s tour.

“I lost my voice,” said McKinney. “Sunday night, I was done. Could you imagine Brian McKinney losing his voice?”

In the evening, they screened the movie at the Hope Cinema, but before that came a surprise — First Blood makeup artist Michael Westmore and Sylvester Stallone came on screen with a message thanking fans for their loyalty to the series.

The process to get that video did not come very easily. McKinney first contacted Alf Humphreys, who played Lester in First Blood, through his agency. They talked about the other people involved in the film and Humphreys said he still kept in touch with Westmore.

“All of a sudden, one day, I received a phone call from Beverley Hills, Calif., and it’s Michael Westmore on the phone,” said McKinney.

They came up with a plan to host a book signing of Westmore’s book, Makeup Man. Westmore said he could not come up, but Humphreys could attend the event and sign the books on his behalf. As the event got closer, Humphreys fell sick and could not attend the event.

McKinney continued speaking to Westmore and suggested that Westmore could do a video message to the fans, and he agreed. McKinney asked whether he could ask whether other actors would be willing to participate and Westmore said he would make a few calls.

Then, McKinney received a call from Sylvester Stallone’s press secretary. McKinney shared what Westmore was going to do and asked whether Stallone could do something. Stallone’s press secretary asked what he would like him to say.

“I said, ‘Well, I think after 35 years, I think the hardcore fans — what they’re waiting for is just to be acknowledged for standing by this franchise and standing by this character for 35 years,’ ” said McKinney. The press secretary said OK.

They received Stallone’s message about a month ago and had to keep it secret. Under the terms of their agreement with Stallone’s team, the clip cannot be shared.

McKinney said that their preliminary report showed that motels, restaurants and retail outlets selling Rambo merchandise saw an uptick in patronage as a result of the event. McKinney added that some retail stores “were stressed out in a good way.”

“They were extremely busy, so that’s exactly what we set out for and I think mission accomplished,” said McKinney.

McKinney said he has received online inquiries for a 40th anniversary. Before that happens, they will debrief and examine how they can improve.

In 2016, the Hollywood Reporter reported that there will be a reboot of the Rambo series. Asked if a remake of First Blood would affect the popularity of Hope’s events, McKinney said it would not.

“Every time the name First Blood is brought up or the name Rambo is brought up … whether it’s a reboot or a part five, whether there’s First Blood the Next Generation, Hope B.C.’s stock value just skyrockets,” said McKinney. “It gives me goosebumps. I love it when people talk about it because the public just defaults back to where it all began and that was Hope, British Columbia, Canada.

“I’m hoping for a reboot. That would be fabulous.”