The Complete Collection review by Bobby Blakey
Before Enter the Dragon took the martial arts film industry by storm there was another iconic character that came in under the radar. In 1971 the late Tom Laughlin brought Billy Jack to the big screen and while that first film is the most iconic it was not the first or last of the series. Now Shout Factory has brought the entire film series together in one collection with Billy Jack: The Complete Collection.
These four groundbreaking, action-packed classics from '70s pop culture icon Billy Jack feature all of the fast-kicking, politically aware stories that had audiences cheering. Influencing action films for decades, the Billy Jack films broke the mold with their unique hero, a half-American Indian/half white ex-Green Beret bent on correcting injustice and hypocrisy to help America reach its full potential. The first film in the series was actually The Born Losers in 1967 that capitalized on the exploitation and biker gang films of the time. This more generic of the series was a more commercial direction to allow Laughlin to introduce the Billy Jack character to the big screen. The film is decent for what it is, but never fully captures all the greatness of the character that was displayed in his follow up self-titled flick.
Billy Jack is a more cohesive film on every level and still stands as an iconic film in the martial arts genre. Having a Caucasian as the martial arts star along with the focus on the Native American culture and discrimination made for a film like no other at the time. Of course not all of the performances are all that great, but there are just so many iconic moments that you can’t help but love. I have watched this film hundreds of times over the years and it never gets old. The sequence of him putting his foot on the other side of the guy’s head is one that almost everyone knows whether they have seen the film or not. There are some heavy moments here that adds to the depth of this fan favorite and I for one love it on every level.
After the success of Billy Jack, Laughlin wanted to obviously continue the adventures of the character, but sadly the follow ups just never really captured the same magic. In 1974 Laughlin released The Trial of Billy Jack that could have been a great continuation from the previous film, but instead ended up being kind of pretentious and all over the place. Gone was the real peace loving western monk mentality and Laughlin’s real political agendas were starting to take over. In 1977 the politics took front and center with Billy Jack Goes to Washington that essentially killed everything cool about the character. While Trial was a theatrical success neither of these films were able to offer up anything resembling the Billy Jack we all loved from the second film. There was a fifth film in the works, but sadly was never finished.
This is one of those franchises that really only has one great film in the bunch, but you still need them all to fully experience the classic history of it all. This new collection offers up a great transfer of all the films and some bonus content including commentaries, trailer and still galleries. Grab your copy of Billy Jack: The Complete Collection available now on Blu-ray from Shout Factory.
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