Judge Eric Profancik thinks properly aged meat is best.
Our reviews of Rocky Balboa (Blu-Ray) (published March 20th, 2007), Rocky: The Complete Saga (published December 17th, 2007), and Rocky: The Undisputed Collection (Blu-Ray) (published November 18th, 2009) are also available.
"All of boxing is hoping for a warrior who thrills us with his passion."
We all chuckled. We all thought it was a dumb idea. We all wondered how desperate Stallone had to be to dig up the Rocky character again fifteen years later. We all thought it was a bit ridiculous not only because the series had stumbled with Rocky V but also because Stallone is pushing sixty. We all felt pity for the man, who probably was feeling rejected and dejected in the Hollywood establishment. His dramatic career didn't flourish as he wished, so he must have figured he could go back to the well and embrace the character that propelled him to fame. We all thought it was a really bad idea.
Then the trailer came out. Shockingly, surprisingly, it looked good. Was it possible that Rocky 6, oops, Rocky Balboa might not be the colossal joke we all presumed it would be? Then some reviews came out, and it really did seem that this movie has something going for it. I was never a huge Rocky fan, but even I wanted to see Rocky Balboa. It seems the big lug got it right and gave Rocky one final fight and a proper goodbye.
Facts of the Case
Sad, lonely, and yearning for companionship, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, Copland, Demolition Man) ambles around his Philadelphia neighborhood dreaming of the past. His beloved Adrian died a few years back from "woman cancer," and Rocky struggles to keep her memory alive through her restaurant, Adrian's, and by revisiting the places where he met and dated her so many years ago. He also spends a lot of time at her grave, talking to her, desperately needing to maintain a connection to his beloved wife. Sadly, his son, Robert (Milo Ventimiglia, Heroes), is drifting away from him, feeling the pressure of living in a big shadow. All in all, Rocky's present isn't what he had thought it would be.
Mason "The Line" Dixon (real life boxer Antonio Tarver) is the current undisputed, undefeated world heavyweight-boxing champion. Unlike Rocky, Dixon is not respected or loved. Everyone feels this weight class is in ruin, with Dixon fighting creampuffs. He's been managed to the top, losing all respect from fans and the boxing community. Then one day on ESPN, a "Then vs. Now" segment is run where a computer simulation puts Dixon in the ring against Rocky. Who would win, the fast Dixon or the powerful Rocky from his prime? The computer gives the win to Rocky.
Rocky and Dixon both see this simulated fight and begin to see possibilities. Rocky thinks that maybe he could get in the ring again, do some local fights, use it to burn off his demons, and be what he is, a boxer. Dixon and his managers see this as a chance to change his image, to hopefully get some recognition from the community. Both sides come to an agreement and the stage is set for an exhibition match in Las Vegas between the former and current champ. With Rocky the butt of jokes and scored a massive underdog, how will it end?
Par for the course, while I was intrigued by the trailers for Rocky Balboa, I didn't go to the theater to see it. That shouldn't be seen as disinterest in the film but simply my displeasure with the theater experience as of late. Few new releases warrant the big-screen bang. Most movies aren't Star Wars or Lawrence of Arabia and can be enjoyed as much or more at home. I wanted to see Rocky Balboa, but it falls into that category of "better at home."
Rocky Balboa is not a big movie by any definition. It's a simple, humble, straightforward film about a once great and famous man now facing a daunting future alone, sad, and uncertain. I barely remember the first film's emotional underpinnings, but I do remember sequels two, three, and four and don't recall any emotional connection. The sequels were all about Rocky, his nemesis, and the fight. This time around, to wrap up the franchise, it's all about the man. It's about Rocky, his life, his loves, and his well being instead of the fight. The inevitable slugfest feels more a footnote to the film than the point.
That's what surprised me: Rocky Balboa is a slow, meandering tale of loneliness. We see what makes Rocky tick, how his life has changed, how his life hasn't changed, and what it's like to be both a hero and a joke. There's real emotional power in the film, played remarkably well by the Italian Stallion. He created the character three decades ago, and he's intimately familiar with his boxing creation. He's come up with a way to bring proper closure to the movie icon. I expected an interesting boxing tale, but came away with a rich, textured, emotional ride. Rocky Balboa may look like another boxing movie, but this time there's more going on, and the drama plays center stage. You'll be caught up in the highs and lows of Rocky Balboa.
Hopefully you're not turned off by Rocky Balboa's potential sappiness. Please, don't be. There are a few obvious moments of string pulling, but on the whole, it's an honest look at the evolution of the character. Just be prepared for a little depth this time around. Yet that's not to forego the boxing aspect of the film, as there's a big old fight to bring home the final act. You get the spectacle, glitz, and glamour of a fight. And, even though it's the sixth film and following a slew of other boxing films, this is a different type of fight. The franchise's fights have evolved into excessive, grandstanding events. I can't speak to Rocky V, but Rocky IV's bouts between Creed and Drago and Rocky and Drago were more publicity than pugilism. This time around you still have all kinds of publicity and pomp, but it has a realistic bent to it. It portrays the fight as a "real" HBO pay-per-view event, and it feels like you're watching a real event. When the bell rings and Rocky and Dixon begin fighting, it honestly looks like a genuine match. In fact, the fight has a few moments when the two are flat out thrashing and pummeling each other, and the vitality and energy of those moments is exhilarating. The closest comparison to these high-energy moments was like two kids playing Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, with two men just absolutely unleashing on each other. It's a thrilling battle.
But we still have that lingering question: What is a sixty-year old man doing in a boxing ring? That question tinges the entire movie; it isn't ignored, and we are given an adequate rationale for how this somewhat absurd fight comes together. Still, it seems ludicrous, and it is. Some point to George Foreman knocking out Michael Moorer in 1994 at the age of 45, but that's still a 15 year age gap. Can we really believe this type of fight would happen? No. It's the movies. Regardless, Stallone is impressive for a man of his years. He's got muscles and definition in all the right places, but the close-ups show it's not as tight as it used to be. Saying that, I wouldn't mind looking half that good at that age, and I wouldn't dare pick a fight with him.
So, you're interested in the DVD. What will you get from the fine folks at Sony? Hopefully not a check disc like me, and you'll find great joy and happiness from the transfers. The video is a 1.85:1 anamorphic print, and I was disappointed with what I saw. Was it because I had a check disc? I hope so, because there are several instances of readily apparent vertical noise lines (streaking) that should not be there. Also, nighttime shots are weak in the detail and sharpness of the blacks. Both of these should have been corrected prior to duplication. Beyond that, the colors are accurate and lifelike, popping in the high-definition final fight. Detail, sharpness, and contrast are pretty good during the daylight scenes. The audio, a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, is fairly subdued. It doesn't jump out and grab you, instead giving you a solid aural experience with clear dialogue, deep bass, and good use of the surrounds for ambience. I detected no hiss or distortion.
The DVD comes with an assortment of bonus items, which give a small look at making Rocky Balboa. First up is a commentary track by writer and director, Sylvester Stallone. This subdued talk has small tidbits of information and some interesting stories and anecdotes along the way. Though I wasn't impressed, I listened to the whole thing—moreso because I was caught up in the movie again and curious what Stallone would say. There were some opportunities for explanations of why he did things that were missed, but it's not a horrible track by any stretch.
Next up are seven deleted scenes and an alternate ending. The deleted scenes (including an alternate bar scene where Rocky first meets Little Marie (see "The Rebuttal Witnesses") fleshed out the characters, but they were wise excisions to keep the movie moving along. The alternate ending? They choose wisely. Following this is "Boxing's Bloopers," a brief (1.5 minutes) compilation of bloopers—no biggie.
We now move to the bigger featurettes on the DVD, starting with "Skill vs. Will: The Making of Rocky Balboa" (17 minutes 15 seconds). This is a solid, albeit superficial, overview of the making of the film. It could have used a bit more meat. "Reality in the Ring: Filming Rocky's Final Fight" (15 minutes) is a very good piece of how the fight was put together. The last featurette is "Virtual Champion: Creating the Computer Fight" (4 minutes 45 seconds), a quick and dirty look at the motion capture and such used to make the computer fight. Rounding out the disc are a bunch of trailers: Are We Done Yet?, Casino Royale, The Pursuit of Happyness, Spider-Man 3, Spider-Man 2.1, Surf's Up, Daddy Day Camp, Stranger Than Fiction, Gridiron Gang, The Natural: Director's Cut, Stomp the Yard, and Crossover.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I have two minor quibbles about the otherwise solid and enjoyable Rocky Balboa. First, we have the introduction of what I call "the new Adrian," Little Marie (Geraldine Hughes). By removing Adrian from Rocky's life, we have instant drama and complication. We can see Rocky's need to help and love somebody, but the introduction of this character, while done chastely, seems like a sad replacement for the wife he lost. When she's in the stands, rooting Rocky on to win, she even looks like Adrian. Her subplot could have been dropped. Second, I don't always notice the score but this time I couldn't help but pick up on Bill Conti's, and I wasn't impressed. It seemed that the vast majority of his music was nothing more than orchestral variations on the famous "Rocky's Theme." Boring.
Ah, that damned "Rocky's Theme." When those trumpets start blaring, your heart skips a beat. Put that together with Rocky in the ring, the crowd doing that damned Rocky chant, and you can't help but find yourself excited, wanting that old man to pummel the tar out of Dixon. It's the perfect one, two, three combination to raise your spirits and poke at your emotions. If nothing else, Rocky Balboa has that instant surge of excitement. But Rocky Balboa has so much more than a simple theme and a catchy two-syllable chant. Rocky Balboa is a disarmingly sweet and moving film that brings real closure to a film icon. From his humble roots as a wanna-be to his high as champion to his classification as has-been, Rocky has won our hearts and inspired a generation to climb the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. And with Rocky Balboa, we are surprised once again that such a silly idea can work, with a man proving that it's more than just age that defines you. It's all about heart.
"How does it end?" I'm not going to tell because that's the great mystery of the movie. I wondered the whole time how it was going to play out, and I was delighted with the resolution. It's the perfect cap to the franchise, leaving you on the perfect emotional note. Rocky Balboa is not a gimmick, not some last ditch attempt to capitalize on the franchise and make a few bucks. It's an excellent, warm, and engaging film that I highly recommend. For true fans, take heart, for Stallone states he's thinking a director's cut is in the future.
Rocky Balboa is hereby found not guilty of being too old to fight.
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• Audio Commentary by Sylvester Stallone
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