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Our reviews of Rocky: Special Edition (published April 18th, 2001), Rocky: The Complete Saga (published December 17th, 2007), Rocky: The Undisputed Collection (Blu-Ray) (published November 18th, 2009), and Rocky: Two-Disc Collector's Edition (published January 22nd, 2007) are also available.
His entire life was a million to one shot.
Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, Cobra), a Z-list amateur boxer, has resigned himself to a life as the collecting muscle for one of Philadelphia's local loan sharks (Joe Spinell, Maniac). Content to spend his dog days fighting bums, snapping fingers, and romancing shy pet store clerk Adrian (Talia Shire, I Heart Huckabees), Rocky's world is thrown into a tailspin when heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers, Predator) plucks him out of obscurity for a centennial fight. With the help of a crotchety trainer (Burgess Meredith, Grumpy Old Men), Rocky defies everyone's expectations—especially his own.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and call Rocky the single greatest sports film ever made. I know that's a bold statement, but I think a lot of you sympathize if not downright agree with me on this one. Like all the best sports films, Rocky's success has little to do with the sport of boxing and more to do with great storytelling.
Then underdog-actor Sylvester Stallone blurs the line between himself and his character, Rocky Balboa, having crafted a pitch-perfect character study and a subtle, charismatic performance that keeps the film anchored and realistic. Every member of the supporting cast, from Paulie (Bert Young, Amityville Horror II) to Adrian to Apollo, deliver iconic performances. While the four sequels that followed cheapened this stable of characters (not to mention the original film's legacy, Rocky Balboa not withstanding), every actor makes a huge impression in Rocky.
The gritty cinema verite direction rightfully earned John G. Alvidsen his Academy Award. The film's dirty, grimy, and soft look reflects the street roots of the character. As Alvidsen eases Rocky closers and closer to the title belt, the film starts to get a little more polished, reflecting a newer, brighter outlook for Balboa. Rocky's struggle for self-worth is personified in his brutal title bout against Apollo Creed. Dynamic editing and Alvidsen's spot-on visuals makes every punch pack a wallop and every bead of sweat or drop of blood rife with emotion. Barring the set pieces of Martin Scorsese's anti-Rocky, Raging Bull, it is the greatest punch-drunk rumble in cinema history. The ending rivals any other fisticuffs finale the series had to offer, specifically because of the basic human theme that drives it forward. The finale bypasses the usual win or lose mentality of sports films. It gears the audience toward more important ideals—self-worth, self-improvement, and self-preservation—through two guys beating the holy crap out of each other.
To coin the cheesy axiom associated with every assessment of Rocky, the movie is all about heart, or, more specifically, relationships. From its sweet natured romance between the Italian Stallion and Adrian to a brotherly relationship between Paulie and Rocky to the mutual respect earned between Balboa and Creed ("Ain't gonna be no rematch!"). Rocky's screaming of Adrian's name at the end is one of those over-quoted cinema moments for a reason: it sums up everything that's ever kept an underdog challenger going. I'm not going to ruin it by trying to spell those motivations out with my own hamfisted writing, so why not we just leave it "Adrian" and call it a day.
This isn't Rocky's first shot at the Blu-ray title, but yet another double dip into MGM's current obsession with DigiBook packaging. The disc is identical to the 2006 Blu-ray. The transfer itself is pretty rough when compared to modern titles, boasting a lot of scratches, grain, grime, and fuzziness. As mentioned, part of it is the look of the film, but a lot of it just feels like a dated transfer. Certain shots appear to be half slathered in Vaseline with muted colors, while others look amazingly clear and crisp (especially in the closing fight scene). Given the source material, it's a hard transfer to criticize. I do know a full restoration wouldn't hurt. If rough cinematography displayed in The Evil Dead and Taxi Driver can be restored to full, beautiful HD transfers, I don't see why Rocky should be let off the hook. The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix is equally average. It's very clear for the most part, especially in terms of effects and music, though the dialogue can be a bit mumbling at times (and not just because of Stallone's trademark vocal inflections). There are no extras, aside from the original trailer.
If you have any earlier release of Rocky on Blu, there's absolutely no reason to upgrade here. While the package has great glossy photos, some decent essays and a sharp design, the information offered is nothing more than filler.
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