Judge Ryan Keefer craps thunder, but only after his routine dose of curry at the local Thai restaurant.
Our reviews of Rocky: Special Edition (published April 18th, 2001), Rocky (Blu-ray) DigiBook (published June 6th, 2011), Rocky: The Complete Saga (published December 17th, 2007), and Rocky: The Undisputed Collection (Blu-Ray) (published November 18th, 2009) are also available.
"Well, ya see, sir I understand you're lookin' for sparrin' partners for Apollo, and I jus' want ta let ya know that I am very available."
If one were to consider the recent release of Rocky Balboa as the de facto final film in the Rocky pentalogy (because let's face it, Rocky V was abhorrent, so this new film is the cinematic equivalent of a mulligan), MGM has decided to roll out Sylvester Stallone's initial ode to "The Italian Stallion" as part of a new two-disc edition. After a lackluster first one and a much more robust second, is the third the charm, or will we continue to see endless versions of this on disc?
Facts of the Case
Come on, if you don't know by now, you better ask someone, and when they look at you incredulously, make sure they take a picture and send it to me. Rocky Balboa (Stallone) is a very average club boxer who also has a job as muscle for a local Philadelphia gangster. Nothing is really going on in his life, though he is attracted to a very sheepish woman named Adrian (Talia Shire, The Godfather, I Heart Huckabees) who works at a pet store.
One day, the very charismatic heavyweight champion of the world, the self-proclaimed "Master of Disaster" Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers, Predator, Arrested Development) is very lonely at the top. He has beaten all of the challengers to his title. So as part of a public relations gimmick, he decides to give a one in a million title shot to an unknown fighter, and decides to hold it in the City of Brotherly Love. Enter Balboa, under the tutelage of the ornery gym manager Mickey (Burgess Meredith, Grumpy Old Men), as he tries to make the most of his shot at glory.
Sure, Rocky may be known as much for the film progeny it's spawned, good or bad. It's given us Mr. T, sure, but it's also given us Brigitte Nielsen. Stallone took the proverbial golden ticket and basically tried to make every origami figure under the sun with it, franchising any and everything possible relating to the icons he has helped promote. And sure, it may not hold up as solidly as other films have in the three decades since it was released, but it's Rocky for God's sake!
But, and I think this is important, Rocky came along at a time where cynicism and disenchantment were at their peak historically and theatrically, and it helped bring back a wave of optimism that the country needed. Now let me say, in no way do I condemn or vilify any of the films I'm about to mention, as I enjoy them and they are titles in my own library, but America had been through the ringer for the last decade with Vietnam, and closer to home, it was still smarting from the impact that Watergate had on its circles of power. The films that Rocky competed against reflected this cynicism, but other films were simply misinterpreted for their times and not given the proper critical examination they may have deserved. All the President's Men was a docudrama based on the work of Watergate reporters Woodward and Bernstein; Network was a look at the increasing commercialization of the news business to the point where it was no longer that; Taxi Driver was a perceived ultraviolent look at life in the streets of New York through the eyes of a psychotic. And sure, Network got the glory come Oscar time (on a side note, why the hell didn't William Holden get some recognition for that performance? Oh well, another rant for another time), Taxi Driver is one of film's landmarks and All the President's Men got its own share of awards recognition, but with all deference to Sidney Lumet and his still-raw feelings about not getting Best Picture, Rocky just couldn't be ignored.
An additional examination of Rocky proves just how much was really going on for it, along with the level of kismet that rings throughout its two hours. From a story perspective, one would presume that Stallone didn't have so much presence of thought to build in an ending that provided for such a perfect segue into a sequel from two different vantage points. If he really was that smart, he's got my respect, hands down. I mean really, is the film remembered more for the embrace between Rocky and Adrian or for the result of the match? Yep, exactly.
And come on, mock Bill Conti's score all you want, but if it doesn't knock the emotional moments right off the chart with a score that's poignant, chilling and uplifting, then you have no soul. Or you're a Republican. You can name that tune in two notes, and instantly recall the pain in Rocky's training, or the anticipation of going to war against the champion, even if you're seemingly overmatched.
It's funny how people who get placed into extraordinary circumstances wind up doing extraordinary things. You know that Rocky is willing to do anything to get his chance to win the bout, even if by saying, "Cut me Mick…" you know something cringe-worthy is going to happen, but as a viewer, you're fully prepared in knowing that it's a necessary step to try and maintain the pace of battle. Rocky has gone from a cigarette smoking thumb-breaking thug who occasionally boxes to one that has given the Champion of the World the run of his life. He knows that even if he fails, leaving it all on the table is the only option.
This new version of Rocky looks really familiar to the version released in 2001 when the film's 25th anniversary was celebrated, with those extras and some new ones being brought over to this edition. The pieced together cast and crew commentary is retained, but is accompanied by a track with boxing trainer Lou Duva and boxing writer Bert Sugar. Stallone also does a commentary to complete things. The special features on the disc include separate interview segments with Duva and Sugar, with another segment focusing on the opponents that Rocky has fought, part one through part five. With the exception of Mr. T (a criminal omission), the film's opponents discuss their motivations for their characters and the other cast members discuss their thoughts on the villains. Weathers, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren, The Punisher (1989)) and Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison) all pitch in their two cents, and film clips of each fight are included to boot.
Moving onto the second disc of supplemental material, the largest bonus on the disc is a documentary about the film titled "In the Ring." The hour-plus documentary covers things from Stallone's script to producer Robert Chertoff to overall thoughts about the film. Those actors who are still alive talk about the characters they played, and others talk about said characters as well. Some of those actors (like Young and Shire) talk about their origins before talking the roles, and some of the production is accompanied by handheld footage that director John Avildsen shot at the time. The end shows the group's thoughts on the film without discussing its legacy too much. As far as historical retrospectives go, it's nice, but doesn't feel complete. "Steadicam: Then and Now" is an interesting look at the development of the tool that was used in this film by Garrett Brown, and includes test footage of him trying out an old prototype. Technically, it's a very intriguing look at the camera, breaking down the components of it, and what Brown has done since then in terms of camera innovations. Michael Westmore (who did the makeup for the film) and Conti appear on separate featurettes discussing the makeup and score for the film, and Art Director James Spencer discusses the urge to get everything right from a design standpoint from the film. Each individual gets about ten minutes to talk about the challenges, their approach in films in their particular areas, and what they think of the final product. More of Avildsen's footage is used for a behind the scenes look that was retained from the 25th anniversary edition, along with separate tributes to Meredith and cinematographer, James Crabe. Stallone provides an interesting video commentary that discusses his inspirations for the film in what is a surprisingly introspective and intellectual look at the film, and Stallone's 1976 appearance on the Dinah Shore show complete the second disc. But, in order to make the movie tie-in complete, a three minute sneak preview and a free ticket to Rocky Balboa are included for your amusement and fulfillment.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As I mentioned earlier, this is the third release of Rocky on DVD, and the series just came out with its official sixth title. Either put out the bells and whistles Ultimate Edition, or stop beating the cash cow every five years. It's just that simple. Oh, and if you want to make this thing ultimate, stop with the jibba jabba and include more T!
I hope that for the sake of the film's countless fans that MGM has bled the root dry, and that this is it as far as releases of the film go. It's as good as it's going to look, short of a Blu-Ray or high definition version of the film (which is out now), and aside from perhaps a reunited cast commentary or extended roundtable with Stallone, fellow cast and crew, it's safe to say that this is definitive as Rocky is going to get.
Yo Adrian, not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Sylvester Stallone
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