Judge Dylan Charles wonders if Rocky will have the strength to give up after this bare-bones box set.
Our reviews of Rocky: Special Edition (published April 18th, 2001), Rocky Balboa (published March 20th, 2007), Rocky Balboa (Blu-Ray) (published March 20th, 2007), Rocky (Blu-ray) DigiBook (published June 6th, 2011), Rocky: The Undisputed Collection (Blu-Ray) (published November 18th, 2009), and Rocky: Two-Disc Collector's Edition (published January 22nd, 2007) are also available.
"The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward? That's how winning is done!"
There are few cinematic characters that have clung to the American imagination as tenaciously as Rocky Balboa. He is the next incarnation of Horatio Alger: the belief that with hard work and determination, you can make something of yourself. His stubborn refusal to listen to the doubts of himself and others is what makes him so powerful and defines him as an American hero, which makes it a little puzzling that MGM would treat one of our modern folk heroes so badly with such a barren collection of DVDs.
Facts of the Case
• Rocky: It's 1976, the country's 200th birthday, and current heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers, Predator) decides to take on an unknown fighter in a championship bout. He chooses Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, First Blood). Balboa is struggling at the bottom of the ladder, not so far removed from the streets he grew up on. He tries to romance the incredibly shy Adrian (Talia Shire, The Godfather), while dealing with the persistent demands of Adrian's brother Paulie (Burt Young) to give Paulie a job as a collector for a local loan shark. Apollo's offer is a chance for Rocky to turn his life around. Rocky turns to trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith, Batman) to get into shape for the biggest fight of his life.
• Rocky II begins minutes after the last one ended, with Apollo and Rocky being taken to the hospital for their extensive injuries, sustained during their fight. Rocky retires from the ring (for the first time) and Apollo tries to get past his near defeat at Rocky's hands. But a rematch becomes inevitable as Rocky struggles with life without his boxing gloves on.
• Rocky III shows Rocky on top of the world. His life with Adrian is near-perfect. He trounces all those who challenge him. Enter Clubber Lang (Mr. T, The A-Team), a vicious fighter who will do whatever it takes to take the title from Rocky. Rocky gets help from a surprise quarter to help take on the seemingly unbeatable Lang.
• The Iron Curtain drops just long enough to release Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren, The Punisher) upon the boxing world in Rocky IV. After Drago brutally beats Apollo, Rocky takes it upon himself to bring down this Russian menace.
• Suffering from brain damage after his fight with Drago, Rocky returns to the United States in Rocky V to retire (for the third time). An unscrupulous accountant runs off with Rocky's money and leaves him bankrupt. Rocky refuses to give up though and re-enters the boxing world as a manager for Tommy "The Machine" Gunn (Tommy Morrison). But he risks his family to get Tommy to the top.
• Rocky Balboa has finally left the ring for good and has started a successful restaurant named after his late wife. Trapped by his past, Rocky is finding it hard to let go. He decides he needs to step into the ring one more time when he sees a computer-decided bout between himself and the current heavyweight champion Mason Dixon.
The Rocky series has gone through ups and downs. It starts off with a colossal bang with Rocky. What's incredible about Rocky and what makes it so great is how simple the story is. The plot is not overburdened with bells and whistles. Instead, we're treated to an honest and earnest story about a fighter with little style but a lot of moxie. Rocky is defined by his spirit. He gets a chance to make something more of himself and he grabs it and grabs it hard.
Apollo Creed is Rocky's polar opposite. Apollo is all about style and an excess of personality. It's always been my personal theory that the first four movies in the Rocky series are also about Apollo's fall from grace. He's a tragic hero who is undone by his own hubris. But that might just be my way of injecting actual substance into Rocky III and Rocky IV.
All of the actors seem born to play their parts. Stallone is Rocky. Talia Shire's Adrian has a hidden strength that's buried underneath a crippling shyness. The way she and Rocky interact never feels forced, but touching and genuine. The cantankerous Mickey is both sad and comedic, worried that he'll never get that one fighter who can take him all the way to the top. And then there's Burt Young's Paulie, whose crude vulgarity makes sure Rocky never gets too sweet.
It's surprising how minimalist Rocky can be at times, especially considering some of the over-the-top antics of some of the later entries. There's very little music to score the film, with an a cappella group covering the opening credits and Bill Conti's now-iconic theme providing the emotional energy needed for the training montage and the fight between Rocky and Apollo.
Rocky II feels like an attempt to recapture bottle lightning. There's very little derivation from the formula used in the first movie. Hell, even the opponent is the same, with an irritable Apollo wanting a rematch. It moves slower and takes longer to get where it's going than Rocky did. Just as the momentum is building up, they throw in the Adrian coma sub-plot, which means both the audience and Mickey have to sit around a good while because Rocky has lost his magic feather.
But at least Rocky II stays firmly with Rocky's origins. The series was always at its best when it stuck to the gritty roots of the original. Rocky III replaces the interesting and nuanced character of Apollo with the one-note, poorly acted and two-dimensional Clubber Lang. It's at this point that the Rocky series descends into its more cartoony and goofy period.
Clubber Lang just isn't as interesting as Apollo. There's no depth and he simply acts as an obstacle that Rocky must overcome. There are some nice moments sprinkled throughout, like when Adrian lays the smackdown on Rocky's self doubts. But, for the most part, Rocky III is just shallow good fun.
Rocky IV is even worse. Ivan Drago is a caricature, the physical embodiment of America's fears of the Soviet menace. Here comes the super Russian and maybe even Rocky won't be able to stop him! Rocky IV has four montages, four. The movie is basically nothing more than a collection of montages strung together with plot crap. There's the "My Best Friend is Dead" memories montage. There's the first training montage where Rocky is trying and failing to get into shape. Then there's the second training montage where Rocky overcomes his physical limitations to get into shape. And then there's the end fight montage, where clips of the fight are played with dramatic and stirring music instead of '80s pop songs.
And then there's the robot. The goddamn robot. The robot is a gift from Rocky to Paulie and it should have been the final nail in the coffin for the Rocky movies. Nothing says gravitas and drama like a bunch of robot jokes. It's just one more sign that the Rocky movies have left their roots far behind and are nothing more than a joke.
Which brings us to the much maligned Rocky V (you have no idea how much I wish they had given actual names to these movies at this point). Rocky V ditches the crappy jokes and the cartoony, paper-thin villains. For the most part. There's still the matter of George Washington Duke (Richard Gant), a thinly veiled jab at Don King. Sylvester Stallone tried to take Rocky back to the streets with a contrived series of plot devices. The result was slammed, but Rocky V is a welcome change in tone from III and IV.
Not to say that V isn't problematic. The acting goes all over the place. Gant as Duke is way over the top and goes against the otherwise grim tone of the rest of the movie.
The plot is predictable and painfully contrived in places. For example, Mickey's necklace. Mickey never gave Rocky a necklace. But Stallone decides that Mickey gave Rocky some necklace that apparently Rocky is deeply attached to. Which is funny, seeing as we've never seen it before. The necklace is just there as an awkward and obvious plot device.
But without Rocky V, there would be no Rocky Balboa and that would have been a shame. Rocky Balboa does everything right. It drops the shallow villainous opponents and brings in Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver), who is treated as a real person with layers and depth and all that good stuff.
Stallone sensitively treats themes like loss and growing old and the gaps between generations. There's an apparent respect for the characters and it feels far more personal.
Stallone is back in form as Rocky, in spite of the sixteen years between movies. Tarver plays the role of a boxer well, which he should considering he is one. Their fight at the end is, in fact, mostly real, with actual blows being delivered. This I found out through the extras.
This is called a segue.
I thought to myself, wow, a collection of all six Rocky movies. I'm sure there will be an abundance of extras. Perhaps there will be too many extras even! There was much giddy anticipation.
I checked the back of the case for Rocky and eagerly scanned the special features section. There's a new digital transfer, but nothing else.
I felt a sinking in my gut. If the first one, if the best one, didn't get a jot of extras, what could possibly be on Rocky IV? A detailed making-of-featurette about the robot?
Nope. Nadda. Nothing. Zip. No features. No extras. Just trailers. And the option to watch some of the movies in full screen if you're one of those people who complain about the black bars.
The only movie to get anything was Rocky Balboa. Guess what, if you bought the original release, you've already seen those extras. So while the commentary by Mr. Stallone was great and the documentaries on the fight sequence and virtual fight were informative and interesting, you might have seen them all already.
This is unacceptable and obviously a prelude to another release of all six movies. The transfers are mostly great, with Rocky III being a not-so-sharp exception. Everything else is crystal clear and sounds great. But the lack of features is a painful, insulting blow. And I got this thing for free.
The Rocky movies (well, some of them) deserve much better treatment than this and so do the fans. This lightweight collection has nothing new in it and is really just for those casual fans of the series or for folks who could care less about extras. Everyone else might want to wait a while to see if an actual comprehensive set is released.
Rocky Balboa is still heavyweight champion of the world. MGM and Sony are guilty of fixing this boxed set.
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Scales of Justice, Rocky
Perp Profile, Rocky
Distinguishing Marks, Rocky
• Theatrical Trailer
Scales of Justice, Rocky II
Perp Profile, Rocky II
Distinguishing Marks, Rocky II
• Theatrical Trailer
Scales of Justice, Rocky III
Perp Profile, Rocky III
Distinguishing Marks, Rocky III
• Theatrical Trailer
Scales of Justice, Rocky IV
Perp Profile, Rocky IV
Distinguishing Marks, Rocky IV
• Theatrical Trailer
Scales of Justice, Rocky V
Perp Profile, Rocky V
Distinguishing Marks, Rocky V
• Theatrical Trailer
Scales of Justice, Rocky Balboa
Perp Profile, Rocky Balboa
Distinguishing Marks, Rocky Balboa
• Deleted Scenes and Alternate Ending
Review content copyright © 2007 Dylan Charles; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.