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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 Complete Saga (published December 17th, 2007), and Rocky: Two-Disc Collector's Edition (published January 22nd, 2007) are also available.
Six movies, thirty years, unfathomable brain damage—Rocky finds a home on Blu-ray.
Facts of the Case
In 1976, America was introduced to one of the most iconic film figures of all time, a simple, amiable paisano from Philadelphia with a slow wit and a hard head. His name? Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, Rambo), a.k.a. the Italian Stallion, a man whose superhuman willpower is exceeded only by a shocking ability to absorb fist-propelled punishment.
Stop me if you've heard this before (actually, stop me if you've heard "stop me if you've heard this before"): the original is still the best. Rocky is genuine and moving, authentically inspiring, and one of the all-time great underdog movies. The finale is most impressive, a culminating bout not defined by who wins but rather who doesn't get destroyed in the first round and manages to shock the world. In lieu of technical mastery and talent, the original Rock has pluck and bricks for fists!
Here's where the series starts to lose its bearing and the finales become predictable. Rocky is still an underdog and Adrian still shoots him concerned looks, but the outcome is never in any doubt and that severely damages the emotional impact (and suspense) of the excursions. Then again, we do get more Apollo—always a good thing—and the big boxing scene is once again brutally epic.
But this is a harbinger of what's to come…
The growing relationship between Apollo and Rocky is the most interesting thing going on here. Even Mr. T, as hard as he tries to be a scary badass, comes across as cartoonish (thanks in part to his obvious cue card reading). Even the centerpiece of these Rocky movies, the end fight, is unfulfilling. But, Adrian still shoots Rocky those concerned looks.
For my money, this is where the series hit self-parody. Is there any doubt that Rocky isn't going to beat the Vegemite out of Drago? Of course not. And if utter predictability wasn't enough, you have the goofy sight of Rocky training in a barn by pushing a plow around, plus a gobsmackingly naive and condescending speech he gives to the Soviet audience (and newly-inspired politburo) before the end credits roll.
The less said about this embarrassment the better. Apparently Sly considers this installment a waste of everyone's time and he's absolutely right: lame Balboa family side stories, a dumb final fight, and one of the dopiest cinematic antagonists ever conceived, combine for the low point in the franchise.
The sixth entry in the series is easily the second-best film. For the first time since the original, it actually feels like Rocky is an underdog, and his last journey into the ring taps into what made the first film so great: the long odds, the simple and accessible morality, the pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps American idealism, and a hugely sympathetic protagonist. Plus, the fight at the end is tense and extraordinarily well-staged. Rocky Balboa is a great movie.
All six films receive 1.85:1 HD widescreen transfers and it's not until the final three that the upgrades really kick in. The first three films boast a solid enough picture quality, but reflect their respective ages. Still, the bump in fidelity is noticeable when measured against the previous standard-def release. To no one's surprise, the sixth film is the best-looking of the bunch. Each benefits from the Blu-makeover, though the latter half of the series earns higher marks. DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks outfit the first five films with varying degrees of panache—the earlier the film, the more front-loaded the mix. And yet those overbearing punching sounds and "The Eye of the Tiger" have never sounded better.
Rocky Balboa features its own set of extras, including commentary from Stallone, deleted scenes, and making-of featurettes. A bonus disc covers the rest of the franchise, and there's plenty to go around: Interviews with Stallone, trainer Lou Duva, and Bert Sugar; featurettes on the make-up, music, direction, and Steadicam; an hour-plus documentary called "In the Ring"; a tribute to Burgess Meredith; 1976 footage of Stallone on Dinah!; and a Blu-ray exclusive trivia challenge.
These films have their highs and lows but, when all is said and done, Rocky truly is an American icon and this nicely-done set does justice to the character.
Not Guilty. Go for it!
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