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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Rocky: The Undisputed Collection



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#1 of 4 Cameron Yee

Cameron Yee

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Posted November 08 2009 - 05:51 PM

http://static.hometh...51z9Kmd5smL.jpg">   MAIN FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES Video 1080p high definition 16x9 1.85:1 N/A Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: English Mono, French 5.1, Spanish Mono, N/A Subtitles English SDH, Spanish N/A

The Feature: 4/5

Looking for an opponent for a publicity-generating boxing match, Heavyweight Champion of the World Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) flips through a directory of boxers and picks Rocky "The Italian Stallion" Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), an aging, two-bit club fighter whose life and potential has gone unfulfilled. While Creed sees the match as a foregone conclusion, a clever manipulation of the public's love for the underdog, Balboa sees it as his one chance to get what he's dreamed for all his life -- respect. Even with his crusty trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) and new love Adrian (Talia Shire) in his corner, it's still a long shot. But Rocky's heart will prove to be his greatest strength in a match no one expects him to win, much less see to the end.

Though its three Academy Award wins speaks more to its inspirational power than its cinematic importance, "Rocky" has certainly gone the distance these last 30 years, ultimately prevailing as the best entry of a six-film franchise. Watching it again, it's surprising how little time is actually spent on the training and the fight when those set pieces have proved the most memorable. Of course they wouldn't have the resonance they do without the set up -- in which we see the extent of Rocky's desperation, loneliness, and struggle. Though the sequels tried to recapture that stirring journey from angst to triumph, they never quite rang with the honesty of the original. Only the final film came close and only because it made such explicit callbacks to it. Though Stallone is not always taken seriously as a filmmaker or actor, it's hard to discount this particular legacy, whose enduring popularity comes from more than just its entertainment value but its ability to inspire at a fundamental level.

Video Quality: 3/5

Correctly framed at 1.85:1 and presented in 1080p with the MPEG-2 codec, the film tends to show its age and is probably deserving of a restoration or digital clean up. Black levels are decent overall, though contrast is variable -- some shots are rather flat while others exhibit poor shadow detail from compression at the lower end of the range. Sharpness is similarly inconsistent and certain shots exhibit mild to moderate edge halos. Colors have a muted quality typical of the era, though reds can look excessively vibrant. Visible grain structure indicates the absence of noise reduction measures, though particles can be quite heavy in dimly lit environments; likewise, dirt and "sparkle" can be seen throughout the film. While the more mild issues with the image suit the film's hard scrabble themes, there's certainly room to improve it without destroying the aesthetics. And ultimately it's hard to criticize the image quality too harshly when all signs point to the problems being inherent to the source elements.

Audio Quality: 3/5

As with the video presentation, problems with the audio presentation have little to do with the delivery format. The mix for the DTS-HD Master Audio track, derived from what I assume is a mono source, is at times reasonably balanced but too often off-kilter and blunt in its placement of ambient effects. The lossy Dolby Digital mono track is more pleasing to the ears by comparison, but dialogue can be indistinct and lacks separation from the other sonic elements. That's where the lossless track has the advantage, though it also reveals the vocals' occasional edginess and strain. So it becomes a choice in the lesser of evils to pick between an unsatisfying lossless mix and a sometimes indistinct lossy presentation. The best option may have been to provide the original mono track in a lossless or uncompressed format.

Recap

The Feature: 4/5
Video Quality: 3/5
Audio Quality: 3/5

Rocky II

Year: 1979
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1:59:00

  MAIN FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES
Video 1080p high definition 16x9 1.85:1 N/A
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: English 2.0, Spanish 5.1 / DTS: French 5.1 N/A
Subtitles English SDH, French, Spanish N/A

The Feature: 2.5/5

Fresh off his bout with Creed, Rocky decides to retire from boxing and live a normal life. He marries Adrian, buys a house and begins looking for a job to support his family. But as a high school dropout with a limited set of skills, he doesn't have many options and returns to Mickey's Gym -- but not to fight, to clean up after other fighters as the gym janitor. Meanwhile, Creed can't get past the hollowness of his victory; he wants a rematch to decisively beat Rocky. Rocky ultimately agrees, realizing that once a fighter, always a fighter. His decision puts a strain on his relationship with Adrian and her pregnancy, leading to a health crisis that challenges Rocky's motivation and will to step back in the ring.

"Rocky II" goes into some new territory with its titular character, but the film plays it too safe and comes off as a retread of its predecessor. Rocky gains a wife, a kid and a job, but the lessons to learn remain the same. Keeping the setting in the same Philadelphia neighborhood also doesn't help to visually distinguish it from the first film. And where the first film's character struggles feel like an organic part of the story, in the sequel they amount to thin excuses for what the movie is really about. Though the Apollo-Rocky rematch is no doubt what the public wanted (and honestly the best part of the film) the narrative arc needs a lot of work. In the end, "Rocky Two" is really more like "Rocky One-and-a-Half."

Video Quality: 3.5/5

Correctly framed at 1.85:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the film shows a noticeable improvement in overall sharpness and detail compared to the first film, though debris and sparkle are also more prevalent. However edge haloes appear diminished and contrast is more consistent and accurate. Shadow detail in darker settings continues to be limited, though black levels in general are deep and stable. Colors have the same muted quality as the first film, though depth is decent overall.

Audio Quality: 3.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio mix exhibits fuller dynamic range, most noticeable with the score. The surround mix seems more balanced, though there are still some unnatural sounding moments, most noticeable when the full speaker array is activated for the training and boxing scenes. Dialogue is generally clear, though still somewhat edgy at times.

Recap

The Feature: 2.5/5
Video Quality: 3.5/5
Audio Quality: 3.5/5

Rocky III

Year: 1982
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1:39:00

  MAIN FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES
Video 1080p high definition 16x9 1.85:1 N/A
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: English 2.0, Spanish 5.1 / DTS: French 5.1 N/A
Subtitles English SDH, French, Spanish N/A

The Feature: 3.5/5

Rocky is at the top of his game, still the Heavyweight Champion after 10 title defenses. But an up-and-coming young fighter named Clubber Lang (Mr. T) has his sights set on the belt and is methodically destroying all-comers. Rocky eventually has no excuse but to join him in the ring, but the sudden loss of his trainer Mickey shakes his confidence more profoundly than any well placed punch. Though Rocky loses the title, it's really just a symbol of something he lost long ago. But with the help of an old friend, he might be able to get it back.

Though "Rocky III" begins to show the excesses that would peak with "Rocky IV" and abandons the humble Philadelphia neighborhood of the first two films, the changes make sense for a story that has Rocky losing his way and having to return to the basics. The return of Creed as Rocky's new trainer and foil also prove to be a refreshing change; though the loss of such a beloved character as Mickey is not easy, it does seem like a natural course for the character and a powerful motivator for Rocky's next steps as a fighter. Though by now his victory is a foregone conclusion, somehow it doesn't diminish the infectious energy and enthusiasm that comes with the inevitable training montage, amplified by the now-quintessential Rocky song, "The Eye of the Tiger."

Video Quality: 3/5

Correctly framed at 1.85:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, "Rocky III" exhibits a variability in image quality similar to the first film, though the majority of problems seem to be concentrated in the first third. The picture is often soft, shadow detail is poor, contrast can be muddy or flat, and grain can be quite excessive. However scenes in full daylight show a noticeable improvement across the board, particularly in sharpness and detail. Beginning with the statue commemoration, things seem to stabilize into something more resembling a quality image, with consistent contrast and deep and stable color. As with the first film, it's hard to judge too harshly when all signs point to problems in the source material, but the state of things definitely cries out for some kind of restoration.

Audio Quality: 3.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio track exhibits decent fullness and detail. Surrounds provide support primarily for the score and source music, though the entire array becomes active during the fight scenes with crowd noise and sound effects reinforcing Rocky's psychological state. Dialogue continues to have an edgy quality similar to the other films, though in general there are no problems with its clarity.

Recap

The Feature: 3.5/5
Video Quality: 3/5
Audio Quality: 3.5/5

Rocky IV

Year: 1985
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1:31:00

  MAIN FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES
Video 1080p high definition 16x9 1.85:1 N/A
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: English 2.0, Spanish 5.1 / DTS: French 5.1 N/A
Subtitles English SDH, French, Spanish N/A

The Feature: 3/5

The latest volley in the ongoing Cold War between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. comes in the form of boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Not content to let the Soviets have the last word on athletic superiority, Apollo Creed comes out of retirement to take on the gargantuan fighter in an exhibition match. Tragically, Creed dies from Drago's pummeling, leading Rocky to take up the fight in an unsanctioned bout in the Soviet Union. Though the battle lines are clearly drawn between the two fighters, what will a victory in the ring ultimately prove in the bigger picture of superpower politics?

Like "Rambo III," which came out in 1988, "Rocky IV" is an interesting pop culture artifact from the Cold War era. The depiction of the Soviets as mustache-twirling enemies of the state is as relentless as Rocky's body blows to Drago's midsection. Though Stallone throws a bone to perestroika at the end of the film, it feels very much like an afterthought, a perfunctory "high road" after the main character has beat the stuffing out of the giant Soviet effigy. Of course it's all water under the bridge now and more amusing than anything else. Equally amusing is the number of music montages (I counted four) that illustrate the '80s excess perfectly (that and the scene of Rocky bellowing Drago's name from the top of a mountain). Though probably the most laughable film of the franchise, it is entertaining in its own way -- certainly best enjoyed with friends and some cold beers.

Video Quality: 4/5

Correctly framed at 1.85:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the film is the best looking of the bunch behind "Rocky Balboa." Black levels and contrast are very good, though there is sometimes a slight amount of black crush and an occasional flatness to the picture. Overall sharpness is very good and skin textures and articles of clothing show good detail. Mild edge halos appear at times, as do some speckles, but grain structure appears intact with no signs of manipulation.

Audio Quality: 4/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio track presents a nicely balanced and cohesive mix that offers decent, though not particularly subtle, surround channel activity consisting of ambient effects and music. The numerous music montages help to show off the track's depth in the low end. Dialogue is clear and intelligible. Unlike the preceding features, the audio mix is transparent and balanced enough that it doesn't get in the way of the overall viewing.

Recap

The Feature: 3/5
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 4/5

Rocky V

Year: 1990
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1:44:00

  MAIN FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES
Video 1080p high definition 16x9 1.85:1 N/A
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: English 2.0, Spanish 5.1 / DTS: French 5.1 N/A
Subtitles English SDH, French, Spanish N/A

The Feature: 2.5/5

Rocky is bankrupt, all of his money lost to a crooked accountant that Paulie (Burt Young) mistakenly granted power of attorney. Not only that, Rocky is suffering from minor brain damage, making him ineligible for a boxing license. With no choice but to retire, Rocky liquidates his assets, returns with his family to the old Philadelphia neighborhood, and re-opens Mickey's boxing gym. Though struggling to make ends meet and hounded by a predatory boxing promoter to re-enter the ring, he meets young boxer Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison) and takes him on as his protege. Soon the pair are on the rise in the boxing circuit, but at a cost to Rocky's relationship with his son Robert Jr. (Sage Stallone), who is having a hard time in his new environment. Eventually Rocky will be forced to see how misplaced his energy has been when Tommy abandons him for a shot at the title. Though Tommy prevails in the bout, he can't escape Rocky's shadow and ultimately goes looking to squash his former mentor's reputation.

"Rocky V" seems to take a page out of the Book of Job with the multitude of misfortunes raining down on its protagonist. Though it forces the character to return to his roots, something that makes sense for what was meant to be the franchise's final chapter, the film proves to be a dim reflection of the seminal film and a disappointing way to end the journey. Rocky's last fight, in particular, leaves behind a bad taste -- a raucous street brawl with an unworthy opponent ultimately tarnishes the legacy. Fortunately, Stallone saw it the same way and made "Rocky Balboa," a much more poignant and suitable closing chapter.

Video Quality: 3/5

Correctly framed at 1.85:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the image reverts to the variable quality of the first three films. Though black levels are generally deep and stable, contrast exhibits compression at the lower end of the range with limited shadow detail. Sharpness is generally good with some softness, though detail improves after about the first 30 minutes. There is also light edge haloing, speckle and slight but noticeable color shifts.

Audio Quality: 3.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio track presents a nicely balanced and cohesive mix that offers good, immersive ambient effects, ample low end depth, and support for the score and source music. Dialogue is clear and detailed. Like the previous film, the overall mix and presentation provide a transparency that does not get in the way of the film, though it lacks some of its more dynamic qualities.

Recap

The Feature: 2.5/5
Video Quality: 3/5
Audio Quality: 3.5/5

Rocky Balboa

Year: 2006
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1:42:00

  MAIN FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES
Video 1080p high definition 16x9 1.85:1 High definition
Audio PCM (uncompressed): English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: English 5.1, French 5.1 Stereo
Subtitles English, English SDH, French, Spanish N/A

The Feature: 4/5

Having lost Adrian to cancer several years ago, Rocky spends his days running a small Italian restaurant close to his neighborhood. His brother-in-law Paulie is his sole companion, but seems to barely tolerate Rocky's pensive trips down memory lane. Rocky's son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia) is grown and working in the city, but the two barely speak. Rocky's life is by all accounts quite normal - not perfect, but certainly normal.

But for a fighter normal isn't always enough, and Rocky decides to put on the gloves again. He's not looking for anything big, just small, local fights to scratch his itch. But a computer program also just determined he would come out as the victor against the reigning heavyweight champion, Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver), who's already struggling to maintain his popularity and credibility. Dixon's agents ultimately see the hypothetical match-up as something worth pursuing in real time and approach Rocky with their offer of an exhibition match. It's another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, like the one that put him on the map, but it's also been 30 years since the fateful day when Apollo Creed picked his name out of a book. With some advice from his new friend Marie (Geraldine Hughes), who turns out to be the "Little Marie" from the old neighborhood, he decides to step into the ring once more and find out what he has left to offer. Though a lot has changed for Rocky -- financial ups and downs, the loss of his wife and old friends -- his heart hasn't changed and it will prove to be his greatest asset once again.

Somewhat under-appreciated on its theatrical release, it may take a marathon viewing of the franchise to value the poignancy and sentiment behind "Rocky Balboa." Written as a proper sendoff for the iconic character, the film includes numerous callbacks to the original film, including the return of Marie, the upstart neighborhood girl who told Rocky, "Screw you, creepo!" after a well-meaning lecture about boys and cigarettes. Presented not as a romantic relationship but a sweet friendship between two lonely people, it serves as a touching reminder that it's never too late to make friends or reach out to people in need. The approach to Rocky's final match is also quite different compared to past films, certainly with its increased realism, but also in the way his opponent is not really an antagonist. If anything Dixon is an heir to the Rocky legacy. Because he never fought a worthy opponent, no one takes him or his title seriously. By stepping into the ring with him, Rocky essentially passes on the crown, imparting the respect and credibility Dixon needs by putting him through the kind of fight he's never experienced before. The cut of the final moments is especially powerful - Rocky leaves the ring before the results are announced, showing that once again it's not about winning it's about making the most of the chance that comes your way and going the distance. Once again, Stallone surprises us, closing the "Rocky" franchise with a story that feels just as inspiring as the one that started it all over 30 years ago.

Video Quality: 4.5/5

The most recent installment in the franchise sports the best looking image quality, though its visual style is also in many ways remarkably different from all the films that came before. At times stylized in its cinematography and taking a new, more realistic approach to covering and presenting the boxing match, the technical presentation is ultimately quite modern despite the nostalgic and retrospective qualities of the script.

Correctly framed at 1.85:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, black levels and contrast are excellent, though stylized scenes result in some intentional compression at the low end of the range. Colors show similarly excellent depth and boldness, particularly in the final scenes set in Las Vegas. Sharpness is very good and fine detail in skin and fabrics comes through wonderfully with no signs of noise or other technical artifacts. Likewise the transfer exhibits no evidence of edge enhancement or digital noise reduction measures. It's an overall excellent image and transfer.

Audio Quality: 4.5/5

Dialogue dominates the Uncompressed PCM 5.1 mix until the training and fighting scenes, but is appropriately clear and detailed, presenting the gravel of Stallone's and Young's voices beautifully. When the full array activates in the final act, the mix exhibits excellent balance, depth and clarity. The breadth and detail of the crowd noise in particular makes for an immersive experience in the film's inspirational final moments.

Special Features: 4/5


Commentary with Sylvester Stallone: Stallone goes into great depth about his motivations for making the film and speaks with great passion about [the production], his life and his career failings. (Content review by Ben Williams from his HTF review of the
"Rocky Balboa" single-disc release.)

Deleted Scenes and Alternate Ending (23:19, HD)

Boxing's Bloopers (1:31, HD)

Skill vs. Will: The Making of Rocky Balboa (17:47, HD): Covers the film's inspiration, development, script, casting, working with Stallone, cinematography, and filming on location in Philadelphia.

Reality in the Ring: Filming Rocky's Final Fight (15:38, HD): Describes what was done to make the fight scene more realistic, including the sound design for each boxer's punches, the use of a pre-existing HBO pay-per-view arena, and the use of HD video and coverage techniques for the footage. The documentary also looks at Stallone's training regimen and the full-contact punches delivered to the actors.

Virtual Champion: Creating the Computer Fight (5:08, HD): Shows the techniques used to re-create the actors in computer animated form, which included motion capture of the fight, casting plaster face masks and full body scans of the actors.

Previews (HD): Includes trailers for "Casino Royale," "Talladega Nights," "Stranger than Fiction," "Gridiron Gang," "The Pursuit of Happyness," and "Coming Soon to Blu-Ray."

Recap

The Feature: 4/5
Video Quality: 4.5/5
Audio Quality: 4.5/5
Special Features: 4/5

Special Features Disc

Video Standard definition, high definition
Audio Stereo
Subtitles English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, German, Italian, Dutch, Norwegian, Castellano, Swedish, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Korean

Overall Score: 4.5/5

Since the special features are ported from the 2007 "Rocky" collector's edition DVD, there's little material concerning the sequels. I doubt many will complain, given the original film's popularity, but it would have been nice to have a little more attention paid to the rest of the films. Nevertheless, the package offers tremendous depth and breadth, and together with the special features from "Rocky Balboa," makes for an impressive package overall.

Feeling Strong Now! Game: Answer trivia and go through hit-point style fights to make your way up the boxing circuit.

Three Rounds with Legendary Trainer Lou Duva (4:44, SD): Duva talks about his role in the ring and changes in the sport.

Interview with Legend Bert Sugar: Author/Commentator and Historian (6:56, SD): Sugar talks about the sport of boxing, the popularity of boxing films and the significance of "Rocky" in particular.

The Opponents (16:23, SD): Profiles of Rocky's opponents from "Rocky" to "Rocky V." Includes interviews with Director John Avildsen, Carl Weathers, Dolph Lundgren and Tommy Morrison. Mr. T is notably absent.

In the Ring: Three-Part Documentary (1:15:52, SD): In-depth documentary spends most of its time on the actors - Stallone, Shire, Meredith, Young and Weathers, how they were cast and what they brought to their roles. Stories about the production come out of their recollections and discussion of characters. If the other featurettes on the music, make up and cinematography did not exist, the piece would be incomplete, but since those topics are covered elsewhere, "In the Ring" is an interesting look back with the core actors.

Steadicam: Then and Now with Garrett Brown (17:25, SD): Brown, cinematographer and inventor of the Steadicam (and Steadicam operator for "Rocky"), talks about what motivated the creation of his revolutionary camera rig and shares original test footage from the prototype. An interesting piece that provides a nice history of the now-ubiquitous camera mount.

Make Up! The Art and Form with Michael Westmore (15:08, SD): Westmore talks about the techniques used to bruise and bloody Stallone and Weathers.

Staccato: A Composer's Notebook with Bill Conti (11:26, SD): Conti shares his philosophy about composing for film and his intent behind key pieces of the "Rocky" score.

The Ring of Truth (9:48, SD): Art Director James Spencer talks about preparing and dressing the film's locations and sets.

Behind the Scenes with John Avildsen (12:36, SD): Director Avildsen shares 8mm test footage that he used as a sort of sketch pad for the film, in particular for the fight choreography and make up effects.

Tribute to Burgess Meredith (7:56, SD): Friends and colleagues share their memories about working with the late great actor. Some of the stories are repeated from the earlier three-part documentary.

Tribute to James Crabe (3:46, SD): Director Avildsen talks about his friendship and working relationship with "Rocky" cinematographer Crabe.

Video Commentary with Sylvester Stallone (28:56, SD): Stallone talks about various aspects of the film, including what inspired the script, the kissing scene with Shire, and the original ending.

Sylvester Stallone on Dinah! [1976] (17:16, SD): Archival talk show appearance shows Stallone early in the "Rocky" wave of success. It's also interesting to see how much more time was spent with guests.

Rocky Anthology Trailers: Includes the "Rocky" theatrical (3:34, SD) and teaser (1:36, SD), and theatrical trailers for "Rocky II" (2:43, SD), "Rocky III" (2:30, SD), "Rocky IV" (2:06, SD), "Rocky V" (2:03, SD), and "Rocky Balboa" (2:19, HD).

TV Spots (1:30, SD): Three vintage "Rocky" spots titled "Introducing Sylvester Stallone," "Critical Acclaim #1" and "Critical Acclaim #2."

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#2 of 4 Aaron Silverman

Aaron Silverman

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Posted November 09 2009 - 08:07 AM

Anyone have an opinion on how big of a loss the commentaries from the 2-disc edition are?

"How wonderful it will be to have a leader unburdened by the twin horrors of knowledge and experience." -- Mr. Wick

#3 of 4 Southpaw

Southpaw

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Posted November 09 2009 - 11:18 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by Aaron Silverman View Post

Anyone have an opinion on how big of a loss the commentaries from the 2-disc edition are?
I was going to say something about it. Without the commentaries and a new pressing of Rocky I, it's a NO Buy for me.

#4 of 4 Aaron Silverman

Aaron Silverman

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Posted February 26 2010 - 02:18 AM

Still nothin'?  Amazon Gold Box has this for $38 today and I'm sorely tempted.  'Twould be nice to have a copy of the original with subtitles.


"How wonderful it will be to have a leader unburdened by the twin horrors of knowledge and experience." -- Mr. Wick