The character of Rocky Balboa, two-time heavyweight champion and all-around good guy: basically pure of heart and soul, headlined six films in a movie franchise that spanned thirty years. While the films themselves vary wildly in quality, there’s no denying that even in the worst of them, the title character remains true to its original conception and honest in its appeal. The new “Heavyweight Collection” of Rocky films on Blu-ray contains a new remastered edition of the original Oscar-winning movie (taken from a 4K scan) along with the other five films collected again but with no alteration in their original quality and no additional bonus material.
Distributed By: Fox
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 1.0 DD (Mono), English 2.0 DD, English 5.1 DD, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, English PCM 5.0, Spanish 1.0 DD (Mono), Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DTS, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Other
Rating: PG, PG-13
Run Time: 10 Hrs. 34 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case with leaves in a slipcase
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 02/11/2014
Rocky – 4.5/5
The Production Rating: 3/5
Journeyman club fighter Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) earns most of his living as a collector for the mob in Philadelphia. Though a tough guy in the ring, he’s an easy-going, slow-witted gentle giant outside it, and he’s a definite presence in his neighborhood. He’s sweet on his best friend Paulie’s (Burt Young) sister Adrian (Talia Shire), but she’s so painfully shy and emotionally withdrawn after constant beratings from her brother that she’s slow to respond to Rocky’s clumsy advances. Things take an upturn for the Italian Stallion (his ring moniker) when heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) decides for his next title defense he’ll offer an unknown fighter a shot at the title, and Rocky is his choice. This gives Rocky a great boost in confidence increased even more when longtime trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) offers his services after rebuking him for years for not taking his fighting more seriously. With that and Adrian’s growing interest renewing his faith in himself, Rocky begins to train seriously for his chance of a lifetime.
The two-hour film has been broken neatly into two sections. In the first half, we get to know all of the principal players in the drama as they act and react to one another. The second half concentrates on Rocky’s preparations for the fight as he slowly begins to think of himself as something other than a loser. Sylvester Stallone’s script gives the naïve title character many unforgettable moments from his clunky attempts at wooing Adrian, his concerned way of dealing with lowlifes in the neighborhood, and his unusual training methods (pounding on sides of beef rather than a heavy bag at the gym) to an impressive physical workout montage, and, of course, the climactic title fight with its many ebbs and flows. Little wonder that Stallone refused to sell his script unless he was also hired to play the role: it’s a magnificent showcase for a physical actor. John G. Avildsen’s direction is very meat and potatoes which suits this Cinderella story to perfection, and all of the principals triumph with their carefully crafted parts.
Rocky II – 3/5
Clearing $37,000 from his split-decision loss to champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) and promised a number of commercial and endorsement deals, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) decides to retire from fighting not only because of a damaged right eye but also to make his new wife Adrian (Talia Shire) happy. But he finds he’s no good in front of a camera so commercials are out, and he blows through his nest egg pretty quickly buying expensive presents and a house and car for his new family. Soon, he realizes that fighting is all he knows and even though Adrian objects, he accepts a return match with the champion who has been hounded for months by assertions that the fight was fixed or that his skills aren’t what they once were. Once again Rocky finds himself the underdog with Creed more determined than ever to prove Rocky’s going the distance in the first fight was a complete fluke.
The only real question this sequel really offered was whether star, writer, and now director Sylvester Stallone would manipulate his character into the heavyweight championship. The rest of the film with all of its narrative side streets with Adrian’s coma after childbirth, Rocky’s inability to do anything else to earn a living, and Rocky’s dispassionate approach to intense training (before the expected awe-inspiring montage of unconventional training techniques) is really much ado about nothing. The fight in the first one was so good than admirers of the film wanted a screen rematch, and that’s what they get in a contest that’s as good or better than the first one in its staging and shooting (though Stallone’s overuse of slow motion is irritating). Everyone returns in fine form though Stallone has allotted almost all of the good lines and scenes for himself (Burt Young is seriously underused), and everyone else is clearly in support of him throughout.
Rocky III – 3/5
After winning the heavyweight championship, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) enjoys three years at the top successfully defending his title ten times and earning millions from endorsements and guest appearances. But a new contender is moving up the ranks, the hard-hitting, sadistic Clubber Lang (Mr. T), but Rocky’s trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) resists a match-up between the two since Rocky now used to the easy life isn’t hungry enough to train adequately for the fight. But when Clubber makes insulting advances toward Rocky’s wife (Talia Shire), Rocky accepts the challenge. On the night of the fight, Mickey has a coronary attack right before the bout, and Rocky, worried about Mickey and inadequately prepared, is knocked out in the second round. Feeling like a loser again, Rocky is visited by old nemesis Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) who doesn’t feel the crude Lang is worthy of holding the title, so he and Rocky after some strong convincing from Adrian begin training for Rocky’s comeback fight.
By the third film, Sylvester Stallone’s writing for the character has become completely formulaic: keep Rocky an underdog so he can find courage within himself to meet and overcome a new obstacle. This leads to all the familiar tropes from the previous films including his overuse of slow motion and the by now clichéd training montage to “Gonna Fly Now.” Knowing that the song had been overused by this point, Stallone ordered a new motivational song for the series, and “Eye of the Tiger” was born, another hard-driving inspirational motif for Rocky’s continual fight against all impediments. Rocky’s two fights with Clubber are engrossing enough, but the sense of déjà vu that hangs over the film now sometimes seems overpowering. Mr. T’s debut is a powerful one even if his subsequent appearances in films and television traded on the persona created in this movie. Burt Young, one of the more powerful actors in the first film, has now been reduced to comic relief in the series only to get worse in the subsequent two movies.
Rocky IV – 2.5/5
When the Soviet Union announces it is entering the professional sports arena, their first entrant is Olympic gold medallist in boxing Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), a towering, near-silent muscular hulk who appears to be invincible. Through his interpreter wife (Brigitte Nielsen), the gauntlet is thrown down at the feet of the world heavyweight champion, but retired former champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), chafing at being out of the spotlight, volunteers to uphold the honor of the United States in an exhibition bout in Las Vegas with the lumbering giant. When the bout turns real, Creed is annihilated by Drago and dies of his injuries in Rocky’s (Sylvester Stallone) arms. Rocky vows to avenge his friend and regain honor for America by traveling to Russia and engaging Drago in a non-sanctioned match on Christmas Day. Despite pleadings from wife Adrian (Talia Shire) that he can’t possibly win and might die like Apollo, Rocky travels to the Soviet Union and begins preparations for his match.
By the fourth film, writer-director Sylvester Stallone has abandoned almost all semblance of dramatic narrative in lieu of shortcut scenes among the characters sprinkled between music video montages of various key points in the story. The concluding moments of Rocky III that start the movie are played over a repeat of “Eye of the Tiger” and other montages cover Rocky’s memories after his fight with Adrian (clips from all four Rocky films over the song “No Easy Way Out”), the arrival in Russia and the initial training, and the dual training montage juxtaposing Drago’s high tech machined-based workouts (where it’s suggested he’s also the product of anabolic steroids; nevertheless, Dolph Lundgren is an impressive physical specimen, but with barely a dozen words to speak, he lets his body do the acting) with Rocky’s back-to-nature training (two music videos, one of which is “Hearts on Fire”). The movie comes to a dead halt in order for James Brown to deliver a high energy “Made in America” solo song before the Drago-Creed fight while the Russian contingent looks on with jingoistic disgust at American excess (in fact, the entire film makes a point of setting up an “our way of life” versus “their way of life” conflict that inevitably only Rocky’s heart and courage can bring to an understanding – shameful grandstanding exacerbated by having the pro-Russian crowd actually switch allegiance in the middle of the fight from their champion Drago to Rocky – a decisive insult to the Soviet people). The fight itself is quite galvanizing (even if no human on earth could absorb that much punishment and survive), but then all of the fights in the first four films provide their highlights.
Rocky V – 2/5
After suffering brain damage from his brutal fight with Ivan Drago, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) must reluctantly retire from the ring, but his retirement couldn’t have come at a worse time when he learns that Paulie’s (Burt Young) foolish business decisions have led to his losing his millions and being forced to auction everything he has to clear up back taxes. Now back in the old neighborhood and starting from scratch, he begins training an eager young heavyweight Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison) teaching him all the tricks of the trade that he knows. Tommy has great success, but he resents being in Rocky’s shadow and after being pursued by ruthless promoter G.W. Duke (Richard Gant) who holds contracts on all the top contenders, Tommy leaves Rocky’s management and signs with Duke. Meanwhile, Rocky’s adolescent son (Sage Stallone) has become increasingly resentful of all the time his father spends with Tommy while ignoring him, so his rebellion causes a giant rift in the Balboa family.
Though the film reunites many of the original members of the Rocky cast and crew (including the return of Oscar-winning director John G. Avildsen behind the camera with only Carl Weathers missing), the film turns out to be the nadir of the series. Though Stallone genuinely tries to write a full narrative this time and not rely on music videos to tell the story, almost everything about the plot seems phony and overly manipulative. Rocky’s bankruptcy is certainly not an unbelievable occurrence to a once-prominent sports figure, but if he’s as irresistibly popular as the film suggests (enough to make Tommy jealous of the coverage Rocky gets with his success and with the greedy Duke moving heaven and earth to get Rocky back in the ring), there would be no end to endorsement deals he could make to keep him financially solvent. Besides, where was Adrian during all of those years their taxes weren’t being paid? It seems out of character for her to have ignored something that basic for every American household. The movie’s climactic fight where the crazed and jealous Tommy calls out Rocky for a street brawl (on the night he wins the championship!) is sadly anticlimactic (even Stallone admitted years later they should have met in the ring) and unsatisfying as is the final comeuppance for Duke (who could easily have had Rocky arrested for assault with a deadly weapon since fighters’ hands are considered such by law). The movie does have one cherishable moment: Rocky’s memory of a conversation with his trainer Mickey which actor Burgess Meredith turns into a few minutes of an acting master class.
Rocky Balboa – 3.5/5
Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), now a widower and a restaurateur in Philadelphia, still has that burning desire within him to fight. Despite now being in his fifties, he gets himself examined and manages to be granted a license to fight, but he really just wants to engage in club fights with local heavyweights. Current heavyweight champion Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver) nursing a lot of ill will from fight fans who are frustrated by the lack of worthy competition for him, sees himself being defeated by Rocky Balboa in a computer simulated fight and gets his managers to set up a ten-round exhibition fight with Rocky in Las Vegas. Rocky’s estranged son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia) isn’t sure this is the right move for him, but new friend Marie (Geraldine Hughes) and her son Steps (James Francis Kelly III) think he should do what makes him happy, so it’s on to Vegas for Rocky, Paulie (Burt Young), trainer Duke (Tony Burton), and his team.
Again, Stallone has attempted to write a serious narrative (even though the brain and nerve trauma problems for his character from Rocky V have been completely ignored), and while it’s a very marked improvement from the last sequel entry, the story still falls deeply into the formula which has served the series for thirty years. Yes, there’s a threatening opponent this time much younger and faster than Rocky, and there is the expected “Gonna Fly Now” training montage that even incorporates the raw eggs, beef carcass pounding, and racing up the art museum steps from the first film. Interestingly, the climactic fight is filmed in video HD as an HBO pay-per-view event giving it a somewhat novel approach even if the bout comes full circle in terms of give and take to his first Apollo Creed fight. Rocky’s son doesn’t have much of a interesting narrative through-line, and the tentative new romantic interest with one-time neighborhood tough Marie doesn’t strike any sparks at all. But nostalgia does certainly play a part into the movie’s overall effectiveness as we bid an obvious fond farewell to one of cinema’s most iconic characters.
Rocky – 4/5
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
All of the films are presented in their theatrical aspect ratios of 1.85 and are offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Though sporting the one new remaster of the collection (taken from a 4K scan), digital manipulation has smoothed out some of the rough edges which previous versions of the film have always featured. DNR has not robbed the characters of details in close-ups, and there are no waxy countenances, but the film seems slicker and less gritty than in past incarnations. Flesh tones appear generally natural though occasionally overly rosy. Black levels vary from good to excellent. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
Rocky II – 3/5
All of the remaining discs in the package are the same as they were in the last Blu-ray compilation release. Thus, there are specks and contrast inconsistencies throughout this encode though the image can be pleasantly sharp on occasion (just not always). Flesh tones are generally realistic, and color is generally strong. The movie has been divided into 16 chapters.
Rocky III – 4/5
This transfer marks a significant improvement in image quality from the previous film. Sharpness is much better, and color is richer and deeper with more believable flesh tones throughout. Contrast has also been dialed in more consistently though there are still some stray specks to be seen on occasion. Black levels are also quite good. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
Rocky IV, V – 3.5/5
Though cleaner than the transfer of Rocky II, these transfers have the same problems with sharpness and inconsistent contrast that plagued that disc. Color seems somewhat muddy on occasion though flesh tones are natural enough. Black levels aren’t particularly impressive either. There is some banding glimpsed in some of the darker scenes of Rocky V. The movies have each been divided into 16 chapters.
Rocky Balboa – 4.5/5
Sharpness and contrast are much more consistently rendered in this most recent entry in the series, and black levels are a distinct improvement, too. Color is nicely rendered throughout with accurate flesh tones. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
Rocky – 4/5
Audio Rating: 4/5
As in past releases, the original mono mix (which is also present here in a Dolby Digital 1.0 track) has been expanded into a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix, but the film’s low budget origins are always in evidence. Bill Conti’s music and ambience from crowd scenes do find their ways into the fronts and rears, but the audio is often focused on the front channels only. Dialogue is clear enough and has been placed in the center channel.
Rocky II – 3.5/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix offers good but not great fidelity. Once again, the attention is more toward the front than the rears which go silent for long stretches of time. There is the expected full soundstage ambience during the fight scene and with Bill Conti’s music throughout, but other moments don’t maximize the available sound channels.
Rocky III, IV – 4/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix of each film delivers a more consistent surround experience while still robbing the rear channels of truly immersive ambience throughout the film. The fight scenes, of course, are the most enveloping, but later films in the series make better use of the soundstage during the fights. Dialogue has been well recorded and has been placed in the center channel. Bill Conti’s music in III and Vince DiCola’s music in IV (along with all of those interpolated songs from a variety of sources for the many montages) once again provide the most consistent surround experience.
Rocky V – 4.5/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is the first one that has the power and impact that modern surround sound technology can afford. While still not quite there, punches in the ring and out have a lot more authority and zip while a surround presence is much more keenly felt throughout. Bill Conti’s music continues to get nice placement through the soundstage, and dialogue in the center channel is nice and clear at all times.
Rocky Balboa – 4.5/5
This disc offers a choice of PCM 5.1 (4.6 Mbps) or Dolby Digital 5.1. The uncompressed sound mix might not be quite reference quality now, but when the disc was issued some seven years ago, it was fairly state-of-the-art. There are striking pans through the soundstage, and there is much more surround activity throughout, not just with Bill Conti’s music but with Philadelphia ambience and, of course, the noisy Vegas fight at the climax. Dialogue has been expertly recorded and has been placed in the center channel.
Special Features Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentaries: three different ones are available. The best features director John G. Avildsen, producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, actors Talia Shire, Carl Weathers and Burt Young, and camera operator Garrett Brown. Boxing icons Bert Sugar and Lou Duva share the second. Sylvester Stallone goes solo for the third.
8mm Home Movies (8:13, HD): though the movies taken during rehearsals and on set by the director are silent, John Avildsen and production manager Lloyd Kaufman provide commentary.
In the Ring (1:14:59, SD): a three-part documentary on the making of the film with tributes paid to all participants by stars Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, director John Avildsen, and producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler.
Three Rounds with Lou Duva (4:31, SD): the famous trainer of many champions discusses the sweet science and his philosophy of boxing.
The Opponents (16:10, SD): three of the men who played Rocky’s opponents (Carl Weathers, Dolph Lundgren, and Tommy Morrison) talk about their characters and their experiences making the films while producer Robert Chartoff emphasizes that these opponents and Mr. T’s Clubber Lang were all chosen to make Rocky always the underdog in the movies.
The Ring of Truth (9:35, SD): production designer Bill Cassidy describes the various locations used for the film in both Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
Interview with a Legend: Bert Sugar (6:47, SD): legendary boxing expert Bert Sugar describes his passion for the sport and the place Rocky holds in the history of the sport.
Steadicam: Then and Now (17:35, SD): inventor Garrett Brown discusses his invention and describes how he sold director John Avildsen on using it for the film.
Makeup: The Art and Form (15:18, SD): Oscar-winning makeup designer Michael Westmore discusses his family’s legacy and goes into detail about the appliances he used in the film.
Staccato: Composer’s Notebook (11:37, SD): composer Bill Conti talks about the motifs he used for the score and how the song “Gonna Fly Now” originated.
Behind the Scenes with John Avildsen (12:27, SD): more 8mm footage from the director, this time focused on the fight scene rehearsals with Stallone and Weathers which they used to make the actual shooting more realistic.
Tributes (7:47, 3:87, SD): the cast remembers the late Burgess Meredith in the first one and John Avildsen remembers cinematographer James Crabe in the second.
Video Commentary (28:52, SD): star-writer Sylvester Stallone comments on selected scenes from the film and memories of the writing, shooting, and reception of the film.
Dinah! Clip (17:17, SD): talk show hostess Dinah Shore introduces Sylvester Stallone and his movie to a national audience.
Stallone Meets Rocky (2:59, SD): the actor meets the fighter in a video comic piece (though at one point Stallone begins talking with Rocky’s accent).
Theatrical Trailers (3:34, 1:35, SD): the theatrical trailer and the teaser trailer are separately present.
TV Spot Ads (0:32, 0:32, 1:02, SD): three spot ads introduce a new star and trumpet the triumphant reviews.
Audio Commentary: writer-director Sylvester Stallone provide the comments for this track.
Deleted Scenes (23:19, HD): eight scenes including an alternate ending which changes the results of the fight may be selected individually or watched in montage.
Bloopers (1:31, HD)
Skill Vs. Will: The Making of Rocky Balboa (17:47, HD): producers Charles Winkler, Billy Chartoff, David Winkler, and Kevin King, stars Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Geraldine Hughes, Milo Ventimiglia, and Antonio Tarver, production designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone, and the mayor of Philadelphia all comment on the production’s genesis and the filming in Philadelphia.
Reality in the Ring: Filming Rocky’s Final Fight (15:38, HD): a behind-the-scenes look at how the Las Vegas fight scene, the first thing filmed for the movie piggybacking on an actual HBO pay-per-view event, was brought together. Stallone and Tarver are the major talking heads in this featurette.
Virtual Champion (5:08, HD): a behind-the-scenes look at how the computer match between Balboa and Dixon was done in motion capture, the use of facial masks, and virtual simulations of their body movements.
Rocky: Heavyweight Collection doesn’t really quite do justice to one of the most reliable franchise sellers in the MGM stable. Though the original film has been remastered pretty nicely, some of the other entries, particularly Rocky II, are in dire need of a face lift. They’re not all great films, but they are certainly a part of the American film fabric and as such are entitled to their best possible iterations.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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