Rocky: The Knockout Collection UHD Review

Not exactly a knockout
Rocky Knockout Collection Screenshot

Warner/MGM’s Rocky: The Knockout Collection is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, we get the first four films in the franchise, plus a new director’s cut of the fourth, all in UHD, but the set has some QC issues, as well as being short on special features.

Rocky (1976)
Released: 03 Dec 1976
Rated: PG
Runtime: 120 min
Director: John G. Avildsen
Genre: Drama, Sport
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young
Writer(s): Sylvester Stallone
Plot: A small-time Philadelphia boxer gets a supremely rare chance to fight the world heavyweight champion in a bout in which he strives to go the distance for his self-respect.
IMDB rating: 8.1
MetaScore: 70

Disc Information
Studio: MGM
Distributed By: Warner Brothers
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, English Descriptive Audio, Spanish 2.0 DD, French 2.0 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: PG-13
Run Time: Rocky: 1 Hr. 59 Min.; Rocky II: 2 Hr. 0 Min.; Rocky III: 1 Hr. 40 Min.; Rocky IV: 1 Hr. 31 Min.; Rocky IV: Rocky vs Drago: 1 Hr. 33 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy
Case Type: 5-disc UHD keepcase with slipcover
Disc Type: UHD
Region: All
Release Date: 02/28/2023
MSRP: $59.99

The Production: 4/5

Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky movies were something of an institution for those living in and around Philadelphia. I had moved to Horsham, a suburb of Philadelphia, in 1975, and one year later, many of my friends were raving about the first film as we returned to school after the Christmas break. Never being much into sports, the movies did not interest me whatsoever, despite the first film winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Editing. While the films have grown on me over the years, they still aren’t high on my list of all-time favorite movies. The below reviews of Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III and Rocky IV have been taken from Cameron Yee’s review of 2009’s Rocky: The Undisputed Collection Blu-ray release. Included in this set is Stallone’s new “ultimate” director’s cut of the fourth film, re-titled Rocky IV; Rocky vs Drago, with my take on the film.

Rocky: 4 out of 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 (Rocky Balboa, not included in this set) 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.

Rocky II: 2.5 out of 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.

Rocky III: 3.5 out of 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.

Rocky IV: 3 out of 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.

Rocky IV: Rocky vs Drago (The Ultimate Director’s Cut): 3.5 out of 5
Sylvester Stallone was offered the chance to re-edit what is the silliest and most 1980s of the sequels, hoping to transform it into something a bit more serious. First off, Stallone has reframed the film for the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Stallone removed approximately 40 minutes from the original theatrical cut and replaced it with around 42 minutes of never-before-seen footage. Gone is the infinitely silly subplot involving Pauly and his robot, and in its place are more character-driven scenes that add more weight and some humanity to the Soviets as well as offering Dolph Lundgren several more lines of dialogue as Drago. Overall, this cut is an improvement over the original theatrical cut, but the film is still very much an 80s relic.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

With the exception of Rocky IV: Rocky vs Drago, the 2160p transfers used in this set were originally created in 2014 for the Heavyweight Collection Blu-ray release in 2015, with the addition of Dolby Vision and HDR10 for the films’ 4K debut. These four films look very good, with healthy (and sometimes heavy) film grain. The good news is that these definitely look like films of their era, the first two having a late 1970s appearance and the last two were very obviously shot in the 1980s. Colors appear natural and never over saturated. Fine detail is strong, revealing facial hair and fabric textures, as well as cloud formations during some of the very overcast exteriors in the first film. Contrast is very good, providing nearly deep lacks with strong shadow detail. While all four films are framed in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, as noted on other review sites, there is one shot in Rocky IV that for some odd reason appears full frame in the 1.78:1 ratio.

With Rocky IV: Rocky vs Drago, Stallone and the studio, MGM, managed to go back to the original camera negative wherever possible, providing a much sharper image than the theatrical cut. While both cuts appear on the same disc, since this new cut uses a different aspect ratio (2.39:1 rather than 1.85:1), seamless branching was not an option, and a BD100 disc was used instead, allowing for healthy bitrates for both cuts. This cut also has been graded differently, offering up cooler color temps of blues and greys. Contrast is also slightly improved, allowing for much deeper blacks and stronger shadow detail.

Audio: 3/5

This is where the release goes a bit off the rails with some possible quality control issues. YMMV as to just how serious these issues are.

The audio submenu on Rocky calls the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track “remastered.” I am guessing some additional cleanup work was done on the previous 5.1 remix of what was originally a mono track, but the mix does show the age and limitations of its source material. Dialogue and music are not as crisp and clear as one would expect from a more modern recording and mix, but the track does offer a slightly wider front soundstage with minimal surround and LFE activity – it is still a very front-heavy mix. Purists who prefer the film’s Oscar-nominated original mono are likely to be disappointed, and it sounds as if the so-called “Original Theatrical English” is actually a down mix of the 5.1.

Rocky II
This is where the biggest SNAFU occurs, with both the 5.1 “Remastered” and 2.0 stereo “Original Theatrical English” tracks (both encoded in DTS-HD MA) playing back at the wrong pitch, about 4-5% too low, and apparently so do the foreign language tracks. Both Warner (the set’s distributor) and MGM are looking into the issue. Other than that, it is a fairly well-balanced mix.

Rocky III
There’s nothing wrong here as long as you prefer listening to either the 5.1 “Remastered” or 2.0 stereo “Original Theatrical” English tracks (both are in DTS-HD MA). The 5.1 is likely based on the 70mm 6-track theatrical mix which played in a handful of theaters. It is still a fairly front-heavy track with a moderately wide stage, with surrounds really not kicking in until the sports arena fight sequences. Dialogue, at times, reveals the limitations of the recording technology at the time. Unfortunately, the foreign language tracks have the same pitch issue as Rocky II.

Rocky IV
Nothing wrong here whatsoever. The 5.1 “Remastered” English (again in DTS-HD MA) is likely based on the 70mm 6-track theatrical mix that played in a handful of theaters during its initial run (and bumped the 70mm print of Young Sherlock Holmes at the Sameric in downtown Philly into a 70mm-capable bowling alley auditorium). As Cameron Yee noted in his 2009 review, “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.”

Rocky IV: Rocky vs Drago
This is the more modern-sounding mixes in the set, probably because Stallone remixed this cut from the ground up. LFE is much punchier, giving body hits and music a much stronger impact. It is still front-heavy for the most part, with surrounds not really picking up until the big sports arena fight sequences. Dialogue is clear and understandable throughout. The only audio option on this film is English DTS-HD MA 5.1.

Special Features: 3/5

Rocky: The Knockout Collection is a 5-disc set with the features spread across four UHD discs and a Blu-ray disc of bonus features. Rocky II, III, and IV are all movie-only, with Rocky including three archival commentary tracks.

Audio Commentary with Director John G. Avildsen, Producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, and Actors Talia Shire and Burt Young

Audio Commentary with Writer and Actor Sylvester Stallone

Audio Commentary with Boxing Trainer Lou Duva and Commentator Bert Sugar

Special Features Disc
8mm Home Movies of “Rocky” (480i; 12:32): 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.

3 Rounds with Lou Duva (480i; 4:34): Duva talks about his role in the ring and changes in the sport.

Steadicam: Then and Now with Garrett Brown (480i; 17:26): 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 (480i; 15:11): Westmore talks about the techniques used to bruise and bloody Stallone and Weathers.

Staccato: A composer’s Notebook with Bill Conti (480i; 11:30): Conti shares his philosophy about composing for film and his intent behind key pieces of the Rocky score.

The Ring of Truth (480i; 9:37): Art Director James Spencer talks about preparing and dressing the film’s locations and sets.

A Tribute to Burgess Meredith (480i; 7:53): Friends and colleagues share their memories about working with the late great actor.

Stallone Meets Rocky (480i; 3:00): A rather silly bit where Stallone the actor interviews his character Rocky.

The Making of “Rocky vs Drago:” Keep Punching (1080p; 58:29): Despite what the liner notes on the package indicate, this is a slightly abbreviated version of the documentary that can be found on YouTube.

Trailers (1080p; 14:05): includes trailers for all of the films included in this set.

Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy of this collection in UHD on Vudu.

Overall: 3.5/5

Warner/MGM’s Rocky: The Knockout Collection is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, we get the first four films in the franchise, plus a new director’s cut of the fourth, all in UHD, but the set has some QC issues, as well as being short on special features.

Todd Erwin has been a reviewer at Home Theater Forum since 2008. His love of movies began as a young child, first showing Super 8 movies in his backyard during the summer to friends and neighbors at age 10. He also received his first movie camera that year, a hand-crank Wollensak 8mm with three fixed lenses. In 1980, he graduated to "talkies" with his award-winning short The Ape-Man, followed by the cult favorite The Adventures of Terrific Man two years later. Other films include Myth or Fact: The Talbert Terror and Warren's Revenge (which is currently being restored). In addition to movie reviews, Todd has written many articles for Home Theater Forum centering mostly on streaming as well as an occasional hardware review, is the host of his own video podcast Streaming News & Views on YouTube and is a frequent guest on the Home Theater United podcast.

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