I donï¿½t recall when I first saw Rocky, and I havenï¿½t kept track of how many times Iï¿½ve seen it since. The answers are probably ï¿½15 years agoï¿½ and ï¿½more than 10 timesï¿½, but accuracy isnï¿½t important. What is important for you to know, is that Sylvester Stalloneï¿½s masterpiece is one of my favourite films of all time.
In other words, I love this movie, so donï¿½t expect any criticism until at least the ï¿½videoï¿½ section of this review. I donï¿½t deny that there may be aspects of Rocky that merit denigration, I just refuse to let anything distract me from what I consider to be the ultimate inspirational story.
Speaking of the story, surely you know it by now. It may not be a tale as old as time, but itï¿½s darn close. Sly Stallone plays our hero, Rocky Balboa, a down-on-his-luck boxer and collector for a small-time gangster. Heï¿½s a nobody, but through the right set of circumstances, he gets a shot at the heavyweight boxing world championship title. Calling it a long shot would be an understatement, and Rocky has to battle against his own self-doubt before he even takes a swing at Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), the current champ. In his corner is Mick (Burgess Meredith), a crusty old trainer, and Rockyï¿½s girlfriend Adrian (Talia Shire), whose heart he wins on the way.
And who could forget good olï¿½ Paulie (Burt Young), Rockyï¿½s friend and Adrianï¿½s brother, who pesters them throughout the film. Heï¿½s a frightened, angry and greedy little man, but like the whole movie, he too has a heart. It may be familiarity speaking, but I canï¿½t imagine anyone else playing any of these roles. Itï¿½s a great cast, including even Sylvester Stallone, whose career skyrocketed along with the success of this film.
Each time I catch myself scoffing at Sly or one of his many bad movies, such as Judge Dredd or Oscar, I force myself to remember Rocky. He wrote it, won the right to star in it, and helped make it the best picture winner of 1976, not to mention earning nine other Academy nominations, and wins for best director and best film editing. The film cost about $1.1 million to make, was shot in just 28 days, and earned more than $400 million. It was a true blockbuster, and one of the first, following Steven Spielbergï¿½s smash hit, Jaws.
You canï¿½t talk about Rocky without discussing the music of Bill Conti. His Gonna Fly Now theme is one of the most recognizable original film songs ever, and it truly captured the heart and soul of Rocky Balboa, the Italian Stallion. Itï¿½s a wonder Conti didnï¿½t win the Oscar he was nominated for with this song.
Say what you will about the later movies in the Rocky series, but the original stands apart as a superb film. Just like Rocky, after going the distance against Apollo Creed, this film has earned and deserves our respect.
So, howï¿½s the two-disc collectorï¿½s edition DVD?
The film is presented on disc one of this two-disc set, in 1.85:1 widescreen format. Rocky has never looked better. While itï¿½s obvious that this film didnï¿½t get the extra-special restoration treatment often applied to classics like Casablanca, it does look remarkably good. Graininess is an issue in darker scenes, but daylight or well-lit indoor scenes are sharp, with nice colours and a clean transfer.
Menus are animated, and scored.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a big improvement over my VHS copy, but I canï¿½t speak to the differences between this mix and whateverï¿½s on the previous DVD release. Dialogue is always clear, and while most of the filmï¿½s audio is focused on the centre channel, the bigger moments, like the Gonna Fly Now training sequence, fill out the sound stage quite well. Overall, Iï¿½m happy with the audio presentation.
Audio is also available in French and Spanish, both as Dolby Digital 1.0. Subtitles offered are in English and Spanish.
Rocky ï¿½ 2-disc Collectorï¿½s Edition comes with plenty of bonus material, including three commentaries (two of them new for this release), a making-of documentary, 10 featurettes, some TV spots and appearances, trailers, and a sneak-peek at the upcoming sixth film, Rocky Balboa.
I first thought three commentaries was overdoing it. Honestly, is there that much to say about Rocky? It is, after all, a fairly simple story. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the range of perspectives and insight these three tracks present. The first is Stallone by himself, speaking intelligently about character development and about the ebb and flow of a good movie fight. Then thereï¿½s the commentary by boxing trainer Lou Duva and commentator Bert Sugar. I always wondered what boxing experts would say about the big fight scene, and now I know. Well, sort of. These guys are a couple of jokesters, and they spend a lot of time competing to share boxing memories. They do seem to admire the Rocky-Apollo fight, though, and specifically mention that Carl Weathers actually has a good jab. The third commentary is a repeat from a previous release, and itï¿½s by members of the cast and crew. You can tell many of the participants were recorded separately and then edited together, but it comes off pretty well.
Disc one features continue with Three Rounds with Legendary Trainer Lou Duva. It runs about four minutes, and itï¿½s nothing special. Duva speaks about how he works, and a little bit about boxing then vs. now, but he talks a lot to say very little.
Interview with a Legend: Bert Sugar has the expert discussing boxing films in general, and why they make for the best sports movies. He talks about what made Rocky work, and the poetic aspects of a boxing match. Itï¿½s short, but more interesting than the Lou Duva piece.
The Opponents is a 16-minute featurette about the villains of the Rocky series, from Apollo Creed straight on through to Ivan Drago. In each film, it was important that Rocky was the underdog, so each of the antagonists were made to seem unbeatable. Fairly interesting stuff.
Then we get a sneak peek at Rock Balboa, the upcoming sixth film in the series. It runs about 3.5 minutes, and surprisingly is not a trailer, but more of a promo featurette, with cast and crew discussing the film amid behind the scenes clips. Who knows? The movie might turn out okay.
Disc one features wrap up with a trailer gallery that includes various trailers and TV spots for the film. Interesting to see how it was promoted, especially after it began to receive critical acclaim.
Disc two contains only bonus material, and it starts with In the Ring, a three-part making-of documentary. Itï¿½s feature length, and definitely worth watching. Part one focuses on Stallone and the Rocky character, part two takes on Talia Shire and Burgess Meredith, and finally, part three covers Burt Young, Carl Weathers, the producers, and composer Bill Conti. Through each actor or crew memberï¿½s journey, you learn a lot of interesting anecdotes about the film.
Steadicam: Then and Now with Garret Brown is next. Itï¿½s about 18 minutesï¿½ worth on the inventor of this now ubiquitous device and how Rocky was the first film to make use of it. This is a fascinating bit of film history, as the steadicam revolutionized cinematography.
Then thereï¿½s Michael Westmore ï¿½ the art of makeup, which runs about 15 minutes, and features Westmore, the makeup artist who worked on Rocky, discussing and demonstrating the type of work he did for the film, including how he made the fight damage look real. Pretty cool stuff, as he explains that the techniques for this sort of thing havenï¿½t changed that much in 30 years.
Staccato: a Composerï¿½s Notebook with Bill Conti runs about 11 minutes. In it, Conti talks us through his music for the film, the decisions he made, his goals, and why you need six trumpets to create just the right sound for the famous Rocky theme.
Next is The Ring of Truth, which has the filmï¿½s art director, James H. Spencer, discussing his work. Spencer was responsible for helping to create the cold, sparse, gritty feel of Rockyï¿½s surroundings, including the apartment, the arena, the boxing club, and other sets. He also discusses the challenges of making things work on location, versus building and designing sets in a studio.
Behind the Scenes with John Avildsen is a neat little featurette. It runs about 12 minutes, and presents some of the directorï¿½s own 8mm footage he shot while working on the film. For the first four minutes or so, Avildsen explains how he used the footage as a sketchpad to help Stallone and Weathers work out the final fight. Then we get to watch about eight minutes of the two actors practicing the fight choreography. The Rocky fight was at the time the most realistic movie boxing match ever presented, and this featurette helps us understand how that came to be.
Switching gears, the next two featurettes are tributes to the late Burgess Meredith and to the late James Crabe, who was the filmï¿½s cinematographer. The Meredith tribute runs nearly eight minutes, and itï¿½s made up of members principal cast sharing stories about this Hollywood legend, along with a few words from Lee Grant (Mulholland Dr.), who was close with Meredith. The James Crabe tribute consists solely of memories from director John Avildsen, who discusses how great it was to work with Crabe, and how the cinematographer contributed his genius to the film.
Then itï¿½s Video Commentary with Sylvester Stallone, which has Sly talking all about the film, from his initial inspiration on to production. It runs about 28 minutes, and includes fascinating information about how the filmï¿½s ending evolved from his initial draft, which had Rocky throwing the fight. What a difference that would have made. Surprisingly, there isnï¿½t a lot of overlap from his audio commentary, which is nice.
The final featurette is Stallone on Dinah! (1976), which is both interesting and heartily amusing. It runs 17 minutes, and while you canï¿½t help laughing at things like Stalloneï¿½s ridiculous suit, which I assume was totally in style back then, itï¿½s really neat to watch this piece, as Stallone shows heï¿½s nothing at all like the dumb, slang-talking Rocky. Thatï¿½s right, he really was acting.
Rocky is a great film, and I think everyone should see it at least once. With the arrival of this collectorï¿½s edition DVD set, thereï¿½s no better way to experience this American classic. The bonus material brings both quantity and quality, which makes this set an absolute must-buy even for those who already have one or more of the previous releases.
Special Features List
- Three audio commentaries
- In the Ring documentary
- 10 featurettes
- Trailer gallery
- Sneak-peek at Rocky Balboa