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Rocky Blu-ray Review (Limited Edition Blu-ray Book)

Rocky (1976) movie poster Rocky

Theatrical Release: December 3, 1976 / Running Time: 120 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: John G. Avildsen / Writer: Sylvester Stallone

Cast: Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa), Talia Shire (Adrian Pennino), Burt Young (Paulie Pennino), Carl Weathers (Apollo Creed), Burgess Meredith (Mickey Goldmill), Thayer David (George Jergens), Joe Spinell (Tony Gazzo), Jimmy Gambina (Mike), George Memmoli (Ice Rink Attendant), Bill Baldwin (Fight Announcer), Billy Sands (Club Fight Announcer), Don Sherman (Bartender), Shirley O'Hara (Jergens' Secretary), Arnold Johnson (Spectator), Tony Burton (Apollo's Trainer), Jodi Letizia (Marie), Joe Frazier (Himself), Butkus Stallone (Dog)

Buy Rocky from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray Book Standard Blu-ray 2-Disc CE DVD The Undisputed Collection Blu-ray 5-Movie DVD Collection Blu-ray + DVD Combo Instant Video


There may not be much in Sylvester Stallone's filmography that people would call artistic achievements, but Stallone will always have a place in film's history books with Rocky. The winner of the 1976 Oscar for Best Picture, Rocky made a household name out of its star/writer, forever intertwining his own rise from show biz obscurity with the film's eponymous underdog hero.

Prior to Rocky, Stallone had spent six years in the industry, holding uncredited roles like Subway Thug in Woody Allen's Bananas and Disco Patron in Klute. Stallone had bigger parts in smaller films,
running with Henry "The Fonz" Winkler in the Brooklyn gang dramedy The Lords of Flatbrush, playing notorious enforcer Frank Nitti in 1975's Capone, and starring across from David Carradine in the Roger Corman-produced Death Race 2000. Before all of those, Stallone made his screen debut as "Stud" in the 1970 softcore porn film The Party at Kitty and Stud's.

Rocky changed Stallone's life and he wouldn't forget it, returning to play the character twice in the next six years, again in 1990's series-closing Rocky V, and one more time in 2006 revival Rocky Balboa. Along with John Rambo, Rocky has defined Stallone's career. He's had a little success outside the franchises, such as Cliffhanger (1993) and last year's man's men action dream team extravaganza The Expendables. But the original Rocky will no doubt remain his biggest cinematic triumph.

In the role that made him a star, screenwriter Sylvester Stallone portrays Rocky Balboa, a debt enforcer for loan shark Tony Gazzo (Joe Spinell). Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) woos mousy pet shop worker Adrian (Talia Shire) after hours on a closed ice skating rink.

Thirty-year-old heavy Rocky Balboa is nobody special. He works as a debt collector for a loan shark. And he has maintained a locker in the local boxing gym for six years. Some of the people of his working class Philadelphia neighborhood know Rocky but not for any reason other than they see him walking around the streets here and there. Rocky has his sights set on Adrian (Talia Shire), the sister of his friend Paulie (Burt Young). A quiet and painfully shy pet shop clerk, Adrian doesn't pay Rocky much attention as he visits to make jokey small talk with the animals. But with some assistance from the short-tempered Paulie, a romance does blossom between Rocky and Adrian.

Meanwhile, around Thanksgiving time, Rocky is contacted by the associates of showy reigning boxing champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Rocky assumes the offer they are extending is for a sparring partner. In fact, it is an unusual fight proposal. After his intended opponent has to back out, Apollo hatches an idea for an intriguing New Year's Day title fight. Patriotically reflecting the land of opportunity, the bout will let a typical, honest, hard-working American take a chance at claiming the championship belt. Out of a book, his eye caught by the nickname The Italian Stallion, Apollo chooses Rocky as the one he'll defend his title against.

A champion versus a "ham and egger" should be a quick and lopsided battle, but Rocky commits himself to preparing for the fight, waking up early and swallowing down five raw eggs before taking a vigorous morning run. In his corner, he's got cranky old Mickey (Burgess Meredith) training him, while Paulie takes on merchandising rights, and Adrian offers her own mild-mannered encouragement. The City of Brotherly Love embraces the inarticulate lug as its pride, rallying for him as he practices punches on the cold carcasses hanging in Paulie's meat-packing plant.

Though his lack of regard over the years has stung, Rocky can't say no to gym owner Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith) training him for his title fight. With Apollo Creed smiling behind him, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) looks up to the rafter at the banner bearing his own likeness.

Rocky is often hailed as one of the all-time greatest sports movies. What it has in common with most of its high-ranking company on such lists is that the sport is secondary to human drama. Aside from a 5-minute prologue, and training sequences forming some of cinema's most invigorating montages, Rocky doesn't throw a punch until the big fight arrives, with less than twenty minutes remaining in the film. In the 100 minutes that precede the climax, we get to know Rocky and the handful of meaningful people in his life. It's a compelling portrait that isn't merely giving us someone to root for in the finale. This is the heart of the film, answering Adrian's repeated question of why Rocky wants to box.

Much of Rocky is iconic in a way that only a tremendously popular blockbuster can be. This is that kind of film, as it easily became the biggest hit of 1976, upon its nationwide release in early December. Earning over $100 million on a $1 million budget, Rocky joined the likes of Gone with the Wind, The Sound of Music, The Godfather, and The Sting by managing to captivate both critics and general audiences to an enormous degree.
The 1970s seemed to give birth to the modern blockbuster as we know it and the majority of films putting up huge numbers that decade would seriously compete for the industry's top prize, among them, Star Wars, Jaws, The Exorcist, The Towering Inferno, and Love Story. But whereas they would all lose, Rocky ultimately won, defeating in the process such veritable classics as Network, Taxi Driver, and All the President's Men, as well as the Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory.

Rocky would lose seven of the ten Oscars for which it was nominated, including lead acting honors for Stallone and Shire, and supporting actor ones for Meredith and Young. Stallone's original screenplay was beat by Paddy Chayefsky's Network script, and the unforgettable original song "Gonna Fly Now" lost to "Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star is Born)". Besides Best Picture, Rocky would win statues for editing and for director John G. Avildsen, who would turn down directing Rocky II, but would helm all three of Ralph Macchio's The Karate Kid movies.

"Rocky" closes with a patriotic New Year's Day fight between confident champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) and working-class contender Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).

In Avildsen's departure, Stallone would take over, single-handedly writing and directing Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, and Rocky Balboa. Defying the usual laws of diminishing returns, many of Stallone's sequels managed to repeat the original film's success, regularly ranking among their year's top draws. Rocky IV, featuring Dolph Lundgren and James Brown, especially soared, grossing a series high (ignoring inflation) $127 M, with its timely American-Russian Cold War parable rallying the public like no other fourth installment ever has. Rocky Balboa, returning Stallone to the well at age 60, received decent reviews but a moderate public reception more in line with the critically thrashed Rocky V, which Avildsen returned to direct.

Though its sequels are enjoyed to varying degrees, the original Rocky is widely considered a classic, a notion that has been reiterated by recognition in eight modern American Film Institute retrospectives. Among the inclusions are Balboa ranking as the 7th greatest hero, and the film landing at #4 among inspiring movies, falling second only to Raging Bull among sports films, and coming in 57th among all American films in the 10th anniversary general countdown.

Having won over a great number of hearts in the thirty-five years since it was first released, Rocky has understandably been among MGM/United Artists' favorite titles to revisit often on home video. The original movie's DVD editions on its own and bundled with its sequels are too numerous to run through. Blu-ray has been easier to keep track of. It made its debut on the high-definition format just before the December 2006 theatrical opening of Rocky Balboa. That same barren disc also became part of The Undisputed Collection, a set of the 6 movies whose bonus seventh disc recycled many of the extras dropped from the original film's two-disc Collector's Edition DVD. The Blu-ray was paired with a DVD for a combo pack in both DVD and Blu-ray packaging. Now, for the superficial collector, the same essentially movie-only Rocky Blu-ray turns up in limited edition Digibook packaging, holding the disc in a hardcover photo book.

Rocky: Limited Edition Blu-ray Book cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French), Dolby Mono 2.0 (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: May 10, 2011 (Disc first released December 5, 2006)
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $34.98
Hardcover Digibook
Also available in standardly-packaged Blu-ray ($19.99 SRP), 2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD ($19.98 SRP), 6-Movie, 7-Disc The Undisputed Collection Blu-ray ($69.99 SRP), 5-Movie, 5-Disc DVD Collection ($62.98 SRP), and on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as Blu-ray + DVD, DVD + Blu-ray, 6-Movie The Complete Saga DVD

VIDEO and AUDIO

The facts that Rocky is a 35-year-old low budget movie and among the first wave of Blu-ray releases suggests you shouldn't expect much from its presentation. Surprisingly, the film looks very good here.
The 1.85:1 widescreen picture offers an unexpectedly excellent amount of detail. The element remains satisfyingly clean, with very few intrusions of any kind. A fine layer of film grain true to the original design is retained without distracting. Really, the worst item experienced is parts of frames looking out of focus, an issue which probably dates back to the filming itself.

The pleasing picture is matched and even surpassed by the top-notch sound. I listened to the default 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix and couldn't have been happier with its clarity. Having seen and heard the shortcomings of low-budget '70s cinema, it's amazing to not deal with things like that here. The soundtrack is crisp and full of life, never assuming the thin, dated sound you anticipate and would largely excuse. Other than the studio recognizing the film's significance and popularity, I don't know how this track holds up so well. Not excluded as usual, purists wanting something closer to Rocky's original presentation can choose to listen to a Dolby Mono 2.0 track, which also sounded good in sampling.

While there is definitely good reason for Rocky to get a better individual Blu-ray release in the future (I'll get to that next), I don't know that it's necessary for Fox and MGM to devote many resources to trying to improve upon a presentation that's highly commendable visually and aurally.

Rocky's celebration over climbing the so-called Rocky Steps outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art is held at the end of the film's provided teaser trailer. Dressed in a robe proclaiming him the Italian Stallion, Rocky kneels and says a prayer before the title bout as part of the Blu-ray's menu montage.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Where the disc falters is the special features department. The Blu-ray premiered the same day as the movie's latest 2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD and this new Digibook version even bears the same cover art as that (minus the moniker). In MGM/Fox's mind, though, people buying Blu-ray in 2006 were only interested in the best available presentation of the movie itself.
Getting Rocky's original teaser trailer (1:40) is just gravy. That vintage 1.33:1 promotion tops a class of five random trailers. Instead of the sequel trailers you might expect, it's joined by theatrical previews of MGM's Flyboys, Windtalkers, The Usual Suspects, and Bulletproof Monk.

And that's it for bonus features. I've got Rocky's 2001 Special Edition DVD and over this Blu-ray, that disc contains a longer 3-minute Rocky trailer, three 30-60 second TV ads, full trailers for the first four Rocky sequels, an audio commentary by director John Avildsen, Talia Shire, Burt Young, and producers Irwin Winkler (no relation to Henry) and Robert Chartoff, a 29-minute Sylvester Stallone retrospective interview, an Avildsen-hosted look at behind-the-scenes production footage, tributes to Burgess Meredith and cinematographer James Crabe, and a 4-page booklet.

To that lot, the 2006 Collector's Edition DVD added a Stallone audio commentary, a commentary by boxing trainer Lou Duva and historian Bert Sugar, the 3-part feature-length documentary "In the Ring", video interviews with Duva and Sugar, a preview of Rocky Balboa, topical featurettes (on the Steadicam, make-up, Bill Conti's music, and James Spencer's art direction), and 30-page booklet "The Ultimate Guide." That is an awful lot to lose and even those not inclined to watch every extra will probably miss some of it here.

On account of them not being on the original movie's disc, the Undisputed Blu-ray Collection does drop the three audio commentaries of the Collector's Edition DVD.

The Blu-ray's menu nicely strings together lightened film clips to excerpts of "Gonna Fly Now", placing the four listings over a boxing glove. The disc does not support bookmarks, but it doesn't really need to, since it manages to resume playback just like a DVD.

The main attraction of this edition, of course, is the hardcover book which holds the disc in a dug-out section of its thick rear cover. It opens with the Richard Tanne essay "Stallone: Going the Distance", which shares the fascinating and oft-told story of how Stallone wrote and sold the script with him as star. Fun facts accompanied by a celebratory Rocky silhouette season the text, as do stylish quotes and illustrations. Director John Avildsen and five principal cast members are each neatly profiled in a paragraph and select film credits list. The book wraps up with Travis Baker's "Anatomy of a Scene: The Final Fight", an analytical reading of the film's closing title bout. I've been less than impressed by the other two MGM Blu-ray books I recently reviewed, but this one, having more interesting ground to cover and doing it well, is pretty good.

Having confidently ascended the 72 stairs outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art now commonly referred to as "the Rocky steps", Rocky Balboa throws his hands in the air triumphantly in this shot from the film's iconic training montage.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Rocky launched Sylvester Stallone's career and it remains his undisputed crowning achievement. No one can accuse Stallone of not meeting the public's demand for more time with the character. I've seen four of the five sequels and they find varying degrees of modest success, but none of them compares to this original, with its appealing introduction of one of cinema's great underdogs.

Many, myself included, consider Rocky a film worth owning. At the moment, the two easiest and most sensible ways to do so are in the film's 2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD (selling for just $9.99 on Amazon right now) and in the 6-film, 7-disc Undisputed Blu-ray Collection (reasonably priced at $31.99 on Amazon). The original movie's Blu-ray in that set is identical to the one is this Blu-ray book, currently going for $20 and change, and can also be bought on its own for just over $10.

Those prices put into perspective the value of each option and your decision leans upon your opinion of the sequels, whether you value bonus features, picture/sound, or nifty packaging. No matter what your preferences are, this admirable Blu-ray book seems to come up short compared to its counterparts, since you can save $10 by getting the disc in standard packaging or going for the loaded 2-disc DVD, or, for just $10 more, get the entire saga on Blu-ray with most of the DVD's extras retained. While there presently isn't one definitive way to own Rocky, the various viable options should be enough for you to be satisfied with the one best suited to you.

Buy Rocky from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray Book / Standard Blu-ray / 2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD / Blu-ray + DVD Combo /
The Undisputed Collection Blu-ray (6 Movies, 7 Discs) / Rocky 1-5 5-Disc DVD Box Set

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
New: True Grit The Terminator (Blu-ray Book) The Usual Suspects (Blu-ray Book) Platoon (Blu-ray + DVD)
Talia Shire: The Godfather Trilogy | Sylvester Stallone: The Muppet Show: Season Three
1970s Films: Taxi Driver (Blu-ray) One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Ultimate Collector's Edition)
Burt Young: Chinatown Back to School | Carl Weathers: The Comebacks | Burgess Meredith: Santa Claus: The Movie
The Fighter Invincible Remember the Titans (Director's Cut) Miracle The Karate Kid (2010) Caddyshack

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Reviewed June 6, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1976 United Artists and 2006-2011 MGM Home Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
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