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Rocky Balboa is a Philadelphia club fighter who seems to be going nowhere. But when a stroke of fate puts him in the ring with a world heavyweight champion, Rocky knows that it's his one shot at the big time - a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go the distance and come out a winner!
For more about Rocky and the Rocky Blu-ray release, see Rocky Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on June 21, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Director: John G. Avildsen
Writer: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Thayer David
» See full cast & crew
Rocky Blu-ray Review
"All I wanna do is go the distance."
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, June 21, 2009
When we were kids, my cousins and I were fortunate enough to have access to a trampoline and two sets of boxing gloves. You can see where I'm going with this. We didn't know any real boxers, besides Mohammed Ali, so our bouts were always re-enactments of the climatic, David versus Goliath battles from the Rocky series. Since I was oldest, I got to play Rocky, dodging and weaving and taunting my tiny opponents with a piss-poor, pre-pubescent Stallone imitation. My grandparents trash-binned the gloves one summer after I cold-clocked a cousin into unconsciousness (he's still a bit loopy), but our Rocky-inspired fantasies lived on. And in pop-culture, the Rocky legacy has also been a survivor, enduring parodies, imitations, and, let's face it, some poor to middling latter-day sequels. But there's something about the original film, about the down-and-out character of Rocky Balboa, which still resonates and inspires.
As anyone who's seen the film knows, Rocky is not about boxing, just as Field of Dreams is not really about baseball. With few exceptions, sports films in general are less about the game being played, and more concerned with the game of life, and the universal themes of perseverance, hard work, and dedication. In this way, Rocky is just as archetypal as Star Wars, offering up a near-mythological tale of the underdog, an everyman of the streets who, to use an appropriate sports metaphor, wrestles with self-worth, missed opportunities, and the cruelty of fate.
Even if you've never seen Rocky, you could probably guess the plot. The Italian Stallion is a struggling boxer—emphasis on struggling—who, by a stroke of luck, gets a once-in-a- lifetime shot at the world heavyweight title. The against-all-odds story is as old as narrative itself, and the idea of the underdog athlete going up against a well trained, alpha-male opponent is a staple of cinematic sports that's been seen in everything from Rudy to The Bad News Bears. Where Rocky differentiates itself, however, is in its devotion to character over action. There are two boxing matches in the film, one at the beginning and one at the end. The two fights bookend Rocky, giving it context, but the rest of the film is an exploration of Rocky himself, a man with very real fears, insecurities, and sensitivities. Some of my favorite moments in the film are the most mundane, the affection that Rocky has toward animals, for instance, or the lazy, character-building laps around the ice rink that he takes with Adrian (Talia Shire), the pet shop clerk who is herself a caged bird in need of freeing. The two share an unlikely chemistry that works precisely because so much time is spent nurturing it. When Rocky confides to Adrian that all he wants to do is "go the distance" with Apollo Creed, the defender of the title, and simply prove that he isn't "just another bum from the neighborhood," we feel the weight of this exchange, knowing that Rocky has, rightly or wrongly, staked his self- worth and masculinity on his ability to last 15 rounds in the ring.
Rocky's story is, for all intents and purposes, that of Sylvester Stallone, a struggling actor/writer who had $106 in the bank when he sold the script for Rocky to the producers. And you get a sense, in watching his performance, that Stallone knew that Rocky was his once-in-a-lifetime shot. He's no Brando—"Yo, Adrian!" can never match the plaintive cry of "Stella!"—but a lot of the early comparisons that Stallone garnered because of Rocky were favorable and deserved. He carries the character with a dim-witted eloquence, loping through the streets like everybody's best friend. Even his voice, a laconic and lobotomized intonation, has become cultural shorthand for the slow but good-natured. Stallone has certainly had his share of stardom, but it is interesting to imagine an alternate timeline in which he pursued more dramatic roles after Rocky, instead of veering into action-hero territory. Still, it's hard to ignore the iconography that he single-handedly created in Rocky, and in its can-do, stand up and fight, can't keep a good man down spirit, it's hard to think of a more characteristically American film.
Rocky Blu-ray, Video Quality
Fox's Blu-ray division winds ups, swings, and misses—by just a hair—with this lackluster 1080p, MPEG-2 transfer. Don't get me wrong, Rocky looks better than ever, but this is one film that calls out for restoration, and a cleaner, more vivid print would go a long way in getting Rocky back in fighting form. Dull is a good way to describe the transfer, as colors seem weak (except for reds), textures are frequently soft, and black levels sometimes obscure detail. This is a hard film to judge, however, as a lot of these traits do seem to stem from the source material. That said, as it was filmed on location in Philly's sagging south side, Rocky has a wonderful late 1970's grit to it, and the grain on display in this transfer is characteristic of its time and serves to heighten the film's sordid, seedy look. Director John Avildsen also uses some pleasingly shallow depth of field in many scenes, giving the picture a dreamy, look-back-in-time sense of depth.
Rocky Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Rocky steps into the HD home theater ring wearing a newly minted DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 track that, like its video quality, lacks polish and shine. While sounding obviously fuller than the original mono track (which is also included), the 5.1 mix lacks bottom end density and comes off hollow and thin. It does give the film some added directionality—particularly with trains passing on the tracks overhead and street kids singing around barrel fires—but if it's a choice between immersion and fidelity here, I'd rather have a more balanced, crisper sound. Voices are strong in the mix, but do sound occasionally lost and muffled; just listen to the scene with Rocky and Paulie in the meat packing plant. Foley sound effects and looped-in dialogue also have an obvious artificial quality at times, particularly punches, which should be meat-bruising and bone-cracking, but sound more brittle than a bundle of cracked sticks. The only time the audio track really gets to boom is during the "Gonna Fly" theme, but even here it seems weaker than it could be.
Rocky Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Sadly, this Blu-ray release contains none of the features from the 2007 2-disc Collector's Edition DVD, and it's apparent that we'll see a studio double-dip in the near future. This disc contains only an assortment of theatrical trailers in 1080p.
Rocky Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A friend of mine told me the other day that he'd never actually seen Rocky, and he wasn't sure how he'd feel about viewing it for the first time after thirty odd years of similarly inspirational sports stories cluttering up the genre. I felt no qualms about recommending it though, as it still makes me want to go to the backyard and trade blows with my cousins. More than that, it's a powerful character-driven story that's built around a backbone of authentic moments and details, a true American classic that has heart without schmaltz. Unfortunately, however, I can't recommend this Blu-ray disc unless you're absolutely rabid for a Rocky fix. Good things come to those who wait, and I have a sneaking suspicion we'll be seeing a better Rocky release in short order.
Rocky: Other Editions
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Rocky Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Amazon Blu-ray Deal of the Week: Rocky (Expired) - December 23, 2012
Amazon's Blu-ray Deal of the Week affects MGM Home Entertainment's Rocky: The Undisputed Collection. Through December 29th, Amazon is offering the set for a 71% discount from its MSRP of $69.99. This deal expires at 12 AM PST/3 AM EST next Sunday, December 3 ...
• Rocky Collection Coming to Blu-ray (Update) - August 25, 2009
In an early announcement to retailers, it has been revealed that MGM Home Entertainment is set to release the Blu-ray compilation 'Rocky: The Undisputed Collection', which includes all six 'Rocky' movies, on November 3. At the moment, there are no official release ...
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