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Rocky: The Undisputed Collection(1976-2006)
All six movies from the popular 'Rocky' franchise.
For more about Rocky: The Undisputed Collection and the Rocky: The Undisputed Collection Blu-ray release, see Rocky: The Undisputed Collection Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on November 2, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Directors: Sylvester Stallone, John G. Avildsen
Writer: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Tony Burton, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith
This Blu-ray bundle includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
Rocky: The Undisputed Collection Blu-ray Review
Let's get ready to rumble!
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, November 2, 2009
As anyone who's seen the films knows, the Rocky series 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. 20th Century Fox is now bundling all six Rocky films together on Blu-ray in this excellent "undisputed" collection, which includes the previously released Rocky and Rocky Balboa discs—which are unaltered here, down to the disc art— along with newly minted high definition transfers for the second through fifth installments. The seven-disc set also includes a dedicated Bonus Features disc and is housed in a suitably sturdy case with a classy slipcover. I think I know what I'm giving my dad for Christmas.
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 (Carl Weathers), 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 $103 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 II (3/5)
Second verse? Not too much different from the first. After a recap of the first film's final fight, Rocky II opens with both contenders, post-bout, being wheelchaired into the lobby of a hospital amid a frenzy of reporter's questions and blinding flashbulbs. Apollo Creed is seriously P.O.'d—no one has ever gone the distance with him—and even though the fight was ruled in his favor, he knows that he lost the battle for public opinion. With Rocky cast as the underdog hero, Creed is anxious for a rematch. Rocky, however, simply wants to settle down. Thanks to the proceeds from the fight, he marries Adrian and the two go on a massive and frankly irresponsible shopping spree, buying a house, a new Trans Am, gold watches for one and all, and some ridiculous jackets (hers is fur, his has a roaring tiger on the back). When Rocky realizes he isn't cut out for corporate sponsorship—he's literally put in a cage dressed as a caveman to shill men's aftershave—he loses his endorsements and picks up a job at the meat packing factory. Meanwhile, Adrian fills out in a family way and Creed uses smear tactics to get Rocky back into the ring. The rematch is set for Thanksgiving Day, and despite the objections of Adrian and Mick (Burgess Meredith), Rocky's cranky old trainer, Rocky readies for the fight.
The Rocky series has many implausible moments—just wait 'til we get to Rocky IV—but one of the most ridiculous and, I'll admit, a personal favorite, is when Rocky jogs here through the streets of Philly during his now-staple training montage, set to "Gonna Fly." As he beats the pavement through the city, kids start following him one by one until he's got a herd of several hundred in his wake. When he mounts the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art once again, he's like a pugilistic pied piper, a sea of cheering children surrounding him. Naturally, the montage ends with an awesome freeze frame.
The first film works so well because it's more of a character study than a sports film, and while Rocky II tries to delve deeper into the boxer's relationship with himself and others, the film really feels like more of the same. Seeing how Rocky reacts to his sudden influx of money is interesting, but the core conflict—Adrian's reluctance to see Rocky go back into the ring—is underdeveloped and almost cursory. I really enjoyed Talia Shire's performance in the first Rocky, where she was gradually pulled out of shyness, but here she's just a glum Gus, worried that at any moment their house of cards could collapse. There's little to propel the plot— the only reason Rocky fights Apollo is because he realizes he's a born fighter and it's the only job he can do well—and the film lacks that inspirational spark that made the first Rocky a winner. The big rematch with Apollo is just that—a retread, a repeat—and though Rocky has a few tricks up his trunks—he doesn't have sleeves, after all—the fight merely goes through the paces. Rocky II is the first of the sequels to feature Sylvester Stallone as writer and director—he would also helm III, IV, and Rocky Balboa—and while the acting is fine and the camerawork workmanlike but adequate, it's Rocky II's been-there-before script that keeps it from being a down-for-the-count knockout.
Rocky III (3.5/5)
It's been five years since the events of the second film, and Rocky is now living the dream. He's defended his heavyweight title ten times, his face has appeared on the covers of magazines worldwide, he lives in a lavish mansion with his wife and kid, and now the city of Philadelphia has commissioned a statue of him, his arms raised in victory. At the unveiling ceremony, where he plans to announce his retirement, up-and-coming boxer "Clubber" Lang (Mr. T, in the role that would make him famous) calls Rocky out and demands a shot at the title. Rocky agrees to a fight —after Clubber basically propositions Adrian—but the crotchety old Mick refuses to help with the training. Later, Mick confesses that Rocky's challengers have, up until now, all been cherry picked to make sure he retains the title. Rocky obviously feels the need to prove himself and reluctantly convinces Mick to help him train for the bout. When Mick suffers a fatal heart attack before the match and Rocky gets K.O.'d in the second round, things look hopeless for the Italian Stallion. In a bizarre turn of events, Rocky's former rival Apollo Creed offers to train him for a rematch against the cocksure Clubber. Apollo sees that Rocky has lost his fighting spirit and helps him regain "the eye of the tiger" by training in a dingy LA gym.
After the all-too-familiar plot of Rocky II, the third film has a lot more to offer. First up, we get appearances by two superstars of the 1980s, Mr. T and Hulk Hogan. Hogan plays "Thunderlips," a lascivious pro-wrestler that Rocky battles in a charity match. A boxer going toe- to-toe with a "professional" wrestler does seem absurd—and it is, even in the context of the film —but there's a gleefully over-the-top quality to the whole thing, which, despite the flight from realism, is fun and entertaining. And, it goes without saying, we have Mr. T muttering the now- immortal line: "I pity the fool." I'm sure there are kids today who quote that one liberally but couldn't tell you its source. With his patent mohawk and feather earrings, Mr. T is a brutal beast to behold, and though his performance is basically one repeated note—he scowls and makes threats, that's about it—his presence gives the film some charisma, not to mention a modest cult status. On the topic of performances, Sylvester Stallone brings a new dimension to Rocky Balboa here. The tailored suits help, but in Stallone's mannerisms and phrasings, we see that Rocky has come a long way from being a mere hood rat from the bad side of Philly. There's an attempt at sophistication that we haven't seen from Rocky before.
Of course, Mick's death gives the film some dramatic weight, and the motivations for Rocky getting back into the ring again seem more sufficient this time around. It's the age-old battle of man trying to prove himself—to himself—and Rocky's journey back into fighting form is a trip worth taking. Add to that the unexpected friendship that's struck up between Rocky and Apollo Creed and you have a sequel that's surprising and tense, with one of the better climactic clobberings to grace the series.
Rocky IV (3.5/5)
I would say that Rocky IV is a guilty pleasure, but I have no shame whatsoever in admitting my undying love for the most mind-blowingly ridiculous entry in the Rocky canon. Granted, it's an admittedly ironic love, but it's love nonetheless. Having grown up in the 1980s, it's easy to look back and identify the vestiges of Cold War, Red Menace paranoia that seeped into pop culture. I mean, it seems like every other war-themed videogame at the time had, as the hero's antagonist, a "red army" or some other thinly veiled reference to the still- Communist U.S.S.R. In 1985, Rocky IV tapped into the stream of anti-Soviet sentiment. After implementing every negative Russian stereotype in the book, the film tries to backpeddle at the end and produce a let's-all-hold-hands, "We Are the World" style message about cultural reconciliation. It's hilarious.
When the film opens, hulking Russian boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) arrives in the U.S. with his steely wife Ludmilla (Brigitte Nielsen) and manager Nicolai (Michael Pataki). They've come to America on a "goodwill" mission to promote friendly competition between the two ideologically disparate nations, but they're really here to, you know, show off their athletic and technological superiority. And they do appear to have the upper hand. Drago, a steel tank of a man, is aided by high-faluttin' gadgets that measure his punch strength (1,850 lbs per square inch, in case you're wondering) and monitor his body's every fluctuation. Apollo Creed, who believes this is an "us versus them" opportunity to win big for America, decides to stage an exhibition match with the Soviet slugger. While Drago looks on, dumbfounded, Creed enters the arena wearing an Uncle Sam costume ("I want you!") while James Brown struts his stuff on stage, singing "Living in America." Good old American showmanship can't make up for Creed being mismatched against a vastly more powerful opponent, and within two rounds Drago has clocked Creed so viciously that the former heavyweight champ dies right there in the ring. Of course, Creed's pal Rocky won't stand for this, and he goes to train in the Russian wilderness for a grudge match to be held on Christmas Day, in Moscow.
There's no way I can list all the ways in which Rocky IV is absolutely preposterous—I have two more films to cover in this review—but a partial sampling will do. First of all, before even mentioning the Russians, Rocky buys his brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young) a robot for his birthday, a robot that is apparently sentient, delivers beer, and nags Paulie like a discontented hausfrau. Then we have Dolph Lundgren, who looks more dopey than menacing, and who has all the acting chops of a length of untreated lumber. Likewise, Brigitte Nielsen— Stallone's wife at the time—is horribly miscast; her "Russian" accent falls somewhere between "unbelievable" and "potentially offensive to actual Russians." Worse yet, the series' staple montages almost become a parody of themselves in this installment, as the middle of the film has no less than four training sequences, set to fist-pumping tunes like John Cafferty's "Hearts on Fire." But it's the film's finale that's the coup de grace. Throughout Rocky IV, the Russians are presented as being emotionally cold, eugenics-obsessed militants, but Rocky, through his perseverance, is able to soften even the hardest commie hearts—including a Mikhail Gorbachev look-alike—and deliver a rousing speech about mutual respect. Rocky IV is neck-high in absurdities, but it does capture the popular polemic of its time—our feud with the Ruskies—even if it does so with straight-faced patriotism and didactic clichés.
Rocky V (3/5)
After defeating Ivan Drago and challenging Russians and Americans to put aside their differences, Rocky returns triumphantly to the good old U.S. of A with a case of irreversible brain damage. As if that weren't enough, Adrian's none-to-bright brother Paulie has accidentally given power of attorney to Rocky's accountant, who blows the champs accumulated dough on a real-estate scheme gone bad. The Balboa's are forced to sell their palatial estate and move back to the po' side of Philly, where Adrian takes up her old job at the pet store and Rock reopens Mick's gym. Things look up, however, when upstart fighter Tommy Gunn (real life boxer Tommy Morrison) persuades Rocky to be his manager. With someone to live vicariously through, Rocky starts treating Tommy like a son, much to the chagrin of his actual son Robert (Sly's actual son Sage Stallone), who is problematically pubescent and isn't adjusting well to the move. When Tommy sells out and takes up with shady fight promoter and Don King stand-in George Washington Duke (Richard Gant), Rocky feels betrayed but also realizes he's been neglecting his own family. Tommy can't stand living in the shadow of his mentor, though, and challenges Rocky to a fight. Before you know it, a televised street brawl has broken out, with "young lion pitted against old lion."
After the excess of Rocky IV—which ironically makes it one of my favorites of the series— Rocky V is a return to form, an intentional attempt to bring the story full circle, even down to hiring Rocky helmer John Avildsen to direct this supposedly final installment. And, in some ways, it works. Rocky and Adrian are back to square one, and though the arc is improbable, it fits with the mythological idea of the hero returning home. Rocky has always been more myth than man, a living parable about persistence and fear and triumph, and here the theme is the passing on of the torch to the next generation.
Only, the script sags and the actors who play that next generation—Sage Stallone and Tommy Morrison—are ill-equipped to carry the torch. I understand Sylvester casting his son—they look alike, certainly—but Sage's performance is a little melodramatic and his story, of getting beat-up at school and ignored by his father, doesn't sustain much interest. It's Tommy Morrison, though, that seems most out of place. He has an awesome mullet—I'll give him that—but he can't act at all. It doesn't help that Tommy Gunn is the single most annoying character in the Rocky universe. In a way, this chapter doesn't really feel like a Rocky film, especially since Bill Conti's score is largely replaced by ill-advised and now seriously dated hip-hop from MC Hammer and others. The street fight that replaces the usual professional bouts is an effective switch-up, but the ending just isn't noble or conclusive enough to befit the iconic Rocky character.
Which brings us to...
Rocky Balboa (4/5)
Our current decade has had a serious case of nostalgia for the pop icons of the '70s and '80s. Indiana Jones swung clumsily back to the silver screen, Michael Bay and Stephen Sommers sullied our childhood imaginations with blockbuster 'splosion-fest adaptations of Transformers and G.I. Joe, and now even The A-Team is getting a theatrical reboot. Sylvester Stallone, one of the biggest stars in the action-hero age, is not immune and has since revisited two of his classic characters. Rambo is laughably violent, an over-the-top cash-in on the '80s craze, but Rocky Balboa, his coda for the saga of the Italian Stallion, is a fitting end to the series and an inspirational film in its own right.
Some sixteen years after the events of the fifth film, Rocky Balboa lives an unassuming life in the Philly neighborhood where he first got his start. His darling wife Adrian has passed away some years ago, but his newly opened restaurant bears her namesake, and he visits her grave so often that he's got a chair secretly stashed in the branches of a nearby tree. Well into middle age, the glory days have passed and Rocky is simply trying to reconnect with his son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia) and help those around him, including Marie (Geraldine Huges), the wayward trollop from the first film, who is now a single mother with a teenaged son. When a computer-simulated fight between Rocky and current heavyweight champion Mason "The Line" Dixon (Antonio Tarver) predicts that Rocky—in his prime—would win a decisive victory, Rock starts thinking about the fire in his belly, the hunger that tells him he's got one good fight left to give. Allured by the prospect of a nostalgia-fueled payday, Dixon's managers set up a charity match between the two fighters. Everyone thinks he's crazy, but Rocky once again feels like he has to prove to himself that he has what it takes.
There's a lot of mourning in this film, a lot of heartbreak, not only for Adrian, but also for the passage of time, for the descent into purposelessness, for the legacy of a has-been. Sylvester Stallone is better here than he's been in a long time; he embodies a personality that's been quieted, a Rocky who can't let go of the good times but acknowledges that while the past will always be there, he needs some hope for his present situation. I was most surprised, though, by Burt Young. His Paulie character has been in all six films, and he's always been a screw-up, a "bum" in Rocky's vernacular. In Rocky Balboa, we really feel Paulie's pain. He's the man that Rocky would be if Rocky never got a shot, an even break. His admiration for Rocky is deep- seated but difficult, as it represents an acknowledgement of his own failures. Yes, the film is sentimental, and yes the emotional impact is contingent upon the audience's knowledge of Rocky's relationship with Adrian from the previous films, but if you're a fan of the series, then Rocky Balboa brings the satisfying closure that was so obviously missing from Rocky V.
Rocky: The Undisputed Collection Blu-ray, Video Quality
Arriving on the same disc from the 2006 Blu-ray version of the film, nothing has changed about 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 II (3.5/5)
Those hoping for a proper restoration of Rocky II may be disappointed here, but the film's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer easily beats the MPEG-2 treatment of the first Rocky. Really, the only thing that keeps this transfer from being a true contender is the nearly non-stop presence of tiny white flecks that pepper the print. It's definitely distracting at times, and I feel like I almost had to train my eyes to overlook them. Still, if you can get past the print damage, Rocky II offers better sharpness and overall clarity than the first film. The climactic fight with Apollo Creed looks especially fantastic, with strong facial detail in close-ups, and the slow- motion shots reveling in the tiniest globules of flying spit and sweat. Black levels are strong and stable without crushing too much detail, skin tones are natural throughout, and colors seem more vivid—primaries in particular, like Rocky's yellow robe or Adrian's bright red coat. The film's grain structure remains intact, and aside from a few insert shots that look like they were filmed using a different stock, the grain is fine and unobtrusive. And placed on a 50 GB disc with room to spare, Rocky II shows no signs of any overt technical limitations.
Rocky III (3.5/5)
Rocky III's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is one of the more inconsistent of the batch. There are times—like the sweaty close-ups of Mr. T's glowering face—where the image is remarkably detailed, where each pore and bead of sweat is finely rendered and the picture has great sense of depth and presence. Then you'll have the occasional soft shot, with unresolved textures, slightly blurry edges, and a flatter look. There are times when the film's grain structure is fine and minimal, but others when swarms of analog noise buzz over the picture, softening everything. While the white specks aren't nearly as persistent as they are in the first two films, they still crop up in certain scenes, most noticeably during Mick's funeral service. Color rendition is about the same as it is in the second film, with the realistic palette sporting bold primaries and accurate skin tones. There are a few intentionally over-dark scenes, but black levels hold up well. The fight sequences were shot with some kind of diffusion filter—it makes soft criss-crossed diagonal lines appear on screen—and while it seems like a strange choice, it's not off-putting at all. Once again, there are no apparent technical issues.
Rocky IV (4/5)
With a sharper, more vivid, more detailed appearance, Rocky IV's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is the first of the set to really impress. Granted, part of this has to do with the slightly newer source material—from 1985—but nonetheless, this is an excellent transfer. When we see Apollo Creed in his swimming pool, the picture is crisp and colorful; the water is a bright, edges look sharp without evidence of artificial enhancement, and the image has a satisfying presence. These traits keep up throughout the film. The fight between Drago and Creed is a red, white, and blue spectacle, the Russian landscape is appropriately bleak, and the match on Drago's home turf is full of drab military green contrasted against fiery Stalinist red. Black levels are deep and contrast is nicely tuned. Like the previous films, there are varying levels of grain, but here the print itself is in much better condition, with hardly any white specks at all. I did notice a few anomalies, though they shouldn't present any major distractions. During Apollo's funeral, there's some artificial blurring that creates a haze over two men standing in the background, and I can't quite explain why it's there. There's also some minor contrast wavering in a few scenes, and the aerial shots of Rocky climbing the mountain have a bright streak running down the right side of the frame. All in all, though, I liked the look of Rocky IV.
Rocky V (3.5/5)
Rocky V's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer seems to be slight step back from the look of Rocky IV, but this is due—in part—to the nature of the story itself. With Rocky returning to his Philly roots, the environments are much dingier, with less color and more grit. Overall, the image seems a bit softer than that of the previous installment. The scene that takes place in Rocky's lawyer's office looks dull, with unresolved lines and hazy textures. There are shots like this throughout the film—obviously source related and not a transfer issue, but it's worth noting. Similarly, grain levels spike occasionally, and there are a few insert shots that are downright noisy. That said, the film still looks good as a whole. Black levels are tight, contrast is nicely balanced, and the movie has its moments of outstanding clarity. The street brawl with Tommy Gunn, in particular, features great detail and some bold splashes of color.
Rocky Balboa (5/5)
Rocky Balboa arrives on the same Blu-ray disc that was put out by Sony Pictures in 2007, and as owners of that release will attest, the film's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is visually stunning, with superlative clarity, a hyper-vivid aesthetic, and a faultless technical presentation. Sylvester Stallone shoots the first three-quarters of the film with a high-contrast stock and furthers the look with extremely effective post-production color toning. The palette is both stark and vivid, with an almost cross-processed appearance that amplifies blue tones and gives highlights a pleasing, slightly off-white cast. The grain is gritty but thin, black levels are ultra- inky, and the image is exceptionally detailed throughout. When the film moves to the Rocky's final fight, the image switches to an equally impressive high definition video look, echoing what you'd normally see on a cable pay-per-view broadcast, but looking much more meticulously clear. I honestly can't drum up any complaints about this transfer; it's true to Sly's directorial intent, it's razor sharp, and it's simply beautiful to behold on a large screen.
Rocky: The Undisputed Collection Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Rocky steps into the HD home theater ring wearing a 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 II (3.5/5)
In some ways, Rocky II's DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track is unremarkable; there are no real moments of audio bliss but neither does the film have any sonic slip-ups. Bill Conti's athletic score is the highlight here, with inspirational strings and horn lines that make me want to get off the couch and do some shadow boxing. The music is full and detailed, mostly occupying the front channels but also bleeding into the rears, where it's joined by some occasional environmental ambience. There are factory sounds in the meat-packing plant, the shuffles and blows of boxers in training at the Golden Gloves club, and, of course, plenty of audience cheering during the final fight. There are also two or three panning effects, like trains passing between speakers, but nothing noteworthy. Dialogue is clear and easily understood—aside from some of Stallone's mumblings—and the foley sound effects are quite a bit better this time around. On a side note, there's no menu music at all for Rocky II (or III, IV, and V), which seems strange at first.
Rocky III (3.5/5)
Like the film's picture quality, Rocky III's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is somewhat inconsistent. The music, including generous use of "Gonna Fly" and "Eye of the Tiger," sounds the same as always—full, interspersed throughout the channels, slightly weighted toward the mid-to-high part of the range, but never brash. The dialogue is generally prioritized well, but there are a few instances when lines sound low in the mix or slightly muffled. I'm thinking specifically of the charity match with Hulk Hogan scene. Still, nothing too distracting. I did, however, notice a slight hiss than runs through two or three scenes in the rear channels. It's not readily apparent—you'd have to actively listen for it—but it seems strange, since there's nothing in those scenes that should be making a hissing noise. Also, at the 48:03 mark there's a crackle that doesn't seem likely to be part of the intentional sound design. In terms of immersion and rear channel usage, Rocky III is about the same as the second film; there's some modest ambience to fill out the soundfield and a few discrete effects, but nothing to shout about.
Rocky IV (4/5)
In most ways, Rocky IV's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is similar to those of the previous four films; there's an adequate amount of ambience in the rear channels, dialogue is easily discernable, and the sound effects are effective, if somewhat stocky. Where Rocky IV differs though, is in a slightly broadened, more expansive overall sound, with more detail and depth. The previous films don't have much in terms of bass response, but part IV features some occasional LFE engagement and a more earthy low-end presence throughout. The film's many pop songs make good use of this wider spectrum, from the ubiquitous "Eye of the Tiger" to James Brown's "Living in America" and John Cafferty's "Hearts on Fire." If a Rocky film can't get you amped up—ironically or otherwise—I'm not sure anything can.
Rocky V (4/5)
While Rocky V's picture quality is somewhat mixed, the film's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is solid throughout, with a pumped-up presence that's evident from first strains of music that play over the opening montage. Bill Conti's classic cues and themes for Rocky are only sparsely used here, though, with most of the soundtrack consisting of extremely dated hip- hop (hello MC Hammer). Still, dated or not, the music sounds great, with generous bass and a clear mid-to-high range. The film's soundfield too is filled out nicely, with subtle ambient sounds and trains rattling between the rear channels. Dialogue is always easily understood and many of the sound effects are punchier this time around (sorry, I honestly didn't mean for that to be a pun), especially some of Tommy Gunn's forceful body blows. The film's most impressive audio sequence is the street fight between Gunn and Rocky, which is loud and features great sound design during Rocky's brain trauma-induced internal vision.
Rocky Balboa (5/5)
As I previously mentioned, this is the same disc put out by Sony Pictures in 2007, and the film's uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track is as impressive as always. The film is dialogue-driven up until Rocky's characteristic training montage, and voices are reproduced with high fidelity and perfectly balanced in the mix. The rear channels are nearly always alive with subtle but enveloping ambience, from the street sounds of Philly to the cheering crowds that'll make you feel like you're right there watching the match. Bill Conti's classic themes are bigger and bolder than ever here, with more potent bass and a clear high-end register. For most of the big fight, Sly sticks with realistic sound design—the punches sound natural—but when the match goes into poeticized montage mode, blows land with concussive LFE force. Feel free to pump up the volume on your receiver and let this one fly.
Rocky: The Undisputed Collection Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Rocky Balboa Disc
Commentary with Sylvester Stallone
I always enjoy hearing interviews with Stallone—he's frank, insightful, and well-spoken—and this commentary track is full personal stories and windows into the making of the film. An excellent listen.
Deleted Scenes and Alternate Ending (1080p, 23:19)
Includes seven character-expanding deleted scenes and the slightly more victorious alternate ending.
Boxing's Bloopers (1080p, 1:31)
A great little blooper reel with more than a few laughs.
Skill vs. Will: The Making of Rocky Balboa (1080i, 17:47)
This excellent behind-the-scenes featurette with cast and crew interviews, lots of on-set footage, and even a few words from the mayor of Philadelphia.
Reality in the Ring: Filming Rocky's Final Fight (1080i, 15:38)
Stallone talks about how the process of cutting a fight scene is manually intensive and emotionally exhaustive. There's a good look at Stallone's training regimen, the choreography of the final fight, and even some discussion of the sound editing.
Virtual Champion: Creating the Computer Fight (1080i, 5:08)
The segment is an inside look at the various processes that went into making the CGI fight featured in the film--including full body scans, performance capture, and plaster face casts.
Includes trailers for Casino Royale, Talladega Nights, Stranger Thank Fiction, Gridiron Gang, and The Pursuit of Happyness.
Bonus Features Disc
Most of the contents here are ported over from the 2-disc special edition Rocky DVD. Unfortunately, the original Rocky disc hasn't been repressed to include the commentary tracks available on that release.
Feeling Strong Now! Game (1080p)
This is a simple but entertaining remote-controlled game that tests your knowledge of the Rocky universe. The idea is that you're fighting Rocky's famous opponents, but to defeat them you have to answer questions correctly. In the first round, Trivia, you're given a few multiple-choice questions. Correct answers will net Rocky stamina, and wrong answers will deplete some health. The second round is a rock, paper, scissors-style game—the rules of which I still haven't figured out—where you have to choose a sequence of punches that are then placed against those chosen by the computer opponent. In the final round, Eye of the Tiger, a brief clip from one of the special features plays and you have to answer another multiple-choice question about it. You probably won't revisit this feature after giving it one good go, but it's a nice enough inclusion.
Three Rounds with Legendary Trainer Lou Duva (SD, 4:44)
World class boxing manager Lou Duva answers three rounds of questions, imparting his philosophy of training in the process.
Interview with a Legend – Bert Sugar: Author/Commentator and Historian (6:56)
In a brief video essay, sports writer Bert Sugar talks about how Rocky transcends boxing because "two men in a ring is life."
The Opponents (SD, 16:23)
Producer Robert Chartoff discusses the idea that Rocky must always be the underdog, that the opponents must have some kind of super-human presence. What follows is an examination of each of Rocky's antagonists, with interviews with Carl Weather, Dolph Lundgren, and Tommy Morrison. Sadly, Mr. T is absent.
In the Ring: Three-Part Making-Of Documentary (SD, 1:15:52)
This retrospective look at the original Rocky is exhaustive and insightful, built upon interviews with Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Director John Avildsen, and Producer Robert Chartoff. Part One covers the origins of the story and the brisk 28-day production, Part Two focuses on the performances of Talia Shire and Burgess Meredith, and Part Three dissects the characters of Paulie and Apollo Creed, gives due to the producers of the film, and discusses the music and the choreography of the big fight.
Steadicam: Then and Now with Garrett Brown (SD, 17:25)
Cinematographer and Steadicam-inventor Garrett Brown shows off some of his early test footage, details his involvement with Rocky, and talks about the whole Steadicam aesthetic.
Make Up! The Art and Form with Michael Westmore (SD, 15:08)
Makeup designer Michael Westmore—who worked on Star Trek for many years—takes us through Rocky's practical makeup effects.
Staccato: A Composer's Notebook with Bill Conti (SD, 11:26)
"Music is anti-intellectual stuff, it's all emotional," says composer Bill Conti, who created all of the memorable themes from the Rocky films. Here, he explains how the music underscores the various themes of Rocky.
The Ring of Truth (SD, 9:48)
Art Director James Spencer discusses the look of Rocky and the challenges of on-location shooting.
Behind the Scenes with John Avildsen (SD, 12:36)
Director John Avildsen shows us the original 8mm footage that he used as a "blueprint or sketchpad" to prepare for the fight choreography and makeup.
Tribute to Burgess Meredith (SD, 7:56)
Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young and others offer up their thoughts on the great Burgess Meredith, who passed away in 1997 after an almost 70-year career in Hollywood.
Tribute to James Crabe (SD, 3:46)
Director John Avildsen fondly remembers cameraman James Crabe, who was pivotal in creating the texture of Rocky's dingy, shadowy world.
Video Commentary with Sylvester Stallone (SD, 28:56)
Here, Stallone looks right into the camera and reminisces about the ideas that originally sparked the story for Rocky, creating an anti-anti-hero, getting his big break, shooting the film, and the reception that the movie got at its first big screening in front of Director's Guild. Sly is charming and honest here, as always.
Sylvester Stallone on Dinah! 1976 (SD, 17:16)
Stallone makes an appearance on Dinah! to promote Rocky and talk about his own inspirational story. Expect lots of hilarious mid-1970s fashion.
Rocky Anthology Trailers
Includes the Rocky theatrical trailer, the Rocky teaser trailer (both SD), and high definition theatrical trailers for Rocky II, III, IV, V, and Rocky Balboa.
Rocky TV Spots
Includes three thirty-second, standard definition TV spots.
Rocky: The Undisputed Collection Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Rocky Balboa is an undisputed American icon, a titan of boxing who is just as real to some folks as Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, and Joe Frazier. While the six films in the Rocky anthology vary in quality, taken as a whole they tell the entirety of a myth-inspired arc, the journey of a hero who surmounts fear and self-doubt, challenges himself, and follows his destiny, even if that means battling some hefty interior demons—not to mention a series of powerful pugilists—along the way. Rocky: The Undisputed Collection isn't perfect—there will be those who demand the films get a complete restorative overhaul—but the allure of having all six Rocky films together at last on Blu-ray will overpower minor quibbles for most fans of the series. As far as I'm concerned, the films look great despite some scattered flecks on the prints, and while not "definitive" home video editions, they're likely to be the best transfers we're going to get in a long time. Whether you're a lifelong fan or one of those few newcomers to the saga of the Italian Stallion, this complete set is a winner and will make a great purchase or gift. Highly recommended.
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