Friday, June 24, 2011

Rocky Limited Edition Digibook Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson

“I took my story and injected it into the body of Rocky Balboa because no one, I felt, would be interested in listening to or watching or reading a story about a down-and-out, struggling actor/writer. It just didn’t conjure up waves of empathy, even from me and I was sure it wouldn’t do it from an audience either.” – Sylvester Stallone

Film (5 out of 5 stars) 

When Sylvester Stallone created the character of Rocky Balboa it came from his own past and experiences and he shared the character’s dreams and aspirations which gave the movie a verisimilitude and heart that everyone around the world could relate to.  Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) doesn’t have huge dreams, he just wants to “go the distance,” and earn some respect since at the beginning of the movie he doesn’t get that much nor does he have a lot of respect for himself. Rocky is unambitious fighter and part time enforces for a local loan shark and has disappointed his trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) so much that Rocky’s locker is cleaned out and given to another fighter to use.
With no clear direction in life and conflicted about his boxing career, the only thing Rocky is sure of his is attraction to a n extremely shy girl named Adrian (Talia Shire) who works in a local pet shop. Adrian is so shy that she can’t even look directly at Rocky and their slow flirtation allows the audience to see Rocky’s tender side as we see how patient and playful he can be.  There’s much more to this down and out fighter than appears on the surface which brilliantly helps the audience to empathize with the character.  It’s Rocky’s endearing qualities and resolve that make his character transcend the usual sports genre and what set the Rocky movies apart from others boxing movies like Raging Bull.
Adrian’s brother Paulie (Burt Young) also happens to be Rocky’s best friend and their relationship is filled with a strange mixture of emotions that feels true.  Paulie has a drinking problem which can cause arguments between the two friends as Paulie’s feelings of jealousy come out into the open. Paulie has no one in his life except for Rocky and his sister and becomes jealous when it appears that that their relationship gets serious and also later when Rocky becomes well known.  In his own way though, Paulie is very loyal to Rocky and despite his efforts to make money off of Rocky’s name, he also does what he can to help Rocky out.
When the reigning undefeated heavy-weight champion of the world Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) finds out that his title bout isn’t going to happen because his opponent got injured, he decides to give an unknown a shot at the title and picks Rocky because he likes how his nickname  ”The Italian Stallion” sounds.  When presented with this once in a lifetime opportunity, Rocky isn’t sure if he should do it since he doesn’t think he has a chance of winning.  His self-doubt and low self-esteem which have held him back for years almost overwhelm him but the love and belief in him from Adrian and Mickey’s decision to train him again provide Rocky everything he had been missing up until that point.
Rocky begins to train in earnest while his opponent Apollo (who is so confident of the outcome he doesn’t even train) spends his time worrying about the spectacle of the fight.  Watching Rocky push himself harder and harder to build up his speed, reflexes, and strength we become even more invested in his success as we can see everything he is going through.  That training includes punching carcasses of meat in a freezer (which actually flattened Stallone’s knuckles for life), or trying to get up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art after a long run and seeing his progress makes us cheer when he actually makes it all the way up the steps as his journey is now ours.
When the climactic fight between Rocky and Apollo finally happens, Rocky’s sole goal is to “go the distance” and last the entire fifteen rounds with the heavy-weight champ.  As the fight begins, it’s obvious that Apollo doesn’t really think this will be a serious fight until Rocky knocks him down in the first round and leaves Creed stunned and embarrassed.  Now entirely serious and angry, Apollo comes after Rocky with all he’s got and the fighting between them becomes intense and brutal. Both fighters suffer serious injuries and Rocky is knocked down and told to stay down by Mickey but Rocky’s determination won’t let him do that.  Shocking everyone, Rocky gets up and the fight goes the entire fifteen rounds leaving both fighters exhausted and battered.
For Rocky, it was never about winning or losing but just about showing that he could do it and his efforts and credo has inspired anyone who has wanted to prove their own worth.  As Rocky says, “I was nobody. But that don’t matter either, you know? ‘Cause I was thinkin’, it really don’t matter if I lose this fight. It really don’t matter if this guy opens my head, either. ‘Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.”
I unabashedly love this series and no other movies have ever made me want to exercise more than the Rocky movies.  Sylvester Stallone created a character than transcends race, politics, or nationality as Rocky embodies the human spirit of never backing down and striving to be the best you can be.  If you get knocked down, you get back up and try again and never let others define you.  This movie was a perfect fusion of actors, director, and composer.  Every actor in this is perfect for their role and they all bring the characters to life in a very believable way that rings of truth.  None of them are perfect and they aren’t afraid to show that.
While the studio wanted either Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, Ryan O’Neal, or James Caan for the role of Rocky, Stallone wisely refused to sell the script unless he was allowed to play the role himself.  I can’t imagine anyone else playing the role better than he did so I’m glad he stuck to his principles.  John G. Avildsen did an incredible job keeping the movie grounded and true to life as well as filming the incredible boxing matches (especially since he had never even watched a single fight before this).  There are some movie scores that are so perfect that they part of the movie’s soul and success like Star Wars and Bill Conti’s score for the Rocky movies is one of them.   The music plays such an integral part of the movie’s emotional pull that I’m willing to bet you can still find it on just about every guy’s iPod in the gym today.  This is the film that started it all and the reason a ton of clones followed that tried to replicate the story and its success.

Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (1.85:1) transfer is identical to the previous Blu-ray release (in fact it’s the same disc) and it’s a step up from DVD quality but for a movie of this cultural and cinematic importance, I would have thought that a full restoration would be warranted.  There’s a lot of heavy grain throughout the picture and flesh tones tend to be on the reddish side off and on.  There’s also a lot of soft looking shots and the black levels aren’t as dark as I would have liked but in a strange way, all of these problems seem to fit the movie and give it a cinéma vérité feel which complements the rough and truthful approach the movie takes in every other area.  That’s not to say that I wouldn’t want to see a new 8K transfer done from Lowry Digital, but the kind of issues that this movie has don’t have the same impact on the viewing experience as they would for other movies.

Audio (3 out of 5 stars) 

Rocky’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is decent but it also should be better than this.  The original mono track is also included for the purists but the 5.1 track is fuller and sounds a lot better. This is still a front heavy mix with the rear speakers only being lightly used during the fight scenes and even then not as well as they should have been.  Dialogue is mostly clear although there are a few instances of it being muddled and there’s a little bit of imperfections here and there too.  Bill Conti’s memorable score is well presented and it seems to get the best treatment by this sound design but it too should have been spread out across all of the channels.  I’m hoping that the following movies sound a lot better than this.

Special Features (1 out of 5 stars) 

Other than the trailer and the hardcover book that is part of the packaging to hold the disc, there aren’t any extras which is completely mystifying to me since the DVD release had a lot of good extras on it.  The book has some nice pictures, background info, and some career highlights of the cast but I would have rather had some serious behind the scenes extras and commentaries.

Final Thoughts (3 out of 5 stars) 

For a movie that was good enough to win both a Best Picture and a Best Director Academy Award, you’d think that MGM would release a lavish, overloaded with extras release complete with a brand new restoration, but that’s not what happened.  This is now the second time Rocky has been released on the Blu-ray format (third if you count the box set) and they didn’t even bother to change anything which is very disappointing for fans of the movie.  This is better than the DVD in every way except for the extras, but it should be a lot better than this.  I hate seeing the final score be dropped down to a three due to the the quality of the disc, since Rocky is one of the most influential movies every made.   The movie is an inspiration for many people across the world and I hope that someday it gets a release that is comparable to the movie’s importance.   I highly recommend this movie to everyone.
Yo Adrian! Order your copy today!

This is the training montages from all of the Rocky movies but I couldn’t resist adding it:

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