Rocky Anthology (One – Five/1976 – 90; MGM/Fox/DVD-Video) +
C+ Sound: C+ Extras: C- Film: A
(sold separately): Picture: B- Sound:
another 1970s masterpiece, John Carpenter's Halloween, it's sometimes hard to remember what a great film the
original Rocky is because its
reputation has been hurt by too many unnecessary
sequels. Nevertheless, it's still impossible to resist the
charms of this gritty, moving and sometimes very funny underdog story
every time you revisit it.
Prior to Rocky, its writer-star Sylvester
Stallone was a little-known character actor who appeared in 1974-1975 feature
films such as The Lords of Flatbush,
Capone, Death Race 2000 & Farewell,
My Lovely, and guest starred in a 1975 episode of Kojak.
studio liked Stallone's screenplay, but wanted a much more established star
like Ryan O'Neal or James Caan to star as Rocky Balboa, a struggling,
past-his-prime boxer just one step away from skid row. But Stallone was
determined to play Rocky himself and refused to sell his screenplay unless
he could star as the title character. United Artists reluctantly
agreed, and a new star was born.
the lower-middle-class grittiness of an On
the Waterfront with the sweetness of a Marty,
the first Rocky is a story of
redemption about four principal characters from the rough streets of
Philadelphia who'd been beaten down by life.
a small-time club fighter who makes peanuts boxing and barely makes enough collecting
debts for the neighborhood loan shark (Joe Spinell) to pay for his
run-down apartment. Rocky has some talent -- he can throw a hard punch --
but he's pretty much resigned himself to being a third-rate pug.
(Burt Young) is Rocky's alcoholic friend who works at the meat
factory, and lives with his painfully shy sister, Adrian (Talia Shire), who
begins dating Rocky.
(Burgess Meredith) is a crusty 79-year-old former boxer turned trainer who
runs the local gym where Rocky has trained for years. Mickey has never
been particularly nice to Rocky, who's more sensitive than he puts on.
scheduled challenger for a New Year's Day 1976 against reigning heavyweight
champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is forced to drop out, Creed is forced to
find another opponent. Looking for a gimmick to exploit, Creed picks
Rocky as his new opponent mainly because of his catchy nickname, "The
one in a million chance won't be about winning, but proving he can compete in
the big leagues.
by John G. Avildsen (Joe, Save the Tiger), the original Rocky struck a chord with
audiences during the cynical post-Watergate, post-Vietnam era when bleak,
unhappy endings in movies had become the norm. But while Rocky was and is an excellent movie,
it, along with George Lucas' Star Wars,
which would open six months later, marked the beginning of the end of
a great period of ultra-realistic '70s filmmaking. Movies have gone way
too far in the feel-good direction in the subsequent 30 years, but Rocky earns
its big emotional finale by giving us a plethora of great, little moments along
the way and providing characters we really come to love.
script to the perfect casting to the wonderful performances to Bill Conti's
now-famous "Gonna Fly Now"
theme song (a #1 hit in 1977), Rocky
is one of those rare movies where all the key elements fall into place.
It still manages to inspire, and it's easy to see why this marvelous Cinderella
story won the Academy Award for 1976's Best Picture.
Rocky II (1979)
B- Sound: B- Extras: C- Film: B+
sequelitis would infect this series and the industry as a whole, Rocky II was a very good second
chapter even though the result of the climactic Balboa vs. Creed rematch
is pretty much a foregone conclusion.
as well as directed by Stallone this time, Rocky
II retains much of the humor that separated the first two films from the
rest of the series. Beginning right where the first left off, Rocky
marries Adrian and promises never to fight again. But when Rocky can't
make a living any other way, he agrees to a rematch with heavyweight champ
Apollo Creed, who wants to prove Rocky going the distance with him in their
first match was nothing more than a fluke.
than a personal crisis that brings out Rocky's Catholic faith, this is a
virtual repeat of the first film, but it still works. However, this
is where the series should have ended.
Rocky III (1982)
B- Sound: B- Extras: C- Film: C+
formula was starting to become tiresome by now, and can somebody please explain
how Rocky suddenly became more articulate in this one despite more punches to
now-wealthy Rocky has become complacent after winning the championship belt,
and after 10 easy title defenses, gets whipped and loses the belt to a mean,
determined challenger named Clubber Lang (Mr. T). Mickey dies, and
Rocky loses his confidence for a while. But after being
insulted by Clubber Lang, Apollo Creed comes over to Rocky's side and becomes
his new trainer. With Apollo's help, Rocky will regain the "eye of
the tiger" and try to win back his title and self-respect.
where the series began to take itself too seriously and lost its charm.
Rocky, the lovable lug of the first two, suddenly seems more like the
real Stallone than the character, and this one has a mechanical, synthetic feel
the previous ones did not.
Mr. T seemed a lot more menacing back in 1982, and Survivor's (#1 for 6 weeks
back in 1982) hit song, "Eye of the
Tiger," helped sell a lot of tickets.
Rocky IV (1985)
B- Sound: B- Extras: C- Film: C
being more predictable and corny than ever, Rocky IV managed to become the highest grossing film in the series.
By this point, Stallone had morphed into a muscular action hero with a lot
more in common with Arnold Schwarzenegger than actors like Brando, De Niro
and Pacino, who he had been compared to just nine year earlier.
smartly tapping into Cold War tensions and Reagan-era pride as his Rambo: First Blood Part II did earlier
that year, this time the antagonist is a huge Soviet boxer named Ivan
Drago (Dolph Lundgren). After killing Apollo Creed in the ring during an
exhibition match, Rocky comes out of retirement to avenge the death of his foe
Big Fight set to take place inside The Soviet Union, Rocky goes away
to a remote cabin in cold, snowy Russia to train using primitive methods as
Drago trains using state-of-the-art high-tech tools.
by lots of MTV-style musical montages, IV
does boast a pretty good soundtrack, but we've come a long way (in the wrong
direction) from the modest, human story on the Philadelphia streets that was
the original Rocky.
also shows signs of stardom having gone to Stallone's head and him becoming
delusional. When the Soviet fans as well as the Soviet government
officials stand up and cheer Rocky at the end, you can't help but roll your
eyes in disbelief.
Rocky V (1990)
Sound: B- Extras: C- Film: C
suffering "irreversible" brain damage in his fight with Drago at the
end of IV, Rocky loses his fortune,
moves back to the old neighborhood and neglects his son (Stallone's
real-life son, Sage Stallone) while training an ultimately ungrateful
young boxer named Tommy Gunn (real-life boxer Tommy Morrison).
back director John G. Avildsen for the first time since the first one, Rocky V is a manufactured attempt to
capture the spirit of the original. But what's intended as high drama is
instead cloying and silly.
climactic street fight where television cameras are filming and the entire
neighborhood seems to show up within seconds is especially ridiculous, but by
keeping Rocky out the ring and making him a trainer, V at least earns a few points for trying to be different.
films in this Fox/MGM DVD-Video box set are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic
widescreen with new digital transfers and English 5.1 Surround Sound. The
first Rocky is the only one
additionally presented in DTS, while the Blu-ray is presented in DTS HD 5.1
lossless Master Audio. Both DTS mixes
show the limits of the fidelity of the film’s old soundtrack. The first
film also looks grainy and needs some work, something that can be said to less
of an extent for the Blu-ray, whose 1080p MPEG-2 at 18 MBPS digital High
Definition image has its issues and just earns its letter grade. The sequels look a little better, but the
later films (IV & V) should look better than they do
film was an optical monophonic release, the second an old analog Dolby A-type
theatrical sound film, the third and fourth made available in 70mm blow-ups
with a Dolby 4.1/6-track magnetic stereo mix and the fifth in 35mm only with
Dolby’s improved Dolby SR (Spectral Recording) analog playback system. Starting with the third, the sound is not up
to what it should be, immediately apparent when hearing the Survivor hit to
death. The fourth film had a songtrack
with Survivor’s (sporting a new lead singer) hit Burning Heart, a hoped for hit duet by Kenny Loggins & Gladys
Knight called Double Or Nothing and
the late, great, immortal James Brown with his huge comeback hit Living In America. They should sound much better here too. The fifth film had no hits or hit album, but
the SR upgrade is awkward here. Maybe
the Blu-rays will get DTS upgrades.
extra contained with each film is the original theatrical
trailer, as well as the Blu-ray edition at 25GB. Keep in mind, however,
that this box set does not contain
the new 2006 2-disc special edition of the first one, which is loaded
with extras. Maybe we’ll see them on a
later Blu-ray or DVD collection release.
The series is popular enough.
- Chuck O'Leary and Nicholas Sheffo