New for 2014 is MGM's Heavyweight Collection of all six films in the Rocky franchise, which aims to one-up 2009's ironically named Undisputed Collection. The main draw here is a new transfer for the original and best entry in the series, as well as a handful of new-to-Blu extras on the first disc. Everything else about this release, unfortunately, is basically the same as before, which will undoubtedly annoy rabid fans of the popular franchise. The six films include:
Rocky (1976) - The original classic and a controversial Best Picture winner that beat out such critical favorites as Taxi Driver, Network and All the President's Men. The "million-to-one shot" of central character Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) undoubtedly fueled the rising career of its star (and mirrored the film's unlikely success), even if the legend surrounding its early development may not be true. Regardless, the film that first introduced recurring characters Adrian (Talia Shire), Mickey (Burgess Meredith), Paulie (Burt Young), Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) and more is endlessly watchable and a true gem of low-budget movie making. Shot in less than a month for roughly $1M, Rocky is full of clever last-minute rewrites, terrific dialogue and great characters that lend themselves to at least one or two good sequels. Unfortunately, we got five sequels during the next few years...but hey, that's how business is done, folks.
Rocky II (1979) - A solid follow-up that, like most sequels, closely mirrors the original but turns up the volume a bit. Rocky is now rich, famous and married to his sweetheart Adrian, but soon realizes that boxing will continue to be his best chance at financial success. Not surprisingly, a heated rematch with Creed is scheduled...because in true American fashion, a tie-breaker is always guaranteed. Other factors give this sequel a sense of deja vu, including Bill Conti's familiar music, but there's enough good material here for Rocky II to stand up on its own two feet. And since it earned almost as much as its predecessor in worldwide box office receipts, the Rocky train would keep rolling into the 1980s.
Rocky III (1982) - Unquestionably, this is where the train first starting going off the rails. New in-ring threats are introduced in "Thunderlips" (pro wrestler Hulk Hogan) and Clubber Lang (Mr. T, in his film debut), one major character is killed off and a former competitor stands firmly in Rocky's corner. Unfortunately, the film's stop-and-start pacing keeps it from getting off the ground, especially now that we're more than familiar with the franchise's formula. Of all the Rocky films, I've probably seen this third installment the least, but it's still watchable as an entertainingly cartoonish variant of the first two films. Mr. T does manage to convey a believable amount of menace as the hard-hitting Lang, while the continued presence of our hero's "entourage" gives Rocky III a comfortable familiarity during the weaker stretches.
Rocky IV (1985) - Oddly enough, the most popular entry in the franchise, as it brought in over $300M in worldwide ticket sales. This is due in no small part to the film's overly macho style-over-substance approach, fueled heavily by increasing Cold War tension between America and the Soviet Union. Fondly remembered by many as "king of the montages" and completely dismissed by others, this paper-thin entry pits Rocky against the massive Ivan Drago after Apollo Creed is sacrificed in the ring. The film's heavy use of period-specific music (much like Rocky V) definitely gives it a more dated atmosphere...but for whatever reason, this fourth installment still remains a compulsively watchable slice of processed American cheese. Like Rambo III in comparison to First Blood, it shows what happens when a grounded, compelling character turns into a flag-waving caricature. Yet we still love it to death for all the wrong reasons.
Rocky V (1990) - For many, this marks the low point of the franchise, but I've never been quite as hard on it. Sure, this fifth and, for over a decade and a half, final installment had many unforgivable strikes against it: Rocky wasn't the main focus, new recruit Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison) was kind of a doofus and there was more family drama than actual fighting. But in the wake of Rocky Balboa (next in the series), it doesn't really seem all that out of place anymore. I'll certainly admit that the MC Hammer-era soundtrack hasn't aged very well and the climactic street fight (partially choreographed by pro wrestling icon Terry Funk) feels surreal for the wrong reasons...but overall, this "black sheep" of the family is hardly worse than Rocky III in many respects. Fun fact: in the original script, Rocky died at the end.
Rocky Balboa (2006) - This sixth and final outing---not counting the rumored Creed spinoff---is unquestionably a fine return to form and, in my opinion, the second-best film in the series. Much like 2008's Rambo (a personal favorite), it features a more personal story than previous sequels and proves that a little time away from a franchise isn't necessarily a bad thing. As our aging hero debates whether or not to return to boxing for one last fight, his grown-up son (Milo Ventimiglia) and Paulie eventually offer their support, along with throwback supporting character Marie (Geraldine Hughes) and her son Steps (James Kelly III). Facing current champ Mason "The Line" Dixon (boxer Antonio Tarver) in a highly anticipated matchup, it's a humbling experience for our hero and a shot at redemption with his friends, family and the boxing world. Long story short, the sixth part of any franchise has no business being this good.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Since the original Rocky is the only disc here that offers a newer transfer than previous Blu-ray editions (including 2009's Undisputed Collection), a few of these six films differ in visual quality. Rocky II though Rocky V (again, identical to the previous discs) are the least impressive, with uneven black levels and a fair amount of dirt and debris at times, but for the most part they get progressively better with each installment. The original Rocky also features a slighter cooler and more natural-looking color palette this time around, as well as a touch more image detail and an overall more refined and polished appearance. Of course, it's worth noting that Rocky was filmed on a tiny budget and never really aimed for a pristine appearance, so what we get may well be the format's best offering for years to come. Rocky Balboa, though without the benefit of a newer transfer, still shines since age and budget weren't nearly as a big a factor. For all but the original, please refer to the Undisputed Collection review (linked above) for more specific details. Either way, a new set of transfers for II-V would've been interesting but they're still watchable in their current form.
DISCLAIMER: The images featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent these Blu-rays' native 1080p image resolution.
Not surprisingly, the audio is pretty much identical to the Undisputed Collection, including the fact that the first five films include their original Mono, Stereo or Surround options (albeit in lossy Dolby Digital) and the blanket DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio remixes from earlier Blu-ray releases. In any case, I have no major complaints with either set of mixes: from the spectacularly over-the-top punching sounds of the franchise's more cartoonish installments to Balboa's more realistic effects and the trumpeting fanfare of Bill Conti's original scores, everything feels like it fits in nicely with the tone of each respective film. Surround activity is limited but doesn't feel lacking in most cases. Optional French and Spanish dubs, as well as optional English, SDH and Spanish subtitles are offered during the films and most extras.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
A few years ago, I might have bemoaned the slimmed-down packaging of this Heavyweight Collection
in favor of a more elaborate effort, but not anymore. The name of the game is "shelf space" and this six-disc release offers the best of both worlds, taking up minimal room without sacrificing durability. It's housed in a multi-hinged keepcase with attractive two-sided artwork, a matching slipcover and no insert booklet, although the back cover details most of what's new to Rocky
. Only the first film gets a new menu interface, while the others feature the same tasteful (Rocky Balboa
) or downright boring (II-V) designs as before. The disc art is now uniform all across the board, if that floats your boat.
Sometimes less is more, but that's not always the case here. Rocky
arrives with a nice little assortment of "new" extras to go with the new transfer, Rocky Balboa
retains the small but enjoyable assortment as before...and surprise, surprise, II-V are still completely devoid of any bonus features, even the trailers. For the record, I'll detail what's new to this set below, but everything recycled from the Undisputed Collection
and earlier Blu-rays will be mentioned by name only.
What little is brand new to Blu is on the Rocky disc. These include three Audio Commentaries from earlier DVD releases; respectively, the participants include (1) Sylvester Stallone, (2) trainer Lou Diva with commentator Bert Sugar, and (3) director John Avildsen with producers Irvin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, actors Talia Shire, Carl Weathers and Burt Young, and Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown. Another fantastic (and completely new) extra is a short collection of 8mm Production Footage (8 minutes) narrated by John Avildsen and production assistant / future Troma head honcho Lloyd Kaufman, who recently discovered the footage in his basement. This is a brief but enjoyable trip down memory lane, with each participant sharing a handful of personal stories and trivia tidbits. Shame it doesn't last even longer.
Rocky's recycled extras include the three-part "In the Ring" documentary; separate Interviews with Lou Diva, Bert Sugar and Garret Brown; separate Featurettes on the film's makeup (Michael Westmore), music (Bill Conti) and set design (James Spencer); a franchise-spanning look at "The Opponents"; an older collection of 8mm Footage narrated by Avildsen; short Tributes for actor Burgess Meredith and cameraman James Crabe; a truncated Video Commentary with Stallone; a vintage Stallone Interview on the Dinah! show; and finally, a few Trailers & TV Spots for the first film.
Rocky Balboa's recycled supplements include an entertaining Audio Commentary with Stallone; a collection of Deleted Scenes (include an alternate ending); a short Blooper Reel; and three lightweight but informative Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes focusing on the general production, the final in-ring showdown and the fight simulator featured in the film.
MIA from the Undisputed Collection is a forgettable Java-based gave and, more importantly, the Theatrical Trailers for the other five films. I hate when studios omit basic supplements from catalog titles, especially in "updated" editions.
Boxed sets are usually full of missed opportunities...and while this Heavyweight Collection offers a few improvements over 2009's Undisputed Collection, it's not a must-have. Since just about everything new to this release can be found on the Rocky disc (which will undoubtedly get a separate release in the near future), anyone but the most rabid franchise fans will probably want to hold off or wait for a price drop. Overall, this is an inconsistent but still largely enjoyable package---which pretty much describes all six films---and the slimmed-down packaging is appreciated, but the most enthusiastic judgment I can give for this Heavyweight Collection is a split decision. Mildly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.