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Rocky - Limited Edition Digibook
But only because it's friggin' Rocky.
It's widely assumed that Rocky's humble origin as a story---and this subsequent movie---practically mirrored the early stages of Sylvester Stallone's career. A virtual unknown before the film's development and release, the struggling actor wrote the script and shopped it around...with the condition that he played the title role, a down-on-his-luck boxer given the chance of a lifetime. United Artists offered roughly a quarter of a million dollars at one point, yet Stallone passed when they insisted on using a more bankable actor as the star. Finally, the studio gave in...and the rest, as they say, is history: Rocky went on to enormous critical and commercial success, earning a massive box office return and the 1976 Oscar for Best Picture. Though many film lovers felt that Taxi Driver, Network or All The President's Men deserved the award instead (sorry, Bound for Glory), Rocky's humble origin story was too compelling to be ignored.
In fact, the story is almost too good to be true, depending who you ask.
As much as the Rocky franchise has fallen into self-parody with each sequel (not counting 2006's Rocky Balboa, the sixth and apparently final installment), the original still remains one of the decade's most enduring films, legend or not. Like Stallone's Rambo franchise a few years later---and, to a lesser extent, the career of Stallone himself---there's something special about the first years and (and recent years, as well), but there are plenty of failed opportunities in the middle.
Rocky is undoubtedly an entertaining and much-loved film, so it's a real shame that MGM hasn't given us a proper high-def release to date (including this one). The original 2006 Blu-Ray featured a passable A/V presentation, but all of the extras from the same year's Collector's Edition DVD were left behind. Two years later, it was re-released on Blu-Ray as part of Rocky: The Undisputed Collection, and nothing new was added. Fast-forward to 2011, and MGM has re-re-releases Rocky in a fancy new Digibook case...but for some reason, the exact same Blu-Ray is tucked inside (see also: The Usual Suspects). Out of morbid curiosity, let's take a closer look:
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer is the same (slightly) dated MPEG-2, single-layered offering that we got from both previous Blu-Ray releases. Of course, Rocky is a decidedly low-budget production and looks much more down-to-earth than most studio productions of the era; as such, it should be graded on a slight curve. With that said, the film's natural color palette looks good and image detail is decent in most scenes. A fine layer of grain is present from start to finish. Yet there's a certain lack of "punch" here, even considering the circumstances...and this could've been at least partially fixed by a new transfer or a more sophisticated encoding. Even so, Rocky looks better on Blu-Ray than any DVD release, but it may not be worth an upgrade on visuals alone.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is also a bit rough, but the film's dialogue and classic music cues are generally crisp and rarely fight for attention. A few verbal exchanges do venture into "muffled" territory, but these problems are undoubtedly due to the source material (and again, Rocky's low budget). The film's original mono mix, as well as French 5.1 and Spanish mono dubs, are also offered in lossy Dolby Digital format. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are offered during the main feature.
These clean and classy menu designs offer smooth, simple navigation. This 119-minute movie has been divided into 24 chapter breaks, loading time is relatively fast and the disc is apparently locked for Region "A" players only. As mentioned earlier, the packaging itself is the only exclusive "extra" on this release: it's housed inside a thin, durable Digibook that includes a few essays, production stills, cast biographies and quotes. It's an attractive and practical design...but is it worth shelling out $35 for? Not by a million-to-one shot.
As mentioned earlier, the only bonus material here is a collection of Trailers; one for Rocky and five for seemingly random MGM releases, presented in a mixture of resolutions. With no new extras created for this HD double-dip (heck, not even any from the 2007 Collector's Edition DVD), MGM gives us virtually no reason to shell out for this movie again.
MGM's baffling new "Limited Edition Digibooks" will only appeal to packaging junkies---and even from that vantage point, it's hard to imagine anyone shelling out for this when several nearly-identical versions are available for less money. With a little work, this release of Rocky could've easily been a definitive one; as it stands, it's just a pretty collectible that should've been scrapped in the development stage. Skip It and wait for a more substantial effort.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.