Undoubtedly one of the most successful franchises of all time, the Rocky series saw as many highs as it did lows (although it’s mostly remembered for its lows). With six different films spanning four different decades the series taught it’s fans what it meant to work towards a goal and not only succeed in receiving it and the glory that comes with it but to also see what it’s like when it slowly fades away. Although the series had become somewhat of a joke by the time the fifth film had landed in theaters, the 2006 film, Rocky Balboa offered fans (and critics) a much higher note for the franchise to go out on.
This holiday season, a “nobody” becomes a “somebody” when Rocky: The Undisputed Collection unveils all six powerhouse films together on stunning Blu-ray Disc (BD) November 3 from MGM Home Entertainment. This definitive collection enshrines the rags to riches tale of Philadelphia club fighter Rocky Balboa and his unwavering tenacity to go the distance. Memorialized with pristine picture and captivating audio, witness the epic span of Rocky’s fighting career, including memorable matchups with Mr. T, Hulk Hogan, Dolph Lundgren and Tommy Morrison. This celebrated saga of the battle for glory and self-respect boasts crowd-pleasing performances by Sylvester Stallone (Rambo) Talia Shire (The Godfather), Burt Young (“The Sopranos”), Carl Weathers (Predator) and Burgess Meredith (Grumpy Old Men). A triumph outside the ring, the monumental Academy Award* winning Rocky franchise has won over audiences as well as critics and, over 30 years after the original film, Rocky continues to be recognized as a film icon, sports legend and American hero.
Undoubtedly the original Rocky will remain an undisputed champ amongst sports films, if only because it went with such an unconventional ending. We rarely see films like this even today and for such a film to come out in 1976 and not only be well received but to also be incredibly successful is…well, it’s a very rare thing. The series wore on through the years, but it was always the original that stood out in people’s minds most, even if it was Rocky IV that brought in the most in terms of box office receipts. Of course that film then made way for V, which I’m pretty sure everyone wishes wasn’t made.
Watching these films all back to back really helped build a strong sense of chronology amongst them (unlike the Rambo series which…really doesn’t follow anything at all, aside from the first two). Also the constant weaving in and out of characters is a fantastic tool, even though I couldn’t help but laugh at Carl Weather’s on every occasion (and this is due to his appearances on Arrested Development…man, I love that show). But to Stallone’s credit he held it together in some of the weaker moments of the series, which is really quite astonishing considering the massive pendulum swings of success his career has had.
People laughed when another Rocky and Rambo were going to be made and as comical as it all seemed, the films honestly came out to be pretty good. While Stallone was the only well-known actor in the films for the most part, they did feature a host of talent from various television stars at the time. In Rocky Balboa’s case we had Milo Ventimiglia (of Heroes fame) in the smaller role of Rocky’s son, which he did a pretty solid job of portraying. Not only were there visual similarities that made it work, but there were also character bits that they had going to make the connection seem “real.” When you add something as heavy to a longtime character as offspring, it can be a serious gamble…but for that film I think it worked brilliantly.
As for the other films? Well between the various appearances from Mr. T, Hulk Hogan, Tommy Morrison and others, the series definitely had its fair share of bankable (at the time, at least) star power. The films do come off a bit dated by today’s standards, but overall it’s a solid set and anyone who has yet to experience the Rocky saga are Recommended to do so. There are high and low points, but you’ll find that within almost any series that lasts more than a couple installments. In the end, however, the films all add up to an indisputable American icon and the films will go down in history as some of the most inspiring and uplifting stories around (aside from the most recent film, anyway, as there was a lot of “looking back” and bereavement that went on in it).
Fox pushes out the Rocky: The Undisputed Collection for the first time on Blu-ray in a seven disc box set. While the first film and the latest have already seen release, Rocky II-V had yet to see the format so those who haven’t picked the releases up yet will be inclined to pick them up in one nice, tidy package. The set itself arrives in a double (near triple, actually) wide Elite case with viva trays. Each film receives its own disc, sans extras (aside from Balboa which comes packed with its own), with a seventh disc packing in all the bonus features for the set. The case is housed inside of a reflective foil cardboard slipcase to add a little “flair” to the whole set.
Video for the films varies, not only in codec’s but also in quality. For Rocky the transfer (and disc) is identical to the previously released version so the MPEG-2 transfer remains. As with most early Blu-ray transfers, the use of MPEG-2 provided less than spectacular results. It’s not a terrible transfer by any means but it definitely shows its age and smears a bit of softness over the print at the same time. The included DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is equally as unimpressive, with very little “oomph” to the LFE and surrounds.
Rocky II – V all sport AVC encoded transfers with varying levels of success. As the films progress in age, so does the transfer progress in quality. None are perfect, but by Rocky IV the transfer begins to improve greatly with solid amounts of detail and the clearest picture of the bunch (until Balboa, anyway). Oddly Rocky V seems to fall back into the levels of clarity that the other films in the set have, but considering it’s the least liked of the films anyway I don’t find this too surprising. Keep in mind all of these transfers easily blast the DVD variants out of the water, they just aren’t up to the “wow” standards that modern Blu’s have…which isn’t too surprising, but still slightly disappointing. In any case the audio mixes for Rocky II-V (all DTS-HD MA 5.1) are all solid but, again, not all that amazing. By IV the mixes start to liven up, with newer sound effects that resonate a bit more than previous films. It’s in these films you start to “feel” the punches a bit more, but they still aren’t perfect. Very close, however.
For Rocky Balboa the transfer (and the entire disc, really) is identical to the previously released disc. Video is a rock solid AVC encoded transfer that is equal parts stunning and impressive. The audio, a LPCM 5.1 track (keep in mind that this disc is from 2007, hence the presence of a PCM track), is equally as potent with superb surround work and pounding bass.
Disc 6 – Rocky Balboa
• Commentary with Sylvester Stallone
• Deleted Scenes
• Making of featurette
• Reality in the Ring: Filming Rocky’s Final Fight
• Virtual Champion: Creating the Computer Fight
Disc 7 – Rocky Anthology Bonus Disc
• “Feeling Strong Now!” Trivia Game
• Three Rounds with Legendary Trainer Lou Duva featurette
• Interview with a Legend – Bret Sugar (Author/Commentator and Historian)
• “The Opponents”
• In The Ring: Three-Part Making-Of Documentary
• Steadicam: Then and Now with Garrett Brown
• Make Up! The Art and Form with Michael Westmore
• Staccato: A Composer’s Notebook with Bill Conti
• The Ring of Truth
• Behind the Scenes with John Avildsen
• Tribute to Burgess Meredith
• Tribute to James Crabe
• Video Commentary with Sylvester Stallone (SD, 28:56)
• Sylvester Stallone on Dinah!
• Rocky Anthology Trailers
• Rocky TV Spots
If the contents of the bonus disc look familiar to you, they should…they’re pretty much all ported over from the second disc of the two-disc Rocky DVD from years back. Sadly the commentaries from that release are not included for the main film, which is a serious bummer (and also makes this collection rather incomplete). Stallone’s always a delight to listen to so it’s a shame that we didn’t get those tracks back for this Blu-ray collection.
Overall most of what you need and expect from this series is included on this set. Fantastic films and a decent amount of bonus features wrapped up in a neat little package. If you’re looking to own the Rocky films and want to do it in one quick swoop then this collection comes Recommended. Transfers aren’t amazing but for a six film collection, it’s also surprisingly affordable (it works out to less than $10 a film as of this writing if you buy it from Amazon).
Rocky: The Undisputed Collection is now available on Blu-ray.