In an effort to not just rehash each of the 'Rocky' films with two paragraph reviews, I'm going to take a different road with this review by reviewing and discussing the 'Rocky' saga as a whole.*
I remember getting 'Rocky IV' for a birthday one year. After watching it I had the distinct impression that I wanted to work out in the snow. So I went for a run in the falling snow with the 'Rocky' theme song playing over and over in my head. I became an instant fan of boxing, only to find out that real boxing was nothing like the boxing featured in the 'Rocky' films where almost every punch lands with ferocious velocity and no one tries to block anything.
'Rocky' was a monumental achievement both in storytelling and box office success. It won the Best Picture Oscar in 1977 and went on to become one of the most iconic films in American culture. Few movies have had such a huge impact on my life as the 'Rocky' films. It wasn't until years later, when I rewatched the first 'Rocky,' that I was really able to understand the meaning behind that film. Rocky is forever a humble guy who is just trying his best with the lot he's been given in life.
No name Rocky Balboa is offered a chance to fight Heavyweight World Champion Apollo Creed, just because cocky Creed likes the sound of Rocky's nickname "The Italian Stallion." 'Rocky' transcends every other sports movie out there by being about a man who just wants to prove he can go the distance, rather than win outright. Most of the subsequent 'Rocky' films become about winning, but the first one was a beautiful tale of a man who was given a chance and took full advantage of it, he proves to the world what he can do. The first film is also about the innocent love Rocky has for the local pet store girl named Adrian. Adrian never talks and Rocky never stops talking, they're a perfect match.
The first 'Rocky' requires a little life experience to get all the nuances and meaning behind it. The rest of the films have their own beauty to them (except 'Rocky V'), but the first film is by far the best of the series.
The interesting thing about the later films is that there is still a story to tell with the perpetual underdog's life. His character continues to evolve and change throughout the series, but that humility and drive to excel are always there. In 'Rocky II,' we see that Rocky really has no idea what to do with the new found wealth that he's going to get from doing commercials.
'Rocky III' shows us an upset and ungrateful Paulie, as well as Rocky's beloved manager Mickey passing away. In a touching scene, where Rocky cries over the body of his fallen manager we are all reminded that this tough-as-nails man still has one of the biggest hearts out there.
'Rocky IV' gives us a glimpse at Rocky's determination and how Creed's cockiness brings him down. Many people consider this one to be their favorite film of the series. It's my second favorite, behind the first film, but for different reasons. By this time they had perfected the fighting scenes and upped the dramatic effect of the sound effects. Out of the series this one is the most fun to watch, but not the most meaningful.
The 'Rocky' saga embodies the underdog story to perfection. Like I said, he's always considered the underdog. That never fazes him though. His outlook on life can be compared to another movie character... Forrest Gump. Rocky has the best intentions, and always wants to do right by his friends and family even if they treat him terribly (I'm looking at you Paulie). Devastation meets him at every turn, but he perseveres.
Rocky is so iconic and so beloved because we love those gritty stories about people who aren't supposed to succeed, but do. We love seeing someone go from rags to riches. The story of Rocky is full of lessons on life like how to treat other people, what true friendship is, and how love conquers all. Sure I might be getting a little sappy here, but to this day, each and every 'Rocky' film (with the exception of 'Rocky V') chokes me up more than once during its runtime.
* For those of you that want to know my star ratings for each film they are as follows:
'Rocky' – 5 stars
'Rocky II' – 4 stars
'Rocky III' – 3.5 stars
'Rocky IV' – 4 stars
'Rocky V' – 2 stars
'Rocky Balboa' – 4 stars
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings the 'Rocky' franchise to Blu-ray once more, dubbing the rematch "The Heavyweight Collection." The first five discs are Region Free, BD50s while the last is a Region A locked, BD50. All six are housed inside a slightly oversized blue case with a glossy slipcover. Disc one commences with a Blu-ray promo before switching to an animated menu screen with full-motion clips and music. The next four go directly to a static, silent screen, and disc six goes to a menu screen with full-motion clips and music.
The original sports classic comes out swinging with a phenomenal, reference-quality 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that surpasses all previous Blu-ray editions. Struck from the original elements and remastered at 4K resolution, the picture is absolutely gorgeous, revealing every detail and fine line in buildings and clothing with resolute, distinct clarity. A couple shots are a tad on the soft side, but they're a result of the original photography, not a fault in the transfer. The 1.85:1 image is awash with a very fine layer of grain, giving the overall image a spectacular cinematic appeal. Contrast is spot-on and well-balanced with brilliant, crisp whites, and blacks are accurate and inky rich with excellent detailing in the darkest portions of the frame. The color palette, of course, benefits the most from the restoration, showing bold saturation in the primaries and animated secondary hues that make skin tones appear accurate and healthy. (Video Rating: 5/5)
The sequel arrives for a Blu-ray rematch with the same, identical AVC encode as the previous box set. Although resolution and clarity is an improvement over its DVD counterpart, overall definition is not up to high-def standards, looking quite soft for a majority of the time. A few scenes are nicely detailed, but they are far and few in between. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the video comes with a fine layer of grain, but it's also accompanied by a fair amount of white specks and dirt. Colors are bold and cleanly rendered while contrast is a bit on the average side of things, yet consistent. Black levels, on the other hand, are strong and accurate with passable shadow detailing. (Video Rating: 3/5)
The next sequel in the franchise takes another punch at Blu-ray with the same 1080p picture as before, which is not an entirely bad thing because the source used appears to be in fairly good condition. The 1.85:1 image displays a thin, appreciable layer of grain throughout, excellent contrast with crisp whites and strong black levels. The color palette is bold and full-bodied with warm secondary hues and healthy skin tones in the cast. Fine object and textural details are quite sharp and well-defined, all things considered, but the overall presentation does have its fair share of soft moments and only average resolution. (Video Rating: 3.5/5)
Part four goes the distance with another identical but solid AVC-encoded transfer, showing good detailing in the clothing, the wood cabin and surrounding foliage. Skin tones appear natural and revealing with surprising lifelike complexions during the many close-ups. The elements used also tend to show their age, as several sequences can look poorly resolved, faded and a bit discolored. The 1.85:1 image is also awash with a fine layer of grain that's consistent, giving the presentation an attractive film-like appeal. Colors are mostly bold, stable and accurately rendered. Contrast and brightness is a hit and miss with pleasing blacks and generally crisp whites, but the picture can seem a tad faded and dull in a few spots. (Video Rating: 3/5)
As expected, number five shows up for a rematch with the same mixed-bag high-def transfer as before. Film grain is sometimes thin and natural while other times, it litters the screen in noticeably thick chunks, almost looking like mosquito noise. Colors are good and nicely saturated, and facial complexions appeal healthy. Contrast is average with only a couple appreciable moments, but much of the picture falls flat with several highlights running hot. Black levels are in better shape and more consistent with strong shadow delineation. Fine object and textural details are a hit and miss, sometimes well-defined but for the most part soft and blurry with a splattering of dirt and white specks. (Video Rating: 3/5)
The final chapter in the Rocky saga comes out of retirement with an identical but still spectacular AVC-encoded performance that wows with crystal-clear clarity and definition. Stylishly gritty and deliberately made to look aged, the 1.85:1 image is awash with a noticeable layer of grain that's consistent, giving the presentation a nice film-like appearance. Details are sharp and resolute, revealing every pore, scar and negligible blemish in faces, especially during close-ups. Fine lines along buildings, furniture and clothing are resolute and distinct throughout. Contrast is intentionally reserved, giving the picture a grayish tone, but well-balanced with crisp whites. Black levels are true and inky with excellent detailing in the darkest portion of the frame. Primaries are bold and animated while secondary hues are full-bodied. (Video Rating: 4.5/5)
On the audio side of things, the classic film walks into the ring with what sounds like the same DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack as previous high-def release. Comparatively speaking, I noticed little discernible difference between the tracks. But to tell the truth, I personally enjoy the way 'Rocky' sounds on Blu-ray even though it doesn't make the best impression, which has more to do with the original design than a fault in the codec. The lossless mix is an understandably front-heavy presentation, which is greatly appreciated, and maintains a terrifically engaging soundstage with a good, detailed mid-range and some enjoyable low-frequency effects during the final fight. Dialogue reproduction is a bit odd and arguably the weakest aspect, sometimes coming in loud and clear while other times barely audible. (Audio Rating: 3/5)
Like the video, the second entry in the Rocky saga weighs in with the same DTS-HD MA soundtrack as before, and a pretty solid track it is. Admittedly, the lossless mix is largely limited by the source and the original design, which only means that it is a front-heavy presentation. Imaging is surprisingly wide and welcoming without seeming forced or over-extended, exhibiting a clean dynamic range even though there isn't much going on in the upper frequencies. Atmospherics, like the roar of boxing fans, fill the entire soundstage convincingly and satisfyingly while a few low-frequency effects add some weight to the music and punches. With good, strong vocals in the center, the high rez track wins by a split-decision. (Audio Rating: 3/5)
Again, part three comes in with the same DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack as before, but unlike the first two, the original stereo design offers a slightly more impressive and engaging presentation. A few ambient effects and music bleed into the surrounds with satisfying effectiveness while the mid-range is clean and detailed from beginning to end. Imaging is expansive and broad with excellent separation and balance between the channels, and low bass is surprisingly hearty and responsive, especially when providing weight to Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger." Dialogue reproduction is precise and intelligible in the center. (Audio Rating: 3.5/5)
Like its predecessor, the third sequel in the franchise makes its way to the ring with a strong and satisfying DTS-HD MA soundtrack. The largely front-heavy mix displays a wide and welcoming soundstage with great movement and convincing off-screen effects. The mid-range exhibits crisp details and outstanding separation, allowing the music and song selections to really shine and dominate the entire soundfield with superb clarity. Bass isn't quite as impressive, but it's adequate and hearty enough to provide some pleasing weight. A few, minor atmospherics bleed into the rears for ambience, but nothing that really envelopes. Vocals are clean and well-prioritized throughout, making it a great lossless track. (Audio Rating: 3.5/5)
In the audio department, the fifth chapter of the series offers an identical DTS-HD MA track that mostly occupies the fronts with a good deal of activity. Imaging is attractive and generally pleasing with excellent channel separation and a detailed mid-range. The music and song selections do the majority of the work with minor bleeding into the surrounds, but several discrete effects broaden the soundfield nicely and occasionally enliven the room with the cheers and jeers of spectators. Low bass is heftier and responsive than initialed expected, providing a good deal of weight to the lossless mix, while dialogue reproduction is clean and intelligible in the center. (Audio Rating: 3.5/5)
The last entry in the franchise brings the epic tale of a sports legend to a close with a hard-hitting uncompressed PCM punch that more than makes up for it predecessors. Crystalline vocals are lucid and precise in the center of a wide, welcoming soundstage that fills the room with penetrating dynamics and detailed acoustics. Convincing off-screen effects move across all three channels flawlessly and effortlessly, delivering light, subtle background sounds that create an appreciable wall of sound. The low end provides a hearty oomph and thump to the music and to a few choice punches during the final match. Atmospherics are artfully employed to mildly expand the soundfield and generate a satisfying ambience, but the last half hour comes alive the roar of the crowd clapping, chanting or sneering, which is quite enveloping. (Audio Rating: 4.5/5)
Many of the special features from the previous box set and other DVD editions are ported over for this new collection, except that they are now found on the first Blu-ray disc rather than on a separate disc.
Disc Six — 'Rocky Balboa'
Aaron Peck sums it up best when he writes:
The 'Rocky' franchise is one of the most iconic film franchises of all time. The original 'Rocky' film still stands as one of the finest American cinematic experiences that can be had. Each film gives us new insight into the character of Rocky and how he changes and grows throughout his life. It's a fantastic journey, one that can be lived over and over with this wonderful collection.
This Blu-ray box set features a brand new 4K scan of the 1976 classic, which looks utterly fantastic, but the rest of the films are unfortunately the same high-def transfer as the "Undisputed Collection." The audio presentations are also the same lossless tracks, but that's not an entirely bad thing. Much of the bonus material is ported over from the previous box set, but also includes a few items that were missing, along with one new surprise. For devoted, loyal fight fans who held out this long, this new collection is a must-own while owners of the previous set will be tempted by the new remaster of the original.