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Rocky: The Complete Saga [DVD]
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The underdog. The champ. The icon. Sylvester Stallone is the illustrious boxer Rocky Balboa, in a role all of his own. Now, the Oscar-winning (1976) original and its equally powerful and action-packed successors are presented in Rocky: The Complete Saga. Rocky Balboa is an unlikely winner. At the outset, he’s a second-rate boxer whose trainer has given up on him. That all changes when he "goes the distance" with the reigning champ. In the ensuing saga, Rocky battles the toughest of the tough and weathers even harder bouts outside the ring. With its riveting fight sequences and stirring performances, these six films tell the awe-inspiring story of one hero’s unforgettable journey.
The 1976 Oscar winner for Best Picture, John G Avildsen's Rocky is the story of a down-and-out club fighter who gets his million-to-one shot at a world championship title. In the title role, Sylvester Stallone (who also penned the screenplay) draws a carefully etched portrait of a loser who, in Brando-esque fashion, "coulda been a contender". Rocky then becomes one thanks to a publicity stunt engineered by current champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), while finding love courtesy of timid wallflower Adrian (Talia Shire) along the way. Burgess Meredith revives the spirit of 1940's genre pictures through his scenery-chewing performance as Rocky's trainer. An enormously entertaining film, Rocky is irresistible in its depiction of an underachiever who has the courage to start all over again--a description that could have been applied to Stallone's own life at the time. --Kevin Mulhall
The Italian Stallion returns for a rematch with Apollo Creed, hoping, finally, to capture the heavyweight title. This time, even his girlfriend, Adrian, gives Rocky her blessing. Sylvester Stallone wrote and directed this exciting follow-up, with Burgess Meredith, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, and Burt Young all reprising their roles from the first film.
Rocky's lifestyle of wealth and idleness is suddenly shaken when a powerful fighter challenges him to a fight for the championship. After being beaten, the previously over-confident Rocky resumes his training in preparation for a re-match.
A World Heavyweight Boxing contest is to be staged between the champ, Rocky Balboa and the Soviet amateur champion, Ivan Drago. Both men know that this is more than just a tough contest of strength and skill.
Times are hard for Rocky Balboa. A lifetime of taking punches has terminated his boxing career and a crooked accountant has left him in financial difficulties. The Balboa family moves back to its roots in a downtown neighbourhood where an aspiring boxer turns to the champ for training...
The sixth instalment of the Rocky series picks up the story of the Italian Stallion 16 years after the morose Rocky V. And sure, at his advanced age, Sylvester Stallone now looks like one of those sides of beef his character used to pound on. No matter. Somehow you buy the premise after all these years, even if it takes forever for Rocky Balboa to stop wallowing in self-pity (Adrian is dead, his old haunts are demolished) and get down to the business of drinking raw eggs and running up steps. The business at hand is an unlikely exhibition fight with champion Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver), which the near-sexagenarian Mr. Balboa has no business accepting. Of course, just as sure as the horns of Bill Conti's theme music are even now trumpeting through your head, the ol' Rock might have a punch or two left in him. Stallone wrote and directed, and there isn't much to say except that the movie steps in its pre-determined paces with a canny sense of what has come before (it's practically an homage to all the previous Rocky pictures, complete with fleeting flashbacks). Burt Young is around again, and Geraldine Hughes makes an appealing, rather chaste female companion for Rocky. Stallone's Rocky has gotten suspiciously articulate over the years, but he still knows how to slouch. If Stallone never forgets that, he can probably keep the franchise rolling. --Robert Horton
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While this is by far and away the slowest paced of the franchise, the classic underdog story holds up to repeat viewings due to its sheer heartfelt sincerity. There isn't a cynical bone in 'Rocky's' body, both the film and the character. The winning formula established here has gone on to be repeated for another 40+ years with varying degrees of success, not just within the 'Rocky' series, but other movies too, from zero to hero, from underdog to champ. This is a 1970s picture through and through - downbeat, naturalistic, character-led, with a doggedly determined theme and message underwriting the drama. 'Rocky' is the quintessential working class wish fulfillment fantasy - the American dream distilled through fiction - and it works because it never strikes a false beat or feels manipulative. I fear that new generations of filmgoers won't have the patience to appreciate such a character driven drama about something as simple yet universal as going the distance, but to the rest of us who grew up watching these films, Rocky Balboa will always be the most authentic and humble of onscreen heroes.
'Rocky II' improves upon the pacing of the original whilst expanding upon the characters from part one in a logical and interesting way. Adrian and Mickey in particular get more meaty scenes to play, with the former emerging from her shell as a key voice in Rocky's life and the latter finding his place as a surrogate father figure. Even Apollo Creed has more to do this time around as an antagonist with solid motivation. He feels more dangerous and desperate here. I think audiences really fell in love with the characters due to this installment. There is just so much more going on. Yes, the story isn't as lean and there is a lot more straight-up family drama to digest, but the true emotional mythology of the franchise started here. Stallone as director manages to re-capture the naturalistic style established by predecessor John G. Avildsen whilst cranking up the energy of the training montage, although he fails to make the climatic bout as authentic. It ultimately lacks the humbleness and sincerity of part one, but remains a faithful and involving continuation of its legacy.
AKA 'The One With Mr. T'. The third installment in the 'Rocky' franchise is where things started to slip further into the realms of Hollywood fantasy. Stallone has stated on numerous occasions that these films were semi-autobiographical, which is what gives them a certain meta-substance in retrospect, and 'Rocky III' is all about the downside of fame and the pressures of success. It is also an early product of 80s excess - witness the totally unnecessary sequence where Rocky fights Hulk Hogan's ThunderLips. Mr. T makes for a surprisingly intense and formidable villain, even if he is as one-dimensional as villains can possibly come, and the fight sequences are a technical improvement over 'Rocky II', particularly the real time confrontation at the climax. What makes this installment go beyond cynical sequelitis is Stallone's willingness to shake up the comfort zone of his characters. Mickey's death and Rocky's grief is possibly one of the most heart wrenching moments of the entire series, and his burgeoning friendship with new mentor Apollo Creed injects an exciting new dynamic into what was becoming a well-worn formula. Burgess Meredith and Carl Weathers are the highlights this time around, and the final scene is possibly my favourite of all the films. Watching Rocky live through the successful years is certainly the least interesting period in the character's evolution (as it was with Stallone himself), but 'Rocky III' has enough charm, emotion and innovation to live on as a campy classic. Plus, 'Eye of the Tiger'... best theme song ever.
I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with 'Rocky IV'. I both anticipate and dread coming to this part in a rewatch. It is the worst episode in the series by far but has the best villain driving its painfully thin revenge plot. The problem with Part IV is that Stallone took his humble slugger and used him as a vessel for some on-the-nose political metaphor about East vs West relations. The results are somewhere between epic symbolism and embarrassing cliche. What's more is that Stallone was at the apex of indulging in his excesses as a star and filmmaker - from the ridiculous house robot (why Sly?! WHY?!!) to the endless musical montages which clearly are there to cover for the fact that Stallone barely had a script to work with this time around. He also feels the least like the character of Rocky here, as if he had forgotten how to play someone that sincere and genuine. As the main creative force behind the series he is almost wholly responsible for just how silly this film is. However, all is not lost because of the introduction of Dolph Lundgren's truly iconic villain Ivan Drago, whose intensity and imposing shape casts a large shadow over proceedings, even though he has four lines in the whole thing. The extreme snowbound training montage and final fight between Balboa and Drago is pure spectacle - although we have come a long way from the naturalism of parts one and two - and I never fail to enjoy the last third of the film. Otherwise, 'Rocky IV' is most notable for the death of Apollo Creed, which always seemed like a cynical move by Stallone to imbue a non-story with some emotional stakes. I can now finally forgive this creative choice because it gave us (many years later) the 'Creed' spin-offs. 'Rocky IV' is preposterous fantasy with a deeply cheesy message at its core, but is undoubtedly one of the great guilty pleasure movies of the 80s.
It never ceases to amaze me how many people rate a forgivably rubbish film like 'Rocky IV' over 'Rocky V'. Even Stallone himself gives this film a big fat zero, which I suspect is due to the fact that it was both poorly received by audiences and critics, and remains the only flop of the franchise. It is ironic that 'Rocky V' became the franchise killer because it is the first movie since part two that actually remembered that this all started as a small character drama, not some obnoxious action franchise like 'Rambo'. So we go back to the roots of 'Rocky' as Stallone the writer strips away the mansion, the money, the success, and the glory, and tries to rediscover what made Rocky so special in the first place. I really love this movie for all sorts of reasons and never understood the hate. First of all, Talia Shire is at her best in the role of Adrian, with a hugely expanded role. For the past two films she had been sidelined somewhat, whereas she really shines here, demonstrating just how far Adrian has come as a character. From shy recluse to vocal matriarch. I love her in this. I love Stallone too. He gets back to the essence of Rocky after nearly losing him in the previous outing, and he plays some of his best scenes in the role since 'Rocky II'. His son, Sage Stallone, avoids feeling like stunt casting because he is actually a capable young actor who finally gives life and personality to an important person in the Balboa family. This is actually more of a father/son story than anything else, tapping into the autobiographical touchstones of Stallone's life I'm sure, and is made even more impacting and resonant in the last several years since the actual death of Sage in real life. Burgess Meredith comes back for a rabble rousing cameo and even the one dimensional, craggy comic relief Paulie gets several moments to shine. It's a back-to-basics sequel, directed by original helmer John G. Avildsen, and while it falls heavy on the melodrama, it is the only film in the series to jettison the traditional challenger/training/final fight formula. Stallone unchains his characters from what had become a limiting and repetitive cycle of self-made cliches to explore the people within their old environment in a fresh way. Okay, the Don King promoter is all kinds of OTT and the tragic villain Tommy Gunn isn't as threatening as Lundgren's Drago or Mr. T's Clubber Lang, and there is more than enough cheese to make multiple sandwiches with, but it is a really worthy story that is so much better than its critics give it credit for. It's the underdog of the entire series, which is why it is my personal favourite of the bunch (if not the best film).
Sometimes there is a reason why sequels exist. They are not always just about making money, as long as the people in front of and behind the camera are genuinely passionate about what they are making. Stallone clearly had one story left to tell with 'Rocky Balboa' and he shows more passion and humility here than he did even with the original 'Rocky'. This film makes the ups and downs of the franchise worth the while because it captures, what I believe to be, the very spirit of an iconic character and the very real melancholy and vulnerability of an aging movie star past his prime. This is easily Stallone's most introspective and personal work, exploring the idea of aging and staying relevant when life seems done with you even if you feel like you aren't done with life yet. There are lines in this movie that have stayed with me ever since I first saw it at the cinema back in 2006. What makes it extra special is that we have followed this character over the years and across five other films. We know him as well as we know any fictional character and to see him in pain or to see him sad is utterly heartbreaking. It is a testament to Stallone's writing and performance - something I feel should have seen him receive some awards love. When we flashback to see the younger years of our characters, it's actually footage of them from 30 years ago as youngsters. The passing of time feels totally authentic and the emotional beats consistently ring true. Everything that made this franchise exciting and moving and satisfying are clear and present in 'Rocky Balboa'. To see Rocky go the distance one last time was a truly wonderful experience, which was earned over the course of three decades.
THE DVD SET
The previous release of the first five films - The Rocky Anthology Collection - was a far more uniform set with a superior black and white package design, but it lacked the inclusion of 'Rocky Balboa' so stood as an incomplete set. This 'Undisputed Collection' DVD set is the bare bone basics. The outer cardboard packaging is flimsy and cheap, while the DVD sleeves themselves simply go for a generic still frame image from each film per cover. It is not very aesthetically or stylistically interesting, which is a shame. The first five films are vanilla DVDs with zero extras. 'Rocky Balboa' however is loaded with great features like deleted scenes, making of docs and a director's commentary. Overall, you get what you pay for here. It's an inexpensive set and if you are only interested in owning the movies themselves then this should work for you just fine.
Seems like quite an missed opportunity for this release on mastering and special features seeming its a 'Heavyweight' edition, they just keep re-hashing the same prints over the set releases (which I think stands at 4 now since 2009).
and also A Bonus Disc with over 3 ½ Hours of Special Features.
Sylvester Stallone is a brilliant actor and Director.
Each bluray comes in its own case and the cases are minimally packaged which is a good thing in this age of conservation. Went for the bluray version for the enhanced sound and picture quality having been disappointed by the DVD version. If you are a Rocky fan I'd definitely recommend this.