Rocky: Special Edition/Gold Edition (1976)
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-John Avildsen (Director) et al
Featurette-Video Commentary (Sylvester Stallone)
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Featurette-Tribute To Burgess Meredith
Featurette-Tribute To James Crabe
Trailer-Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky V
Easter Egg-Rocky Meets Stallone
|Year Of Production||1976|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (95:04)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||John G. Avildsen|
Twentieth Century Fox
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Auto Pan & Scan Encoded||
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.85:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
In 1976, an actor by the name of Sylvester Stallone, previously only known for his appearances in such trash as Party At Kitty And Stud's (which resides in the IMDB "Bottom 100" list) and Death-Race 2000, appeared in Rocky. The film's production was as much a battle as the boxing match it depicts, with Stallone himself having to get drunk in order to do what he felt was the most important scene of the film in the only take that the shooting schedule allowed. Of course, while it is easy to dismiss Rocky as being just another film about boxing, there is so much more to it than that, and knowing that the making of the film was as much a million-to-one shot for its star as the match is for its title character makes it all the more uplifting.
Rocky is the story of a two-bit thug by the name of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), who ekes out a living in amateur boxing matches, and by working as an enforcer for Gazzo (Joe Spinell), the local loan shark. When he isn't busy beating fellow boxers or twisting the arms of fellow Philadelphia residents who can't pay their debts, he's trying to socialise with Adrian (Talia Shire), a shy, reserved young woman who works in the local pet store, and her brother, Paulie (Burt Young). Rocky's existence is very plain and ordinary, but soon he gets the chance of a lifetime when current world heavyweight boxing champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) finds himself in a tricky situation. Apollo's next scheduled opponent has cancelled at the last minute, and he needs to find any boxer who is willing to get in the ring with him for the offered fee. This is when he gets the idea that giving a low-ranked boxer the chance to fight in an exhibition match with him would be a great publicity stunt, and literally picks Rocky's name out of a book.
Okay, so that last plot detail requires a slight suspension of disbelief, but I'm more than willing to do that since it is important to the plot. As Rocky continues to fight for peanuts and collect debts, Mickey (Burgess Meredith), the coach at his local boxing club, hands him a business card from Apollo's agent. Rocky assumes that they're just looking for a sparring partner, but you can imagine his surprise when Jergens (Thayer David) offers him the chance to fight for the title. Mickey, of course, continues to insult and goad Rocky until Rocky becomes determined to win respect from everyone he knows, and more importantly himself. The media, of course, are taking as many cheap shots at him as they possibly can, but Rocky takes it all in his stride in spite of how it bothers him. As the night of the big fight approaches, the question isn't so much whether he can win, but whether he can win the respect of his opponent, the powers that be, and the people who actually know him.
Sadly, the weight of some very ordinary sequels and a great number of imitations has tarnished Rocky, and diminished its impact over time, although one has to bear in mind that most of the sequels are nothing at all like the original. Indeed, after the three sequels that were directed by Sylvester Stallone got progressively worse, director John G. Avildsen was brought back to direct Rocky V (more on this later). Keep your eyes open for cameo appearances by Joe Frazier and Troma head honcho Lloyd Kaufman (this is pointed out in the commentary), then marvel at the truly three-dimensional characters that make this film a classic about one man's determination.
Readers may recall that I took it upon myself to take a look at the original release of Rocky a long time ago, and the transfer it received was not a pretty one. This new twenty-fifth anniversary edition sees MGM going right back to the telecine stage and creating a whole new 16x9 Enhanced transfer, one that is noticeably better than the original 4x3 transfer, but still not without its flaws.
The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced. It is also encoded with Automatic Pan-and-Scan information so you can miss out on about twenty-five percent of the picture if that's what your heart desires.
The sharpness of this transfer is good, but not great, with fine details in the background still lacking. It is, however, quite an improvement on the previous DVD of Rocky, and I would hasten to add that this may well be as good as it's ever going to get, barring an expensive clean-up of the original negatives, which may no longer exist. The shadow detail is generally poor, with such scenes as Rocky's entry to his squalid home at 6:54 being so dark and hard to make out that one is almost thankful when the light does get switched on. This is probably inherent in the source material, given the age of the film. There is no low-level noise.
The colours of this film were generally quite muted and dull, even during the boxing match, and the transfer reflects this. Part of this can be associated with the film stock and the way the film itself has aged, but it is all perfectly fine since the transfer is pretty accurate in this respect.
MPEG artefacts were not noticed during the transfer. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some very minor aliasing that only got distracting at 13:53, 15:20, 33:42, and 59:36. Some telecine wobble was noticed at 69:43, and this would probably be the most distracting artefact of the lot, although it is forgivable since it only lasts a few seconds. Unfortunately, more wobble is apparent in the overhead shots during the fight, which is less distracting and less severe, but noticeably more persistent. Film artefacts are still fairly abundant in this transfer, but the size and number of them was acceptable given the vintage of the film.
This disc makes use of the RSDL format, with the layer change taking place towards the end of Chapter 20, after the end of Rocky's speech about going the distance. It is somewhat noticeable at 95:04, and this is surprisingly late in the film, but aside from those things, it is an acceptably rendered layer change.
From the main menu, press the up key once, and you should see the word Rocky, highlighted in red, in the top right corner. Press enter, and a two-minute and fifty-two second, 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 featurette should commence. As the title suggests, this is basically a mock-up of the character meeting his creator, and a very amusing one it is, combining footage of Sylvester Stallone in and out of costume. The volume of the audio transfer is a little low compared to the main menu, but this is otherwise, in keeping with the rest of the extras, an enriching inclusion.
Unfortunately, the audio transfer is much the same as the video transfer that was afforded to the original, plane-Jane version of Rocky. This is not necessarily bad, since most of the faults are related to the source material, but it would have been nice if there had been more of an effort to clean it up in some places.
There are two soundtracks to be found on this DVD: the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1 with a bitrate of 448 kilobits per second, and an English Audio Commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding and a bitrate of 192 kilobits per second. I listened to both of these soundtracks, thankful that there isn't an overabundance of dubs to detract from either the video or audio quality.
The dialogue is usually clear and easy to understand, but there are some important exceptions to this. The first occurs at 25:59, when Rocky is trying to pass some advice on to one of the neighbourhood's youngsters, and her voice becomes inaudible as they pass through a gate. This line is not particularly important to the overall film, but the inability to make it out properly is rather distracting. The dialogue becomes distorted during Rocky's visit to the meat packing plant where Paulie works at 71:07, and it wouldn't surprise me to learn that this is because said dialogue was captured on location. Finally, some distortion is apparent at 106:42, and much of the dialogue during the title match is difficult to make out due to the limitations of the methods used to capture it. Again, this is a relatively minor complaint because the really important pieces of dialogue are easy to understand, but it would have been nice if they'd spent some time cleaning the problem areas up.
So where do I begin when I talk about the music in this film? Well, there's the score by Bill Conti, of course, but the essence of the film is captured in a song by the name of Gonna Fly Now, which begins at 86:54. Clichéd it may have become since it was released, but in spite of that, it is still very uplifting and powerful, as well as able to make most viewers want to cheer Rocky on. That's not to say that Conti's score doesn't add its own contribution, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks more of Carol Connors' and Ayn Robbins' lyrics in spite of the fact that Conti also provided the music they are imposed over. You can't really ask for more than that with music for a film that was put together under such stressful conditions.
The surround channels barely make a peep for most of the film, only really coming to life during the aforementioned moment when Rocky's run through the streets and up the stairs is accompanied by Gonna Fly Now, and when Apollo Creed enters the ring. The surround channels are very active during these moments, but there are no split or directional effects at all in this film. Given that the original sound mix of this film was monaural, I'm generally willing to overlook this, although it is somewhat disappointing that there wasn't at least a little effort to make the mix more immersive. The subwoofer was used to support the music and the boxing matches that bookend the film, but it too was used sporadically, though it didn't call any attention to itself when it really got active.
|Surround Channel Use|
Rocky: Special Edition sports a very good collection of extras for a twenty-five year old film that still captures the essence of the human spirit. It is interesting to hear how much the critics raved about Sylvester Stallone in his early days, making for an interesting contrast to how they take so many unfair and cheap shots at him these days.
The menu is heavily animated, accompanied by Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, introduced in a nicely thematic manner, and 16x9 Enhanced. The only complaint I have about it is that it boots the user out to the film once the audio accompaniment is finished, a practise I wish the authors would quit it with.
With some narration by Burt Young, this commentary is basically edited together from multiple comments by cast and crew members about how Rocky was made. It is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding, and the original soundtrack mixed in at a lower volume. Like the English dialogue soundtrack, it is biased towards the front channels. Unlike most commentaries that are pasted together from multiple sources with multiple commentators, this one is very screen specific and very interesting, especially if you're interested in the technical aspects of each commentator's jobs.
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital sound, this twenty-eight minute and fifty-two second featurette contains an interview with Sylvester Stallone covering various aspects of how Rocky was made, with footage from the film to embellish upon what he is talking about. As much as I hate to say this, I actually preferred this short video commentary to the full-length audio commentary, because it is straight-to-the-point and it is (naturally) easy to follow who is talking about what.
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, this eleven minute and fifty-two second featurette begins with the director explaining how he planned, and prepared the actors for, the shooting of the finale. We are then shown eight millimeter footage of Sylvester Stallone and Carl Weathers boxing or posing in costume (complete with make-up), and it doesn't look too bad when you consider the source material. The only sound during this footage is that of a projector running, which is an annoying distraction that would have been better off if it had been replaced with commentary. Overall, however, it is worth a look if you're interested in seeing the difference between the rehearsals and the finished product.
Astute readers will no doubt be aware that Burgess Meredith died in 1997 at the age of eighty-nine. This seven minute and twenty-five second featurette is a tribute to one fine actor who contributed immeasurably to the first three Rocky episodes, and demands that one take the time to watch it. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, which comprises some sound from the film and comments from other members of the Rocky cast and other individuals who knew Burgess. Said people include Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, and Lee Grant, who all have plenty of interesting things to say.
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, this is a tribute to the cinematographer on Rocky, with director John G. Avildsen talking about the contribution he made to the film.
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, this ninety-three second trailer talks more about the star than the film itself. It is in rather surprisingly good condition to boot.
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, 16x9 Enhancement, and Automatic Pan and Scan information, this three minute and twenty-five second trailer embellishes a little more on what the film is about. The quality is slightly poorer than the feature, but still quite respectable given its age. Unfortunately, it seems more a compilation of some of the best lines in the film rather than a proper theatrical trailer, so I don't recommend watching it before the feature.
This two minute and thirty-seven second trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, and it is not 16x9 Enhanced. The audio and video quality are both pretty ordinary, with hiss and scratches being present enough to be slightly distracting. The backgrounds are also looking a tad too grainy for my liking, but I'm overly sensitive to this.
This two minute and twenty-five second trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The scratches and hiss that detracted from the previous trailer are present and accounted for here, and the graininess in the backgrounds is more pronounced.
This two minute and one second trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, and it is not 16x9 Enhanced. The video and audio quality of this trailer are a considerable improvement over the other three, but still nothing to rave about, with tape hiss still being audible at the end.
This one minute and fifty-nine second trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with 16x9 Enhancement, Automatic Pan and Scan information, and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The video and audio quality are also much better than the first three trailers, and that tape hiss that can be heard at the end of the previous four is mostly gone.
A collection of three TV Spots under their own menu, titled Critical Acclaim, Introducing Sylvester Stallone, and Critical Acclaim (again). The first two two spots run for thirty seconds, the last runs for sixty seconds, and they are all presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;
The Region 1 version of the disc may be a consideration if you are fussy about having the original sound mix, but there is reportedly little difference between the two versions. The local version is cheaper, PAL formatted, and as close to reference quality as it's going to get with this film.
Just as Sylvester Stallone has struggled for the respect of a media that takes easy shots at him over a lazy eye and a speech problem that happen to be birth defects, Rocky depicts a struggle for respect that is truly uplifting to watch. It's easy to see why the film won three Academy Awards out of nine nominations, and there are few films that even come close to this one for showcasing spirit or determination. I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who wants to see a drama or a film about a man who is determined to take his one chance and do the best he can with it.
The video transfer is still flawed, but good considering the age of the film.
The audio transfer is flawed, but acceptable considering the age of the film and the conditions under which the sound was recorded.
The extras are comprehensive and enriching.
|DVD||Toshiba 2109, using S-Video output|
|Display||Samsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Amplification||Sony STR DE-835|
|Speakers||Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer|