Raphael Pour-Hashemi has reviewed the Region 1 DVD release of Rocky: 25th Anniversary Edition
Based on the technical aspects of cinema, Touch Of Evil is the greatest B-Movie ever to come out of Hollywood. However, based on emotion, Rocky deserves this title hands down. Made on a ridiculously low budget and with few star names, Rocky took 1976 by storm and upset the Oscars by beating Network to the Best Picture title. The hottest news item however, was the film’s writer and star – a young Italian named Sylvester Stallone, who went from virtual poverty and obscurity to become a household name overnight.
A hired heavy by day and underground boxer by night, Rocky Balboa (Stallone) is going nowhere in his life living in Philadelphia. His friend Paulie (Burt Young) is also stuck in life, working as a packer in a meat factory. Paulie longs to be part of the mob organisation that Rocky works for. Paulie’s shy sister Adrian (Talia Shire), works at the pet store that Rocky visits in order to supply his pet turtles with food. Mickey (Burgess Meredith) owns the gym that Rocky helps and trains at, and he despises Rocky for throwing away the boxing talent he once had.
Soon though, everything is about to change. Heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) wants a spectacle for his next fight. Creed is hungry to win the American public over, and decided in the spirit of American democracy to fight his next title defence against a relative unknown. Rocky is chosen, and with the newly acquainted love of Adrian and the coaching of Mickey, Rocky aims to keep his head held high in his ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ chance at being somebody.
To say Rocky is about Boxing is to say Field Of Dreams is about Baseball. Rocky is a champion of the spirit, and packs an emotional punch simultaneously. The gritty directing by director John G. Avildsen in the first half of the film perfectly complements the fairy tale aspects of the second half, and what results is a film both realistic and magical. Not that anything supernatural occurs in Rocky, nor are there any Hollywood twists that leave the viewer shocked, but rest assured the ending will reaffirm your faith in Hollywood movie conclusions. The essence of Rocky is its combination of well-structured characters and tremendous dialogue. The famous training montage is one of the most inspiring pieces of film ever shown, and the sequence demonstrates how perfect Bill Conti’s rousing and sometimes poignant score was for the film. It’s hard to believe nowadays given Stallone’s action orientated career that after writing and starring in Rocky he was touted as the new Brando/Pacino/De Niro (if you don’t believe it watch one of the TV Spots included on the DVD). Ironically, Rocky is perhaps Stallone’s best performance, and as he mentions in the Video Commentary – “It went all down hill from there”. Talia Shire is excellent as the timid Adrian, who slowly succumbs to Rocky’s charm and wit. The appearance of Burt Young as Paulie shows just how perfectly cast he is, and you can’t imagine him in anything else. Burgess Meredith, probably the most heavyweight of the cast at the time, gives charm and wisdom to Mickey, Rocky’s trainer, and he distances himself from that camp sixties Batman series where he portrayed The Penguin. Even though all of these performances were nominated for Oscars, the film’s most underrated gem is Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed. Weathers manages to be both Ali-like in terms of personality and formidable in terms of physical appearance, which given that he was a football star-turned-actor suggests how good his career transition proved to be. It’s a shame that Weathers didn’t really go on to bigger and better things after the Rocky series of films (if you discount the mentor role in Happy Gilmore).
Rocky was one of the first films to use the SteadyCam system, and the boxing sequences clearly benefit by incorporating this technique. The editing by Scott Conrad gives added realism to the film, and rarely does it show that there are only about three hundred people in the audience (which was revealed in the Commentary; so few because of the film’s small budget). Although surpassed by Raging Bull, Rocky was a clear innovator in the field.
Rocky is the best in what became a five film series, and the sequels have lessened its impact somewhat, but don’t be put off if you have already seen these. Rocky clearly knocks them out with one punch in the first round, and it didn’t beat Network, Taxi Driver and All The President’s Men to Best Picture for nothing.
Academy Awards 1976
Best Director – John G. Avildsen
Best Film Editing – Scott Conrad, Richard Halsey
Academy Award Nominations 1976
Best Actor – Sylvester Stallone
Best Actress – Talia Shire
Best Supporting Actor – Burgess Meredith
Best Supporting Actor – Burt Young
Best Original Screenplay – Sylvester Stallone
Best Song – Bill Conti, Carol Connors, Ayn Robbins “Gonna Fly Now”
Best Sound – Bud Alper, Lyle J. Burbridge, William L. McCaughey, Harry W. Tetrick
For the first time, MGM have released an anamorphic print of Rocky. Framed at 1.85:1, the film is better than the previous non-anamorphic efforts but still contains a few minor scratches on the print. Even so, never before have the Philadelphia locations and the bright colours of the Boxing sequences ever looked so beautiful, and James Crabe’s cinematography comes across as more admirable than previously.
Considering the film is presented in both the original mono and a Stereo 5.1 mix, it is really easy to appreciate how good the 5.1 mix is when switching between the two. Bill Conti’s music is finally given room to breathe on the soundtrack, and the crowd chants and punching noises are more audible than before and add much to the overall audio experience of the film.
Menu: A stylish animated menu complete with sounds and music from the film, giving a very minimalist, epic-like quality to the aura of the film.
Packaging: Presented in an amaray casing with different cover artwork and a booklet included which contains production notes and chapter listings.
Audio Commentary With John G. Avildsen, Robert Chartoff, Irwin Winkler, Carl Weathers, Burt Young, Talia Shire, Garett Brown: The commentary is a chopped up account of several people involved in the production commentating alone on the film. Contributions appear from John G. Avildsen (Director), Robert Chartoff, Irwin Winkler (Producers), Carl Weathers, Burt Young, Talia Shire (Cast Members) and Garett Brown (SteadyCam opeator). After listening to the commentary you can see why they created a chopped up sole commentary track as this way there is always someone talking and there are relatively few pauses. John G. Avildsen probably takes up seventy five percent of the commentary track and he proves that he is both talented and extremely likeable. He shows sequences whereby he and Stallone collaborated and he reveals some funny anecdotes on the film (such as the fact that the film only was financed after United Artists saw Lords Of Flatbush and thought Sylvester Stallone was Perry King). All of the contributors share their love for the film and appreciation of Stallone’s script, and it doesn’t take long for them to win you over. One does sense however, that at least another commentary track could have been produced, primarily because it feels like the contributors all have much to say but have had to suffer cuts in order to be squeezed onto one track. Even so, The commentary is a valuable extra considering the barebones disc that MGM previously released.
Sylvester Stallone Video Commentary: This is actually a twenty-eight minute featurette with Stallone reminiscing to camera about his experiences in Rocky. Sometimes it is mixed with stills and sequences from the film, and a valuable anecdote suggests that Stallone based the fight sequence on Ali’s fight with ‘The Bayonne Bleeder’ Chuck Wepner. Stallone comes across as likeable and quite intelligent, which may surprise some used to his dumbed-down actioners. It is clear that he misses the character of Rocky (and probably the kudos involved with it).
Featurettes: There is a 12 minutes behind the scenes featurette with John G. Avildsen which contains some makeup tests and fight rehearsals. Although most of these sequences are silent, they are still useful as a comparison to the sequences in the finished version. There are also two tribute featurettes, with cast and crew talking fondly about Burgess Meredith and James Crabe, who have both since passed away. These featurettes are nice touches and complement the disc on the whole.
Trailers: The trailer and TV spots are actually quite good in a retro way and are nicer to have than to not have.
Hidden Extra: There is a strange hidden extra which is found on the Main Menu page by pressing up when any of the options are selected. The word Rocky should appear in the top right corner in red lettering, and if you select it you are treated to an odd small sketch where Rocky meets Sylvester Stallone! There seems to be no reason for it’s existence, but it’s so obviously a product of the eighties and a Stallone indulgence piece that it’s worth having just to show your friends how bizarre it is.
A B-movie Capra-esque classic that has proved to be tremendously popular, Rocky has been provided with an excellent Special Edition re-release and is a worthy addition to anyone’s collection.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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