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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 4/15/99
updated: 4/11/01


review by Todd Doogan and Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits

Rocky: Special Edition

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Special Edition - 1976 (2001) - MGM/UA

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/B-

Specs and Features

119 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 57:07, at the start of chapter 12), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with director John Avildsen, producers Irvin Winkler and Robert Chartoff and actors Talia Shire and Burt Young), video commentary by star/screenwriter Sylvester Stallone (23 mins), "behind-the-scenes" featurette hosted by Avildsen), video tributes to Burgess Meredith and cinematographer James Crabe, teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, 3 TV spots, additional trailers for Rocky II-V, Easter egg, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (25 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0 mono), French (DD 5.1) and Spanish (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: French & Spanish, Close Captioned


1976 (1997) - MGM/UA

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C-/B-/D-

Specs and Features

119 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), full frame (1.33:1), dual-sided, single-layered, Snapper packaging (also available in Amaray keep case), theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (25 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), Spanish & French (DD mono), subtitles: English, French & Spanish, Close Captioned

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think Rocky? All right... aside from "Yo, Adrienne!" What's the first thing? If you said that jog-up-the-Philadelphia-Museum-of-Art-stairs sequence, you'd be in good company. It's one of Hollywood's most enduring images. Sly Stallone, jumping up and down at the top of the stairs, full of pride and a winner's spirit, with a bunch of kids on the soundtrack singing "Feeling Strong Now"... you really have to appreciate a moment like that. But you also have to appreciate Rocky for its talent. People tend to forget Stallone's intelligence and ability, but he has loads of it. Not only did he write this flick, but he created one of American cinema's most beloved characters on screen. For a time, after this film, critics were even comparing him to Brando and DeNiro. Maybe that's been both a blessing and a curse for Stallone, but it's just a testament to this film's power that we equate him with his knuckle-headed creation, Rocky Balboa.

Rocky follows the rise of a no account, small-time boxer from Philly, who spends his down time breaking legs for a local bookie. He makes just enough money to cover whatever it costs to live in a studio apartment in South Philadelphia. Rocky feels like life's opportunities have passed him by. But he finally gets his big chance when the current heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), picks him as the replacement for an injured fighter in a boxing match on New Years Day, 1976 (dubbed by Creed "The Bicentennial Match"). Rocky's ability as a fighter has nothing to do with his selection - it's his nickname, "The Italian Stallion," that attracts Creed and his management team. Rocky takes the fight knowing that he doesn't really have a chance to win. But if he can go the distance with Creed (something no one's ever done), he'll know that he's not the loser that most people consider him to be, including his disgusted trainer, Mickey (Burgess Meredith). And he might even earn the attention (and love) of a shy, frumpy and bespectacled pet store clerk (Talia Shire) that he's fallen for.

Rocky won the Oscar in 1977 (beating out Network and Taxi Driver... so everyone bitching about Gladiator not really being the best film of the year in 2000 can rest easy knowing there's precedent). It also kick-started the careers of a great many character actors still working today. Rocky is an undeniably good film and, although it isn't aging as well as other 70's films, it still packs a Balboa-sized wallop. It definitely deserves to be considered a classic. It's hard to lump Rocky in as a "boxing film," because it doesn't have the same appeal that Raging Bull, Body and Soul or Fat City have. Rather, Rocky is a character study, through and through. Even if it does have all the elements of being a great boxing film, it transcends the genre. We think that's why it's become so beloved by cinemaphiles around the globe.

There are 2 versions of Rocky on DVD, the original 1997 release and a new special edition. The original DVD was... well, basically it was a mess. It was one of the worst looking studio DVDs from the early days of the format. The transfer was non-anamorphic and very blotchy and grainy looking, with tons of print damage, dust and other contaminants. The colors were muddy and the brightest areas of the picture looked a little too hot on occasion. The MPEG-2 compression was also poor, resulting in a picture that was riddled with digital artifacting. A full frame version was also included, but it wasn't worth the space it took up on the disc. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound quality, on the other hand, was actually fairly good. There wasn't a lot of rear channel use, other than ambience for the big fight scene at the end, but this isn't a very audio-intensive film anyway. For what it was, this soundtrack did the film justice. By way of extras, a theatrical trailer for the film was also included on the disc. And that was it. Rocky definitely deserved better treatment.

Thankfully, MGM's finally gotten around to giving the film a better DVD release. Their new Rocky: Special Edition features a very nice anamorphic widescreen film transfer. It's by no means reference quality, but it's much improved over the original. The colors are accurate and more vibrant and the contrast is tremendous. We were surprised at how much less grain is visible. It's there, but clearly MGM went to a better print for this transfer. There's also a minimum of edge-enhancement. The picture does looks a little soft from time to time but, again, it's much improved over the original DVD. You're still going to see dust and other bits of debris on the print, and if MGM had wanted to go the full 15 rounds with this title, they could have digitally cleaned some of that out. But hey - we're fans of this movie, and it looks better on this new DVD than we've ever seen it.

The sound, near as we can tell, is the same Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track that was available on the original DVD. Which is fine - it isn't gonna blow the doors off your screening area, but it does the job. And it introduces just enough ambience to liven the most sound-intensive scenes.

This new DVD also gives us some fairly good special edition materials. MGM could certainly have gone further with this disc, but we're happy to have what's here. First up, you get an audio commentary with the director, producers and a couple of the actors (Talia Shire and Burt Young to be specific). It's not the most thrilling piece of commentary, but it's interesting and delivers some good information. For example, did you know that Troma's Lloyd Kauffman made a cameo in this film? Burt Young starts off as the "host" of the track and introduces most of the participants (who appear to have been recorded separately). Then, the producers introduce themselves and sort of take over. So the track has a disjointed feel but is still definitely worth a listen. Next up is a video commentary with Stallone himself, which runs about 20 minutes. He basically talks straight to the camera, and tells stories about how he came up with the idea, and his struggles to get the film made. Our only wish is that the piece was either longer, or maybe was incorporated as a scene-specific audio commentary track instead. We're guessing MGM only had Stallone for a certain amount of time, or they decided that they'd rather have his face on screen instead of just his voice. Who knows. Anyway, the piece is also interesting - it just leaves you wanting more.

You also get a 12-minute, "behind-the-scenes" featurette on the film, hosted by Avildsen, which includes some cool 8mm film taken by the director. The remainder of the extras include short video tributes to actor Burgess Meredith and cinematographer James Crabe (in which cast and crew members remember working with them) and various TV spots and trailers for the film (as well as trailers for the other movies in the Rocky series). And there's a cute Easter egg as well - a brief video clip in which Stallone meets his alter ego, Rocky Balboa, in person and they have a conversation. All in all, while this definitely isn't the best special edition you'll ever see, it gets the job done. And given its wallet friendly SRP of $19.98, you can't beat the price.

There is one thing we feel it important to address here, however. The Rocky: Special Edition can be purchased either separately or in a Rocky Boxed Set, which includes all 5 of the films in the series on DVD. Rocky III and Rocky V are new to DVD, and have been given brand new, anamorphic widescreen transfers for the format. But Rocky II and Rocky IV (the best films in the series after the original) have been released previously on DVD (each with letterboxed-only widescreen and full frame video on the same disc). And, sadly, MGM opted against given them new anamorphic transfers for this new release. You know... we really do believe that MGM is trying hard to impress DVD fans with their work. Certainly, they're doing more special editions and they're working hard to increase the number of the titles they release. But if this brand new boxed set wasn't the right time to go back and give Rocky II and IV new anamorphic transfers for DVD, what is? It's things like this that make DVD fans pull their hair out over MGM's discs. It's a classic case of DVD decisions being made by teams of studio marketing execs, pouring over spreadsheets, rather than by people who truly appreciate these films. The same problem resulted in a full frame DVD release of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (a Super Panavision 70 film), a dubbed-English 5.1 track on La Femme Nikita (the original French audio wasn't remixed for 5.1) and a movie-only edition of the studio's most requested title, The Princess Bride (naturally, a special edition is on the way). We can only hope MGM gets their act together. We're long past the point of being frustrated.

Our recommendation, go pick yourself up a copy of the Rocky: Special Edition - it's worth adding to your collection. But, even if you're a real fan of the series, wait to get Rocky III and V when they become available separately (right now, they're only available in the box). Maybe, by that time, MGM will have wised up and updated II and IV with new transfers. Bottom line - avoid the Rocky Boxed Set unless you can get a MAJOR deal on it. Even at under $100, it's not worth it for 1 special edition and 4 movie-only titles, 2 of which are recycled. But that's just our opinion...

Todd Doogan
[email protected]

Bill Hunt
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Rocky: Special Edition

Rocky Boxed Set

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