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page added: 11/2/09

Blu-ray Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits

Rocky: The Undisputed Collection

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Rocky: The Undisputed Collection
1976-2008 (2009) - MGM/Sony (Fox)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on November 3rd, 2009


Film Rating (Average): B+

Video/Audio (1-20)--
Rocky: 17/17
Rocky II: 17.5/17
Rocky III: 17/17
Rocky IV: 17.5/17
Rocky V: 17/17
Rocky Balboa: 18/17.5

Extras (Set Overall): A-

Ah yes... the film series that made famous the inspirational musical montage arrives on Blu-ray Disc at last, and what a welcome addition to the high-def catalog it is! After so many years and so many fights, you'd think there's no way that Rocky could still be the underdog, and yet if the character ever fought a single round in which he didn't have some adversity he had to come from behind to heroically surmount, I haven't seen it. The original Rocky, the script for which was written by Sylvester Stallone, is an undisputed, Oscar-winning classic. It's followed by entries in which the champ fights Apollo Creed (again), Mr. T (er... Clubber Lang), the gigantic Ivan Drago and his own ego, in a four-film stretch that ranges from good to campy, and is always predictable but enjoyable. Thankfully, the recent final film in the series, Rocky Balboa (directed by Stallone himself), manages to be almost as good as the original and is a fitting bookend to the series.

MGM's new Undisputed Collection includes all 6 films in the series. I should mention that the original Rocky disc included in this set is the same movie-only version that was released on Blu-ray back in 2006. Likewise, the Rocky Balboa disc here is the same version released more recently by Sony on Blu-ray (and reviewed here on The Bits).

My hats off to whoever was responsible for these transfers. These films have never looked better. Given their age and the late 70s/early 80s era in which most of them were shot, you can't expect perfection. Color is a bit muted, there are occasional contrast issues and print nicks and you're going to see moderate film grain in the image (as you should) - these are just facts of life for films made during this period, and the fact is, these films are supposed to look a little gritty and working class. But let me tell you... every single bit of detail that's present in these negatives has made it into these transfers. The textures are nuanced and subtle - everything from skin tones, to clothing, to the dirty brick and iron of Rocky's working class neighborhood. The images are remarkably crisp and clean. Every one of these transfers looks wonderfully film-like and natural. The audio mixes, presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless (except Sony's Rocky Balboa disc which features terrific uncompressed PCM 5.1 lossless audio), offer surprisingly wide front soundstages with light surround play most apparent during fight scenes. Clarity and fidelity are good, and Bill Conti's stirring music sounds fantastic. When Conti's classic theme begins to trumpet as Rocky begins his requisite training regimen in each film, you'll want to cheer. The mixes occasional reveal their vintage in that they aren't quite as smooth and natural as more recent films, but that said, there's little doubt that these films sound as good as they ever have.

In terms of extras, there's both good and bad news. This set is SO close to being the ultimate edition of these films that it's maddening. But it ain't quite there. Films I though V are essentially movie only, but this set includes a bonus disc featuring all of the trailers for the films (including the Rocky Balboa trailer that Sony couldn't be bothered to include on their Blu-ray), and the fact is that films II though V never had any bonus features on DVD anyway. What's more, the Blu-ray bonus disc includes all of the featurettes and documentaries from the original Rocky: Special Edition DVD, as well as the 2-disc DVD Collector's Edition. The only thing that's missing video-wise is the Rocky Balboa preview featurette from the 2-disc Rocky CE and a trailer for the Rocky Legends videogame. Neither is really missed. If you had the 5-disc Rocky Anthology DVD box set, that set also include a bonus disc (in a cardboard sleeve) containing an episode of A&E's Biography featuring Stallone - the episode is missing from the Blu-ray set so be sure to keep it if you want it. The one thing that's missing from the new Blu-ray set that really matters, however, are all three audio commentaries from the 2-disc Rocky CE (including one with director John Avildsen and another with Stallone). That is such a huge omission! Unfortunately, in the early days of Blu-ray MGM and Fox were in the habit of releasing great films on the format as movie-only editions. And I suspect that, having already authored Rocky on the format once, they didn't want to spend the money to do it again to add the commentaries. To be fair, it may also be that they don't have the rights to include them anymore, or there's some other legal or contractual reason why they couldn't be included. Either way, the fact that these commentaries are missing is the one thing that keeps this new Blu-ray set from being a true home run. Or more appropriately, a knock-out punch. For my part though, I simply took Disc One of the Rocky CE and the Biography disc, put them in paper sleeves and tucked them into the Blu-ray case. Problem solved.

In the end, MGM's Rocky: The Undisputed Collection Blu-ray box falls a bit short of perfection, but it's still a great set and a welcome release on the format. The films all look and sound as good as you've ever seen them, and other than the commentaries, virtually every previously created special feature is included here. Given all the other big releases this holiday season, this box is likely to fly a bit under the radar. But if, like myself, you're a fan of these films, it would be almost impossible to pass up on this set... especially at Amazon's $53 sale price. Plus, I have to confess to getting a special movie geek thrill every time I watch Rocky Balboa. My wife Sarah (who is a major Rocky fan) and I drove to Vegas a couple years ago to be extras in the film, and there are a couple times during Rocky's final fight that you can totally see us in the crowd. So count us in, Mick! Sing it with me now: "Feelin' strong now...!"

Bill Hunt, Editor
[email protected]

Monty Python: Almost the Truth - The Lawyer's Cut

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Monty Python: Almost the Truth - The Lawyer's Cut
2009 (2009) - Eagle Rock/IFC (Vivendi)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on October 27th, 2009
Also available on DVD

Dolby Digital 5.1

Program Rating: A-
Video (1-20): 17.5
Audio (1-20): 10
Extras: B

I could be wrong, but I suspect that there are probably few guys my age in America who aren't fans of Monty Python's Flying Circus. If you were a teenager in the early 1980s in this country, and had a lot of male friends, someone in your group was bound to have discovered Python at one point or other and told the rest of you about it.

Simply put, Python was just about the best thing any teenage boy could ever discover short of Playboy magazine. Hell, better even! There you'd be, flipping channels one day, and you'd suddenly come upon a giant cartoon foot dropping into the TV screen with a fart noise. That would certainly command any teenage boy's attention for a moment, and so you'd watch a bit more. Within moments, there's be John Cleese silly walking. And then Michael Palin talking like a Gumby. And Spam and dead parrots! And boobs! Then, in the middle of it all, there'd be a Proust joke. Your first thought was, “Who jokes about Proust?” But then you'd realize, “Well, why the hell wouldn't you joke about Proust?!” So you'd promptly go and look up Proust in order to get the joke, and maybe you'd read a little bit and actually learn something. And then you'd laugh yourself out your chair. There was nothing else like it on television at the time - certainly not on PBS. Python was just the best. The Best. And it's still The Best - still the damn funniest thing ever, and it still sets the bar for comedy even after all these years.

Eagle Rock's 6-part documentary (as seen on IFC) examines the history of the Pythons from their theatrical college beginnings to their early comedy influences, on to the origins and early days of the classic BBC series itself, and beyond to the films. There's a whole episode about the making of The Holy Grail, for heaven's sake! Life of Brian is covered too, as well as the live comedy tours, the death of Graham Chapman and what the rest of the Pythons are doing today. The series features in-depth interviews with all of the surviving Pythons (don't worry - Chapman is represented by extensive archival interview footage), as well as many other British and American comedians. It's illustrated with tons of footage from the series and films, as well as photographs and rare behind-the-scenes film footage. There are great stories, fascinating insights and revelations, and plenty of laughs. You may be surprised to learn that Elvis was a huge Python fan, having once rented out an entire theatre to screen Holy Grail for his Memphis mafia entourage. He apparently used to quote the film and the show frequently to his friends and family. Now, there's is just something cosmically right with the Universe about the idea of Elvis quoting the Dead Parrot sketch. How do you not love that?

The series' video quality on Blu-ray (from Eagle Rock via Vivendi) is surprisingly good. All of the film footage and newly shot interviews are in full HD and look terrific, and even the original series footage used here looks surprisingly good. (So good, in fact, that I'm intrigued at the idea of seeing the series released in its entirety remastered on Blu-ray.) The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 (LPCM 2.0 stereo is also available). Given the documentary nature of the program it doesn't exactly dazzle, but the mix sounds fine and is as good as it needs to be. In terms of extras, Disc Two offers 49 minutes worth of outtakes and 66 minutes worth of extended interview clips, all in HD. You also get a gallery of Terry Gilliam animation artwork and illustrations, which is a nice touch. Best of all, however, you get 24 minutes worth of classic Python sketches upconverted to HD so they look better than ever. Included are such gems as Dead Parrot, the Spanish Inquisition, the Fish Slapping Dance, the Ministry of Silly Walks, the Lumberjack Song, the Cheese Shop and Spam. Delightful all!

If ever I find myself in need of a good laugh, I pop in Holy Grail and it never, ever fails to deliver. Eagle Rock's Monty Python: Almost the Truth - The Lawyer's Cut is a treat for any fan of the Pythons. It's six hours of great stuff - everything you ever liked or wanted to know about Monty Python and then some. For fans at least, this Blu-ray is very highly recommended.

Bill Hunt, Editor
[email protected]
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