By now, the tale has been often told: an underdog languishes for a seeming eternity, before seeing his shot and taking it—against all odds, he succeeds. It's the story of Rocky Balboa, the Philadelphia stumblebum wasting his life away as a loan shark's muscle whose unfulfilled dream of being a world-class boxer unexpectedly comes true. As most people know, it's also the story of Sylvester Stallone, an actor who couldn't get fired who wrote a red-hot script called Rocky and refused to sell it for hundreds of thousands of dollars, insisting instead that he play the lead for scale. Stallone's gamble paid off, unlocking a career of movie stardom and multiple opportunities to write and direct his own films.
For everything else that's come down the road, nothing has been better to Stallone than his baby, Rocky, which spawned a grand total of five sequels. The original film—directed by John G. Avildsen (who won the Oscar for his trouble)—sets the standard all others will follow. Beside the indelible character of Rocky, we meet his grizzled coach Mickey Goldmill (the beloved Burgess Meredith), undisputed World Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), Rocky's neighborhood friend Paulie (Burt Young), and Paulie's younger sister, beautiful but painfully shy pet-shop worker Adrian Peninno (Talia Shire). Adrian keeps her light under a bushel, but Rocky escorts her out into the open in a sweet romance that gives the film an extra helping of heart.
It's all here: the famous Bill Conti fanfare, the "Gonna Fly Now" training montage, the inevitable "David and Goliath" climax. The movie's primal populism tapped the zeitgeist and went all the way to the top of the box office charts and the Oscars, winning Best Picture (in a coup that has long left angry cineastes complaining, since Rocky beat out Bound for Glory, All the President's Men, Network and Taxi Driver). Of course, where there's money and success, there is franchising, and the sequels didn't take long to follow. But return visitors to Rocky may be surprised to discover that it's not all boxing-picture hooey: yes, it's mostly boxing-picture hooey, but between the film's two fight sequences is a character-driven urban drama that's more Saturday Night Fever than, say, Rocky V.
[For a review of Rocky: The Undisputed Collection, see the sidebar at right.]
MGM's Digibook release of Rocky doesn't anything new to offer, other than the glossy 25-page Digibook, with essays, production stills, cast bios, quotes and trivia. Beyond that, it's the same Blu-ray released in 2006 and repurposed as the first, bare-bones disc in the 2008 Undisputed Collection set. The video presentation is mediocre, though certainly a step up from DVD: film grain hasn't been scrubbed away, which is nice, but color calibration isn't convincingly true to form, and the overall results can be a bit soft and a bit hazy in the shadows. The DTS-HD Master Audio mix likewise fails to dazzle, but gets the job done: the source materials sound their age and, while effects have been given some separation, the overall impression is rather narrow in terms of dynamics.
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