Saturday, December 8, 2007

ROCKY: Blu-ray (United Artists 1976) MGM/Fox Home Entertainment

In retrospect, it seems rather preposterous that Rocky (1976), the testosterone thumping boxing flick about a small time wanna-be pugilist, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) should have walked off with the Best Picture Academy Award. I mean, this is the year of Network, The Omen, All The President's Men and Taxi Driver! Rocky?!? Really?!?!

Sylvester Stallone's screenplay is pedestrian at best. This is a run of the mill melodrama that follows the downtrodden and, quite often, pathetic exploits of a guy from the wrong side of the tracks with little reason to celebrate his own existence. Didn't we already get this build up in The Champ (1931); doomed to be remade in Rocky's afterbirth as...well...The Champ (1979)? But I digress.

Our hero, Rocky starts life as a sort of Marlon Brando knockoff from On The Waterfront; a thug collecting debts for loan shark, Gazzo (Joe Spinell). To pass his time and keep in shape he boxes with ex-trainer, Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith) who has faith in Rocky when no one else – least of all Rocky himself - believes that he can become the heavy weight champion of the world.

But oh gee - wait for it - our hero is really a shy guy who develops a yen for wallflower, Adrianna Pennino (Talia Shire). Their casual friendship predictably blossoms into romance. She believes in Rocky so Rocky begins to believe in himself. Adrianna affectionately swaps barbs with her brother, Paulie (Bert Young) who could not be happier that some man – any man – has finally taken an interest in his gawky sister. The romance between Rocky and Adrianna is slow and cautious. She confides in him that she’s never been to a man’s apartment. He sets her mind at ease; then takes her to bed. Go Rocky!

The central narrative gets back on track when it is announced that the current world heavyweight boxing champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) has decided to use the gimmick of giving a virtual unknown a chance to beat him in the ring for the title. Surveying the various training facilities in the greater Philadelphia area, Apollo discovers Rocky and the match is set.

The rest of the plot is really just an excuse for the final showdown between Rocky and Apollo. We are treated to endless montages leading up to the big day; Adrianna’s apprehensions and concerns, Rocky’s reassurances, his near defeat in the ring, and finally, his triumph over insurmountable odds.

As a film, Rocky's feel good is rather obvious and overstated; our hero's escalation from underdog to top dog on the world stage of boxing predictable and yet not terribly prepossessing. This sort of escapist wish fulfillment has its place in American movies to be sure. Everybody likes a Cinderella story - even if Cinderella needs a shave and breaks into a sweat now and then. But Best Picture?!? Really?!?  

Stallone had a solid acting career before Rocky. Afterward he became the poster child for simple-minded lumbering lummoxes on the movie screen. In retrospect Stallone can be perceived as the precursor to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Certainly, in the years following Rocky's debut and its many subsequent sequels, Stallone did everything in his power to compete with Schwarzenegger on the 'body beautiful' level - juicing up and launching into the Rambo films. Personally, I think Rocky ruined Stallone's movie career. In hindsight, this is the beginning of the end of Stallone the actor and the start of Stallone the cliched muscle head whose biceps are bigger than his brain.  

Okay, I've commented on this before and will continue to do so when the results are this bad. Whoever is responsible for the hideous cover art for this disc needs to give their heads a shake. I mean, look at the awful airbrushing and the way Stallone's head is pasted onto his body (if it is his body). I mean the angles aren't even close. The eye line is brutal. If this is our hero he looks like a misshapen sack of badly bruised potatoes. Yuck! Note to Fox - hire better airbrush artists or just go back to using original movie poster art to market your new releases. 

The good news is that the hi-def results are much better than the cover art - thank heaven! MGM/Fox's Blu-ray is the same transfer as the previously issued disc (that had better cover art). The transfer isn't perfect, but its smooth, solid and delivers a reasonable facsimile of the theatrical presentation. DNR has been liberally applied to reduce the appearance of film grain. Thankfully, it's still there so we're not subjected to those gawd awful waxen images that plagued Fox's Predator  Blu-ray. 

The audio is 5.1 DTS and dated. The music improves but the dialogue still sounds strained and very flat. We get all of the extras imported from Fox's Special Edition of Rocky on DVD, including multiple featurettes on the making of the film, scene specific audio commentary from Stallone and director John G. Avildsen, a stills gallery and theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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