Thursday, March 5, 2015


About a little over a decade ago around 2003 I bought a DVD box set of the first five Rocky films and proceeded to watch a film a week over the next month. It was the first time I watched all the classic boxing films featuring Philadelphia's favorite son. Minus bits and pieces of the third and fifth films, I pretty much enjoyed them all. The DVD box set I had of them however took up way too much shelf space than I desired. Last year I was perusing Wal-Mart's video aisles and was surprised they had all six Rocky movies in one nice BluRay set for only $30, and the size of the packaging was of just one standard DVD case.

I have been meaning to relive all six Rocky films again since the upcoming seventh installment, titled Creed, is hitting late this year and features Rocky as the trainer for Apollo Creed's son. The whole series are terrific underdog sports films, with the first two and the sixth films standing out as legitimate prestige pictures. Ask me any day of the week and my mind would constantly change with those three being which is the best Rocky film. For better or worse, the series goes a little bit off the rails with the third, fourth and fifth films, but even those are entertaining rides in their own unique way. Additionally, I want to try and crank out all six films in two months by the time I run my second ever full marathon to keep motivating me with all of Rocky's infamous training montages by my side.

With that intro out of the way, let us get on to the debut film of the series, 1976's Rocky (trailer). I jotted down a bunch of notes as I relived this, so I am just going to try and mix things up a bit differently here by trying to rapid fire hit all these bullet points on why I loved this film so much. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) starts off the film barely scraping by in his journeyman boxing career in preliminary bouts at a local church in Philadelphia. To make money on the side he is a money collector for a loan shark by the name of Gazzo (Joe Spinell). I completely forgot that Rocky chain smoked for the first film until he got serious in his training!

It is almost impossible to not fall in love with the Rocky character right off the bat. Stallone nails all idiosyncrasies of the character from his heavy New England accent, to having a certain little swagger with the way he walks bouncing a handball that combines to make him irresistibly endearing. The same bar Rocky revisits in Rocky Balboa, Lucky Seven Tavern, is in here as is a scene featuring a then 12-year old girl by the name of Marie who goes on to be one of the main supporting actors in Rocky Balboa 30 years later.

Rocky's true love is for Adrian (Talia Shire), who works at the local pet shop he keeps frequenting in order to win her over. Adrian is the sister to Rocky's friend Paulie (Burt Young) who has a very hot and cold relationship with Rocky and Adrian throughout the film, and I cannot help but get a chuckle now whenever he erupts in one of his vintage tirades. Watching Rocky and Adrian's relationship grow throughout the film is an entertaining journey, where Rocky attempts to woo her by taking her on an ice skating date, and helps her overcome her shyness and by standing up for herself against Paulie in another powerful scene.

While Rocky is getting his love life in check, the boxing champion of the world, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is scrambling to find a last minute replacement for his big fight on the country's bicentennial celebration. The top contender had to bow out with injury, and the rest of the ranked contenders are also unavailable so Creed decides to promote the fight with the novelty of America being the land of opportunity by fighting against a hometown underdog. Carl Weathers is fantastic as the smooth talking Apollo Creed, as the film essentially plays him up as their own version of Muhummad Ali. The way he pitched the last second underdog fight replacement sounds ridiculous on paper, but the way Weathers makes the Apollo character deliver it makes it sound like a grand idea to everyone in the room. Naturally, that underdog winds up being Rocky Balboa.

With the assistance of his trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) and several awe-inspiring training montages, Rocky Balboa gets in the best shape of his life to take on Apollo Creed. Bill Conti's legendary original score makes the training montages and the big fight stand out exponentially more. The build up to the final fight is surreal as both fighters go through their pre-fight rituals I could not help but get my emotions all riled up again all these years later knowing that these two are about to tear up the ring in an epic encounter. All things considered with this being a low budget film from 1976, the camera work and cinematography of the fight still holds up fairly well nearly 40 years later. I am not even going to link to the awesome final fight scene, you will just have to watch the film to experience it for yourselves. Ultimately, Balboa accomplishes his dream of going the full 15 rounds with Apollo and going punch-for-punch with him in a close fight that went to the scorecards and had a very climatic final couple of rounds to take in. As the judges' final scores were announced, Rocky and Adrian shared a final embrace in the ring to close out a film that already had my spirits running high throughout its last act.

The original Rocky DVD I owned had a decent amount of extra features for its 25th anniversary release, but if memory serves right it seemed MGM was releasing a new special edition of this film every couple of years, and this BluRay appears to collect all the extra features from them, and probably tacks on a couple of new extras of its own. There are three commentaries on here, and I bounced around all three throughout the film. The first is just Stallone by his lonesome, and he has lots of nonstop production facts, but he seems a little too laid back especially during the film's more powerful moments. The second commentary is with boxing legends Lou Duva and Bert Sugar and these two were a riot to listen to as they get really into certain parts of the film and relate it to their past exploits in the sport, and also go on some random, but amusing tangents. The last commentary is with seven cast and crew members, but each person is individually spliced away from previously recorded interviews and inserted during the scenes they are talking about. It is a little awkward to listen to initially, but has a nice way of providing nonstop, uninterrupted commentary throughout. Many thanks to MGM for providing separate captions for the commentary tracks as well as the rest of the extra features.

The primary behind-the-scenes extra feature is a three part documentary that lasts 76 minutes titled, In the Ring, that interviews all the major cast and crew members. It covers the origins of the Rocky script, how each major cast member landed their role and dissects the production of the pivotal scenes from the film. It is a good history lesson of the movie, and if you only had time to check out one extra feature, In the Ring is the perfect place to start. There are about a dozen other behind-the-scenes features on here that average around ten minutes in length, and most of them are worth going out of your way to see, but if I were to recommend only three I would suggest checking out Opponents, which profiles and interviews all the Balboa antagonists (save Mr. T, he ain't got time for no jibba-jabba) throughout the first five films. Steadicam: Then and Now is a look into the then breakthrough steadicam technology and how Rocky capitalized on it being the second film to make use of it. Finally, Staccato: Composer's Notebook with Bill Conti is an in depth interview with Bill Conti on how he came up with all his unforgettable tracks for the film's score. There are still plenty more extras I can go on forever about, and I took notes on every single extra feature on the Rocky disc alone, and minus the commentaries, there are a whopping four hours of extra behind-the-scenes features to indulge.

Rocky is a historic movie you owe yourself to watch if you have not already. There is a reason it is one of the few sports movies to be nominated, let alone win the Oscar for Best Picture. It was the catalyst for all the other underdog sports movies after it, but it is still one of the best with many great feel-good and powerful moments throughout. I cannot help but love its message that you can do anything as long as you put your mind to it. These are the reasons why I have the film's poster on my wall. For Rocky fanatics, you will love that this looks as good as it can possibly be in HD, and you will get a lot out of the four hours of extra features included. Please join me again in a couple weeks as I dive into the next film.

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