MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Burgess Meredith
Extras: Commentary Track, Video Commentary, Featurettes, Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots
Commemorating its twenty-fifth anniversary, MGM Home Entertainment returns "Rocky" to the world with a feature-laded special edition DVD. This release rectifies a previous error in judgment a few years ago with a fresh <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer as well as a slew of extras that appropriately mark the historical and cultural importance of the film. Viewing the film and the supplements will bring many back to the moment when they first met "the Italian Stallion." Looking back at the film through a quarter century filter only underlines the terrible price paid for our nation’s current love affair with cynicism.
The film succeeds not because of grand operatic gestures (flourishes that choked the sequels of any genuine emotions or even plausibility) but from expertly charted, beautifully observed moments: Rocky recounting his day to his two pet turtles, Cuff and Link; sleepily drinking raw eggs to start his workout; Rocky and Adrian’s Thanksgiving night date at the empty ice rink; or the confrontation between Rocky and Mickey about their past and their future as boxer and manager. These moments do not date nor dim with the passage of time. Everything about the film feels right: the rough-hewn cinematography, the gritty colors and the understatement of the performances, even in Pauly’s moments of rage. I look back at the original "Rocky" with such fondness for many reasons: nostalgia for the era when I first saw it, the undeniably powerful statement that anyone can achieve if they have the heart and courage to do so and sharing the moment of triumph for Stallone the dreamer.
The most obvious benefit of the remastered 5.1 discrete audio is the increased front stage presence, heightening the impact of Bill Conti’s now legendary "Rocky" theme and scenes with extended background music. Fidelity is a bit thin, perhaps owing to the low-tech, pre-Dolby days of sound recording and mixing. Whereas one might expect that the final match would have the rear channels bursting with crowd cheers and ambient noises, they are surprisingly quiet but not totally silent. Dialogue plays fine but when voice levels rise, so does the distortion. The film’s original mono soundtrack allows comparison of the two options and for the most part, the 5.1 is simply the mono track with a discrete music mix. A French 5.1 track and a Spanish mono track are also included.
The video commentary by Sylvester Stallone runs twenty eight minutes, featuring a series of soundbites where he talks about the film’s genesis (the Ali-Wepner fight, with video excerpts), heartfelt memories about his fellow cast members and some of the changes made on the road to success (Rocky was originally conceived as a much darker character). I have never seen Stallone more natural or inviting as he is here, even with the austerity of taping him against a black background. Watching him speak so eloquently and so genuinely about his love for the character and what it has meant to him over the years is truly touching and a high point for the DVD.
"A Tribute to Burgess Meredith" is an eight-minute testimonial to one of the greatest character actors ever. For a generation of baby-boomers, Meredith was best remembered as the nefarious Penguin on the campy 1960’s TV version of "Batman." His portrayal of the irascible but sage trainer Mickey in the first three "Rocky" films is a more appropriate epitaph for future generations to remember him by. Remembrances by Stallone, Carl Weathers, Burt Young, and friend Lee Grant (the prosecutor in "Defending Your Life") paint a most flattering and respected portrait. The most poignant moment for me was listening to Weathers literally deconstruct Meredith’s acting in the scene with Rocky and Mickey coming to terms with each other. Having Weathers walk through each nuance of the performance was just as electrifying as the scene itself.
Trailers for all the installments in the series constitute the next section. In addition to the theatrical trailers, a teaser for the original film is included. It’s interesting (and a little sad for me) to chart how the series transformed over the years. I lost interest by "Rocky IV." That film’s marketing hook of the two exploding boxing gloves probably represents the nadir of the cycle. Two of the trailers are <$PS,letterboxed> (I and V) and the rest are full-frame.
Two thirty-second spots and one sixty-second ad, identified on the cover as "Original Advertising Materials," highlight the critical hosannas for the film and the publicity push for Stallone ("he’s been compared to Brando, Newman, Pacino and DeNiro!").
Pay no attention to my few technical nitpicks; this is a marvelous DVD made with love and respect. Yet I can’t get something out of my head. During the Stallone commentary, he remarks, "I truly miss that character." He later talks about his moment of triumph at the Directors Guild screening and how he will never have that victory again. The second he said that, the image that popped in my head was a scene from "Citizen Kane," when the old Kane picks up the snow globe from the floor and remembers "Rosebud." Weird.
Buying this DVD is a no-brainer. "Rocky: Special Edition" wins by a KO.