Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa (2006)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver, Geraldine Hughes, Milo Ventimiglia
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Bloopers, Featurettes

It is hard to believe but it has been over 30 years since Sylvester Stallone created "Rocky" and celebrated triumphant acclaim and success with his story of an underdog boxer whose willpower leads him all the way to the heavyweight championship title. The film went on to win 3 Oscars and countless other awards, instantly catapulting Stallone into the Olympus of Hollywood superstars. After three successful sequels in the 80s, he now decided to revisit this beloved character to show us Rocky 30 years later. An aging Rocky, but still with a will to fight for his self-respect.

We first meet Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) in the streets of Philadelphia. He is a successful restaurant owner who never gets tired of retelling his boxing stories to his patrons or posing for snapshots over and over again. But despite the success there is a dark shadow hanging over Rocky Balboa's life, phasing out virtually anything he takes pleasure in. Adrian (Talia Shire), his wife and the love of his life, has passed away. Rocky is lonely and heartbroken, visiting her grave for hours every day unable to find peace, tragically wounded and unable to rebound. Rocky and Adrian have a grown-up son, Robert Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia), but he is busy living the fast-paced corporate career life and has very little time for his father and very little understanding for his suffering.

Despite his pain, Rocky is still a loving and giving man and when he meets little Marie (Geraldine Hughes) working in a skunk bar he wants to help her. He remembers her from 30 years ago when she was a kid living on the same street. Now she's a grown woman with an adolescent son, Steps (James Francis Kelly III). Rocky quickly realizes that Steps is at a critical age on the border of adolescent rebellion, highly impressionable and potentially hanging with the wrong crowd. He takes Steps under his wings to keep him off the streets and eventually also gives Marie a job in his restaurant. Rocky is a giver from the bottom of his heart. It is who he is and he enjoys feeding his down-on-their-luck former ring opponents for free or pulling his brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young) through life.

Then Rocky decides that he has to get rid of his frustrations and his pain and he returns to boxing. Just locally; small time, he thinks. But as soon as word spreads that The Italian Stallion is back in the ring the managers of reigning heavyweight champion Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver) think a show match between Dixon and Rocky would be their ticket to riches. Interestingly Rocky agrees throwing everyone's advice in the wind. Rocky, better than anyone else, knows what is still inside him and he trains himself for a tournament that few people take seriously – the old man against the undefeated knock-out wonder.

When I picked up "Rocky Balboa" I wasn't sure if I really wanted to see the film. After four movies I really felt there was little left to say on the subject. Boy, was I wrong, and I am sure glad I did watch this film, because Sylvester Stallone once again proves that Rocky is not a story about men knocking each other senseless in a ring. It is the story of a man, his iron will and his struggle to find his own peace.

Instantly, what struck me about "Rocky Balboa" is the film's tone. This is a sweet, emotional story about a man we have come to love. From the first moments we feel empathy for this hero, remembering his glory days, seeing who he has aged, and sharing the pain of him losing Adrian. In many ways Rocky feels like a relic and it is that very feeling that drives him back to boxing. When he decides to enter the ring with the reigning champion, 20 years his junior, it may feel like a farce to the world, but as the viewer we immediately root for Rocky because we know that no one deals a punch like Rocky and absolutely no one takes them like Rocky. He may not have a chance to win, but he sure has the chance to fight with grace and win back his self-respect.

Coming as a wonderful 1080p widescreen transfer, "Rocky Balboa" is making a nice showing. The film's cinematography doesn't make it a showcase movie for high definition. While the image contains a good level of detail, the image does not revel in intricate textures or powerful colors the way at period film would, for example. The look of Rocky is bland, bringing out the urban setting of the film. All the more striking is the switch to Las Vegas then for the match itself. Featuring a helicopter shot of the Las Vegas strip, suddenly the image turns breath-takingly sharp and detailed with a million little lights, razor-sharp edges, rich colors and amazing contrasts. We immediately know that this is a whole different world from the streets of Philly, the home of Rocky Balboa. The Blu-Ray transfer on display here catches all that with ease, making the film look absolutely perfect and authentically reproducing the filmmakers' original vision.

Another treat is the 5.1 channel PCM audio track that accompanies the film, as well as the Dolby Digital tracks. Without the big fanfares that became the rocky trademark, the film uses music very subtly and understated. It takes a long time for the Rocky theme to weave its way into the movie's score for the first time and even then it is very sublime, only gradually expanding. But despite the big sound barrier, the film uses surround channels very naturally by bringing out the atmosphere of the streets of Philadelphia. Ambient effects are wonderfully integrated to create a wide sound field that is always active but never obvious. The audio tracks on the disc make sure every little nuance and detail of the sounds and the music is perfectly captured and reproduced.

The dual-layer BD50 disc also allows for the inclusion of a number of great extras on the release, the most important one being Sylvester Stallone's commentary track. If you plan on checking out one feature only, make this one it. The commentary offers so much insight into the production and more importantly, Stallone's world of Rocky and his approach to the material that the time simply seems to fly by as you listen to his commentary.

But also the deleted scenes and bloopers are great additions. There is something inherently funny and otherworldly seeing two boxers start to laugh in the middle of a bout, so check it out. A series of featurettes are also included, taking a closer look at the "virtual championship fight" that is featured in the film and its creation, as well as a segment on the filming of the final fight. The best of the featurettes is probably "Skill vs Will," a piece on the making of the movie in which cast and crew members share their thoughts and experience.

"Rocky Balboa" is another winner in Sylvester Stallone's line of "Rocky" movies. I didn't think it was possible but "Rocky Balboa" is probably my favorite film out of the entire series. And the peculiar thing is that this films works so well exactly BECAUSE of the previous movies. Because we know Rocky and can immediately empathize with him. Because we've seen the great moments in his life. Because we understand where he's coming from and what's boiling inside of him. Without all that prologue "Rocky Balboa" wouldn't be nearly as effective but being the fourth part in the series, the story makes perfect use of those sentiments the viewers are familiar with. If the previous Rocky films showed us Rocky the fighter with a heart, here we have Rocky with a heart on steroids. Make sure to add this film to your must-see list, because films like this don't come around often.