Blu-ray Disc Review: Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa (Sony) [Blu-ray]
Featuring: Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Tarver, Milo Ventimiglia, Burt Young, and Tony Burton

Yet another movie memory for me: Seven years old and my mother takes me to see Rocky at a North Hollywood theater in the summer of ’77.

The movie is a talky affair that I won’t fully appreciate ‘til I get older and more interested in cinema as art rather than mere entertainment, but the training and fight sequences are captivating and the final fight sequence just about lands a haymaker punch to my brain. This sensation is helped by the fact that everyone in the theater is so emotionally involved, so distraught at the possibility that Rocky might go down in that final fight, that they are on their feet, and the image I have of the on-screen audience cheering the battered and bruised Rocky on— to stand up and fight— while the theater crowd did the same, was burned in my mind, forever.

The power of cinema, the ability to bring a crowd in a darkened theater, taking in a lightshow of illusion, all of it bottled and sold for $5 a ticket made a heck of an impression on me. Mere fiction this was not, this was pure cinema: the kind that gets sends the mind reeling and gets the blood boilin’. Looking back, after re-watching the original Rocky, it’s easy to see why it was so effective, but also easy to see how it manipulated the audience with some pretty schmaltzy material that didn’t demand much from the audience except to root for this Palooka by the end of the film, win or lose. Finally, after some campy and some purely miscalculated Rocky sequels there’s a worth successor to the original film.

Rocky Balboa picks up in a place where the other sequels sorta exist on the periphery, and the main story line is still, at it’s core, about Rocky and Adrian… it’s a love story without Talia Shire even appearing in the film. With graveside sequences to fill the void, this film also continues the father-son bonding elements from the misbegotten Rocky V. With wry nods to the first film and his own aging physique, Stallone has finally written a lovely swansong to the character that is as much a part of himself as any other character he’s ever played, even John Rambo.

It’s a nice addition to a hi-def library, with you-are-there audio quality that truly packs a (ahem!) punch. The ring sequences look vivid and all the action is tack-sharp in this transfer, which gives us 1080p resolution in 1.85 widescreen. Audio, up to the usual excellent Sony standards, is a quality mix in uncompressed PCM 5.1 (English) with Dolby Digital 5.1 offered as well (English and French, because the Italian Stallion likes to speak the language of love, I guess). Subtitles are in English (so you can understand the Philly), Spanish and French.

The disc is feature-rich for a standard release. We’re offered deleted scenes and an alternate ending (Clubber Lang runs off with Adrian to some island in the Bahamas… what?! You’d think I’d actually spoil it for you?). There’s also something called Boxing’s Bloopers (a hit or miss affair, I gather) and some featurettes: Skill vs. Will: The Making of Rocky Balboa and Reality in the Ring: Filming Rocky’s Final Fight. Last, but not least, there’s a nice, audio commentary with Sylvester Stallone that offers nice reminisces of the shoot and the character he so lovingly created.

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