Rocky appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the movie’s origins came through at times, I thought the transfer seemed pretty solid.
Sharpness almost always looked nicely crisp and precise. Only a few isolated scenes displayed minor evidence of softness, usually due to some mild edge enhancement. No issues with shimmering or jagged edges occurred, and source flaws were insignificant. Other than a bit more grain than usual and a couple of specks, this was a clean presentation.
Colors were generally subdued - this is a gritty character drama, after all, and Philly isn't Miami - but what I saw looked well-saturated and solidly accurate. Apollo's costume at the start of the fight came across especially nicely, and the other occasional examples of brighter hues appeared strong. Black levels appeared deep and dark, and shadow detail also was appropriately thick without any signs of murkiness. Both of those seemed especially important since so much of Rocky took place in low-light situations. I found a lot to like in this quality transfer.
Also relatively strong was the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. This remix of the original monaural audio expanded the image in a modest but pleasing manner. Most of the sound remained anchored to the center channel, but a few effects spread nicely to the sides as well. Probably the "showiest" instance happened early in the film when Rocky walked past some street singers and their voices panned from the center to the right. Other than that, it's just music - which boasted some very nice stereo separation - and ambience on the sides.
The surrounds also included these factors. The effects popped up from the rear mainly during the final fight scene, but the music drifted back there and that added to the impact of the score.
Quality seemed decent but unexceptional. Dialogue appeared vaguely flat for the most part, but it remained consistently intelligible and clear. The one poor instance that involved speech occurred at about the 74-minute mark, when Rocky and Paulie talk in the meat locker; the dialogue sounded rough during that scene. This wasn't an issue at other times, though, and it appeared obvious the problems stemmed from the source material. Effects were clean though thin, and the music sounded pleasantly crisp and full. The 5.1 mix stayed appropriately modest and it worked nicely for the film.
Since this 2006 two-disc special edition of Rocky represents the 786th DVD release of the film, I won’t attempt to compare its quality to all the others. This one looks at least as good as the others, and I think it’s probably the strongest transfer of the bunch. All of them come with what appear to be identical 5.1 soundtracks, so that factor doesn’t vary from release to release.
Comparisons between the 2006 SE and the prior releases become easier when we move to the set’s extras. Only the 2001 25th Anniversary Edition included any substantial bonus features, all of which also appear here. I’ll note new materials with an asterisk, so if you see a star, the component is exclusive to this set.
(For the record, I attempted to rent the 25th Anniversary DVD to compare it to the new one. I couldn’t find a copy of it, however.)
On DVD One, we find three separate audio commentaries. The first comes from *writer/actor Sylvester Stallone. He offers a running, screen-specific chat. Stallone gets into characters and themes, sets and locations, the script and altered/deleted sequences, cast and performances, the boxing scenes, and various scene specifics.
Overall, Stallone provides a reasonably introspective and thoughtful look at the flick. His track comes short on filmmaking details and long on character insights. These prove quite interesting to hear, and he throws in enough behind the scenes material to flesh out those elements. This ends up as an enjoyable and satisfying piece.
For the second commentary, we hear from *boxing legends trainer Lou Duva and commentator Bert Sugar. Both sit together for their own running, screen-specific track. They mostly joke around and razz each other. However, they do reflect on aspects of the movie as well as elements of their own lives and careers.
Don’t expect a great deal of depth or information. The good-natured ribbing between the pair dominates the track, and they even poke fun at the flick itself on occasion. Some of the stories from their careers are fun, and the piece leaves a pleasant impression. It simply doesn’t have a lot of substance to it, as it remains entertaining but not much more.
Finally, the third track features director John G. Avildsen, actors Talia Shire, Burt Young and Carl Weathers, producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, and steadicam operator/inventor Garrett Brown. Most of the speakers were recorded separately and the results were edited together for this commentary. The commentary gives us a look at the project’s genesis and development before it digs into other issues. We hear about cast, characters and performances, sets and locations, budgetary challenges and accommodations, camerawork and cinematography, and general production issues.
We learn a lot of great details about the movie. A slew of production notes appear, and we also hear some great anecdotes about the making of the film. Ultimately, I thought this was an entertaining and compelling look at Rocky.
A few featurettes follow. *Three Rounds with Lou Duva” runs four minutes, 32 seconds and gives us more notes from the trainer. He discusses his early days in the business and aspects of his work. It’s marginally interesting at best but not particularly valuable.
For more with Duva’s commentary partner, we turn to *Interview with a Legend - Bert Sugar: Author/Commentator and Historian. The six-minute and 47-second piece looks at his early exposure to boxing, the sport’s depiction in movies and thoughts about Rocky. Sugar proves more eloquent than Duva but not much more interesting in this forgettable clip.
Finally, *The Opponents goes for 16 minutes, 10 seconds. We hear from Chartoff, Weathers, and actors Dolph Lundgren and Tommy Morrison. “Opponents” looks at all Rocky’s foes throughout the first five movies. We get some casting and performance notes as well as thoughts about the characters. Too many movie clips show up here, but the program offers a pretty fulfilling examination of Rocky’s opponents.
Advertising fills out DVD One. A *Sneak Peek at Rocky Balboa lasts three minutes, 36 seconds. It mixes movie clips with comments from Stallone, Young, producer Kevin King, actors Tony Burton, Antonio Tarver, Joe Cortez and Milo Ventimiglia, and fight coordinator Rob Sale. This acts as a glorified trailer and little more. The DVD also includes two Trailers and three TV Spots
Heading to DVD Two, we launch with a three-part documentary called In the Ring. This one-hour, 15-minute and 42-second program offers the expected mix of movie clips, behind the scenes materials, and interviews. We hear from Stallone, Winkler, Chartoff, Weathers, Shire, Avildsen, and Young. “Ring” starts with the origins of the project and its development. We find out how various members of the crew and cast came on-board as well as adapting the material for the actors and aspects of the performances and characters. We also learn a little about shooting the boxing sequences and the score.
“Ring” doesn’t attempt to provide a broad encapsulation of the movie’s production. Instead, it focuses heavily on the characters and actors as it explores their work and tendencies. That makes it more introspective than most programs but doesn’t always offer a satisfying piece. While a number of good moments emerge, much of the time the show degenerates into basic praise for those involved. The piece deserves a look but it’s not a great program.
We learn more about technical innovations via *Steadicam: Then and Now with Garrett Brown. The piece runs 17 minutes, 26 seconds and features notes from Brown as he discusses his career and how he came up with the Steadicam. He also chats about his work on Rocky and the subsequent success of the Steadicam. Lots of good archival footage fleshes out Brown’s comments. These allow the featurette to illuminate and entertain.
During the 15-minute and nine-second *Make-Up! The Art and Form with Michael Westmore, we hear from the make-up designer and supervisor as he covers his family roots in the business as well as his work on Rocky and other aspects of his career. Star Trek fans will know Westmore from his designs for the various spin-off series. Westmore provides a nice look at his work on the film and makes this a useful show.
For a look at the movie’s famous music, we head to *Staccato: A Composer’s Notebook with Bill Conti. This offers an 11-minute and 28-second program during which the composer goes over his creations for Rocky along with recording the tracks. As with its predecessors, this becomes another solid little take on its topics.
*The Ring of Truth lasts nine minutes, 35 seconds as it presents remarks from art director James Spencer. He talks about locations and set design as well as budgetary restrictions. We learn a fair amount about the production dressing in this tight and satisfying show.
Next comes a very intriguing look Behind the Scene With Director John Avildsen. In this 12-minute and 23-second piece, Avildsen discusses the fight rehearsal process and also shows a variety of 8mm test shots made to help refine the choreography between Stallone and Weathers. Also included are some glimpses of early make-up concepts. One of those would have allowed Stallone to easily fit in on the set of Frankenstein. Although Avildsen’s remarks repeat some of the material heard on the commentary - indeed, the latter seems to use the exact same tape - the 8mm test material is a terrific find and it offers a fun view of the filmmaking process.
The next two featurettes pay homage to two now-deceased Rocky contributors. A Tribute to Burgess Meredith combines remembrances from Stallone, Young, Weathers, and Meredith’s friend, actress Lee Grant into a seven-minute and 44-second piece. All except for Stallone - whose statements come from his “Video Commentary” sessions - appear only as voice-overs while we see stills of Meredith. A Tribute to James Crabe lasts for three minutes and 34 seconds as director Avildsen talks about the film’s cinematographer. Both pieces are respectful and interesting, and I thought they added a classy touch to the DVD.
Despite its title, the Video Commentary with Sylvester Stallone is really just a 28-minute and 52-second interview. However, it’s a good one. Stallone covers the genesis of the project and also goes through many aspects of its production, all while presenting the impact it had on his then-young self. Stallone can be a charming and interesting interview subject, and he proves that here.
Finally, we get a clip of *Sylvester Stallone on Dinah! (1976) that lasts 17 minutes and 19 seconds. Stallone schmoozes with host Dinah Shore and fellow guest Joey Bishop as part of the publicity for the movie. The clip is interesting as a historical curiosity but other than Stallone’s hideous suit, there’s nothing particularly compelling on display.
Finally, the package ends with a 30-page booklet. Called “Rocky - The Ultimate Guide”, this provides an excerpt from a book by Edward Gross. We find a short preface by Stallone along with profiles of the main characters and notes about various important sequences. It’s a nice little piece that stands up fine on its own and not just as a “teaser” for the book.
Rocky continues to hold up well after 30 years. The movie marks the creative high point of Sylvester Stallone’s career, and it offers a moving and inspirational look at a bum made good. The DVD provides positive picture and sound plus a strong mix of extras.
Without question, this two-DVD release of Rocky stands as the best version of the flick to date. It presents the strongest visuals and supplements and represents a fine upgrade compared to prior renditions.