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“Rocky: Knockout Collection” – A contender in 4K

Updated: Mar 13, 2023


4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS

(1) Writer/actor Sylvester Stallone plays Rocky Balboa, an over-the-hill boxer who gets the chance to fight the heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. During Rocky’s training, he runs up the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (2) Rocky brings his girlfriend Adrian to his rundown apartment.


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“ROCKY: THE KNOCKOUT COLLECTION”

4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy; 1976, 1979, 1982, 1985, PG for boxing violence and profanity; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)

Best extra: A 90-minute documentary highlighting the Oscar winner (Available in the Steelbook Edition)







“ROCKY,” THE GREATEST low-budget fable ever produced, got its first white glove 4K Ultra HD treatment nearly five years ago. Sadly, it was only available on digital platforms with HDR10 and Dolby Vision, released just before “Creed II” hit theaters. We ended up selecting the digital version for our Highdefwatch.com Top 15 4K titles of 2018.

Now with “Creed III” in theaters, MGM/UA with an assist from Warner Brothers has finally released “Rocky” and three of the sequels “Rocky II,” “Rocky III,” “Rocky IV” and a bonus Director’s Cut of “Rocky IV – Rocky vs. Drago” in a five-disc “Rocky: The Knockout Collection.” The films are also available individually in limited edition steelbooks from Best Buy in the U.S. and Canada.


(1) Rocky’s boxing match against Spider Rico played by Argentine heavyweight fighter Pedro Lovell. The Thursday night fights take place inside the local Catholic Church. (2&3) Rocky won a K.O. in the second and gets $65, less $15 for a locker and cornerman, $5 for the shower and towel, and a seven percent tax. His take home is $40.55. Rocky and Spider share the locker room after the match. (4) Rocky feeds his goldfish Moby Dick and his two turtles Cuff and Link. Both turtles are still alive and appeared in “Creed II.” (5) Rocky stops by the J&M Tropical Fish shop to get turtle food and starts a conversation with Adrian.





VIDEO

The upgrade on “Rocky” is instantly apparent as sharpness reveals minute details totally hidden on the previous Blu-ray, and surpassing that early 4K digital. Also, film grain shows no sign of digital manipulation from the 4K master (1.85:1 aspect ratio). The chief benefit of HDR10 and Dolby Vision can be seen in the deep-deep blacks and expanded and controlled highlights, with natural flesh tones and richer colors – especially reds and blues. As expected, all the scratches and marks were removed giving “Rocky” and the sequels the shimmer they deserve.

The peak HDR10 brightness hits a super high level of 3992 nits, but averages 362 nits, while the encoded video runs from 50 Megabits per second to 90 Mbps.

AUDIO

Nominated for Best Sound and Best Song, the “Rocky” 4K disc has an issue. The included remastered six-channel 5.1 DTS-HD is just fine, pushing environmental effects – especially during the fight sequence to rear speakers. Plus, Bill Conti’s iconic score with classics “Gonna Fly Now” (Theme song), “Going the Distance,” and “Fanfare for Rocky,” plus the street corner song “Take You Back” is nicely balanced with the majority pushed to front speakers.

For the traditionalist, the labeled and promised original 2.0 mono DTS-HD track is actually a downmix of the 5.1 soundtrack. This version does provide a good bass response, with dialogue front and center, but most AV receivers will process the sound and push effects and music cues to rear speakers.

This same problem happened in Universal’s 4K release of Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” but the studio provided a 4K replacement disc within two months. We’ll see if MGM/UA and Warner do the same.


(1&2) Rocky works for Tony Gazzo (Joe Spinell) the local loan shark, who orders him to break the thumb of Bob Hartigan, a dockworker if he doesn’t pay $200. (3) Gazzo isn’t happy that Rocky only got $130 from Hartigan and pays him $20 for his work. (4) Mickey, the 76-year-old trainer, and former bantamweight fighter calls Rocky a “Tomato.” (5) At the local bar, Rocky asks Paulie (Bert Young) about his sister Adrian. He responds, she’s a “freaking loser.” (6) Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) and boxing promotor Jergens (Thayer David) need a new fighter since the boxer lined up has broken his left hand. The scheduled event is in five weeks, on January 1, 1976. Creed comes up with the idea to give a local underdog fighter an opportunity.





4K/Blu-ray Steelbook version from Best Buy in the U.S. and Canada.

EXTRAS

The “Rocky” 4K disc includes three commentaries with writer/actor Sylvester Stallone, actress Talia Shire (Adrian), director John Avildsen and producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler which has been MIA since 2001. Producers tell how Stallone designed the fight sequences like a choreographed ballet: “He came in with 32 pages of lefts and rights.”

Nominated for 10 Oscars and winning Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing, the enclosed Blu-ray within the steelbook “Rocky” and bonus disc in the collection includes 8mm footage from production manager Lloyd Kaufman. Kaufman and Avildsen provide the narration, which is much like listening to comments on family home movies.

It opens with Avildsen telling how he pleaded to have “Rocky” filmed in Philadelphia. Winkler and company were locked: “No way, we can’t afford to bring a union crew from L.A. to the East Coast.” The $1 million budget was lean even in 1976, but the director had a solution. He convinced them that hiring a non-union crew from New York would save tens of thousands. The crew was no stranger to Avildsen since they had worked with him on four previous films.

Once in Philly, the budget was so tight there were no chairs for the director or cast, no portable potties, no coffee or donuts, no cops to control traffic and crowds, and no trailers for the actors. But one thing was in endless supply – PIZZA! They ate it every day, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Additional extras include interviews with legendary trainer Lou Duva and sportswriter Bert Sugar; a tribute to actor Burgess Meredith (Mickey); a featurette on the inventor of the Steadicam (Garrett Brown), who filmed the famous run up the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; a featurette on composer Bill Conti; TV spots and trailers.



(1) Rocky and Adrian go on their first date at the local ice rink. Originally the scene was scheduled with 300 skaters, but the limited budget canceled the extras. (2) Rocky takes Adrain to his apartment for the first time. He takes off his outer shirt and shows off his muscles. (3) Promoter Miles Jergens convinces Rocky to take the chance of a lifetime and fight Creed. (4&5) Mickey pleads to be his manager but Rocky says no. Minutes later he and Mickey shake hands and agree to his training.



“Apollo Creed meets the Italian Stallion. Sounds like a damn monster movie.” – Apollo Creed

The three-part ‘Making of’ documentary “In the Ring” is by far the best extra, and strangely only available on the enclosed Blu-ray in the steelbook edition. It features interviews with the leading cast members, the producers, the director, and Stallone, who realized once he arrived in Hollywood that he was being pigeonholed as either a bad guy or a physical actor. So, he decided to fall back into writing scripts. The works of Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets,” and 1950s Oscar winners “Marty” and “On the Waterfront,” had a huge influence on his storytelling.

Ultimately, we also learn the inspiration for Stallone’s crowd pleaser, was a 1975 fight between Chuck Wepner – “The Bayonne Bleeder” – and Muhammad Ali, during which the champ was unexpectedly knocked down. “For one brief moment, this fighter’s life crystallized by going the distance,” Stallone says. He wrote the first draft in three weeks in his rundown apartment. Originally, Rocky Balboa was a much darker character.

He gave the draft to Chartoff, who quickly forwarded it to Winkler, and the two swiftly optioned the script. Winkler categorized the story as not about two guys in the ring, “But a fight about a man trying to get some self-worth, trying to become something he’s not and reaching for the moon.”

When actor Burt Young (Paulie) who plays Adrian’s meat-packing brother, got a copy of the script he instantly fell in love with it. “It’s the most eloquent street prose I ever read. It was 98 pages of a gift.” Stallone became the third person in Academy Award history to receive nods for acting and writing in the same year – joining Charlie Chaplin for “The Great Dictator” and Orson Welles for “Citizen Kane.”

The production lasted only 28 days, “shooting it low-budget, street quality and quickly and everyone came prepared,” Stallone says. The budget was just over $1 million, with Stallone paid $35,000 for the script, and earning $20,000 as the actor, with 6.75 percent of the profits, which earned him over $2 million. UA executives were so pleased after their first screening they gave Avildsen the funds for a couple of reshoots including the final scene of Rocky yelling “Adrian” and her running through the crowd and into the boxing ring for a hug and kiss.


(1) Rocky’s grueling training begins at 4 a.m. and he stops by Paulie’s meat-packing plant and ends up punching a frozen carcass until his fists bleed. (2&3) Rocky visits Adrian at the apartment she shares with Paulie, who comes home drunk and threatens them with a bat. (4-6) The famous Rocky training montage, as he runs through the neighborhood, the docks, the art museum steps, and doing one-hand pushups.




“Rocky II” – This sequel doesn’t match the drama and tenderness of the first film. Still, the climactic buildup and rematch between Rocky and Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is sensational. The 4K imagery is excellent with the right amount of film grain and HDR grading, but the audio is pitched to the slow side, about 3 percent slower than the previous versions. Not sure how this happened, but for some, this is a deal breaker. Written and directed by Stallone. Sorry, no extras.

“Rocky III” – You’ve got to love Mr. T, the challenger who gives Rocky all he can handle – especially since the “Italian Stallion” has gone soft living the high life. The 4K imagery is still top-notch, but the audio track is still dragging by the lightest of amounts. You can’t deny the “Eye of the Tiger” theme song ROCKS! No extras.

“Rocky IV” – The formula continues; Stallone is still at the helm writing/directing/acting. Rocky fights for the U.S.A. against a superhuman Soviet Russian (Dolph Lundgren), while brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young) gets a crazy birthday gift – a talking robot. The 4K imagery is good, but not at the level of the first three films. And for a brief moment around the 10-minute mark the aspect ratio changes. Plus, audio pitch problems continue on this sequel.

“Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago” – Stallone has reedited the film, which runs two minutes longer and he’s cropped the image vertically to change the aspect ratio from 1.85:1 to 2.35:1. Now, many of the shots seem off-balanced and the film grain is larger because of the new framing and enlarging the image to fill a wider aspect.

MISSING FROM THE SET

"Rocky V" – Advertised as the last “Rocky,” but we knew better. Rocky and the family end up back in low-rent South Philly, broke and unable to fight because of too many injuries. So, he reopens the old gym and starts training a new generation of boxers. Stallone’s son, Sage, takes the role of Rocky Jr., the rebellious teenager.

“Rocky Balboa” – It has been nearly two decades since “Rocky V,” but Stallone, at 60-plus, is still hard-hitting and compassionate in this enduring tale, making it the best “Rocky” since the original.

With the quality control issues, the “Rocky Collection” seems to be too problematic. I suggest at this time getting the “Rocky” steelbook and waiting to see if Warner provides a replacement disc or a new pressing for the other films. Since COVID-19 and layoffs in the studio's home video departments, physical media seems to have gotten the short end of the stick.

— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer




Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed


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