During his first on-screen fight, Rocky Balboa fights Spider Rico in a church (of all places) and the two dance in the ring as background signage speaks of “resurrection.” A religious note, of course, but prophesying Rocky’s eventual climb from contender to bum to contender.
It’s so small, so insignificant a detail, yet the perfect opening chapter to a perfect movie. Rocky succeeds outside of the sports genre, because the sport itself is relegated to a background moment in the end as Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) hugs girlfriend Adrian (Talia Shire). To hear the final tally of the split decision requires concentration, because who won the fight matters not. It doesn’t matter to the story, and it doesn’t matter to Rocky either.
Sports movies take the wrong message from Rocky. There’s a desire to please an audience, always, by way of preview screenings. Yet, the majority of the best end like Rocky – Major League and Slap Shot come to mind. The movies that ignore the actual sport, but tell their stories about the people in them, those stick out.
Rocky doesn’t even need the boxing as an iconic, everlasting piece of Americana. It’s steeped in ideals, and not just using the country as set dressing. Sure, the Liberty Bell becomes a prop and opponent Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) dresses in garish red, white, and blue garb. Rocky is about that chance, that opportunity, and when it comes, that’s not something to waste.
Living in poverty, Rocky leads a lonely life in an apartment borderline condemned. His goal isn’t to win the heavyweight title – furthering the power in the ending – but just outlast his foe. The chance isn’t enough on its own; Rocky needs help from a shady bookie to pay for training and has to win back respect from gravely manager Mick (Burgess Meredith). From there, he’s running up steps, punching meat, and pushing himself, which wholly embodies the American dream via the muscle, sweat, and brawn.
In imagery, Rocky shows the post-WWII downturn from the ‘70s, cruddy, dirty, and rotting. People live in squalor and drink too much to bury their sorrows. Rocky’s airy, authentic aesthetic plays like a truthful documentary, and given the cast, it plays just as meaningful.
Dressed in Dolby Vision for this release, Rocky’s latest mastering gives the movie some fight, pun intended. This isn’t an overwhelming boost to either brightness or contrast, but subtle. Stadium lights certainly have their heft renewed and boxing shorts glisten, but the rest is almost indifferent to the HDR pass.
Rocky looks every bit the ’70s in color terms, leaving flesh tones flattened and primaries typically subdued. It’s not immediately striking, but pure ’70s in earth tones, slightly fading to keep the aesthetic. The finale, with red ropes, flag shorts, and more, really amps up the intensity. It’s fantastic. Certain color grading changes do impact the legacy look, including cooler tones where warmer tones used to reside. Those who notice will only be those who saw Rocky dozens of times, but that’s also everybody, so…
Pleasing gains in resolution make a limited jump from the prior “Mastered in 4K” Blu-ray. Facial definition isn’t a stand out, but the rotting streets and locker rooms show tremendous texture. Plus, Rocky is completely unfiltered, natural, and pure.
Note an error on Rocky’s first pressing – the mono track is actually a stereo downmix.
The main track utilizes a DTS-HD 5.1 upmix that’s respectful to the source. Mostly, the track stays in the center, leaving Bill Conti’s unforgettable music to swell into the stereos and rears. Any slight strain to fidelity sounds normal. Dialog doesn’t suffer any faults, while the music comes through brilliantly full. The stadium during the finale livens up the mixing for some stellar surround work considering the source.
Bonuses are held on an additional disc and nothing is necessarily specific to Rocky itself.
Rocky doesn’t even need the boxing as an iconic, everlasting piece of Americana
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 50 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: