[box cover]


"Rocky is about unrealized dreams," says Sylvester Stallone. "It's about a man who's going to stand up to life and take one shot and maybe go the distance." Pretty highfalutin talk for such a manipulative, sentimental film. But in 1976 the fictional streetwise boxer and self-proclaimed bum Rocky Balboa struck a chord with audiences that turned this low-budget film into a major box-office hit and Academy Award winner. Back then Stallone was an unknown who had only acted in a handful of film parts and who had little writing experience. But a chance comment to producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff gave Sly the opportunity to develop his script about boxing that became a tribute to the perseverance of the underdog. The producers liked the script and considered such actors as James Caan and Robert Redford to play the title role. However, Stallone wasn't willing to hand over what he saw as the part of a lifetime, so the script came with the caveat that he be given the starring role. The rest, as they say, is history. Set in Philadelphia, the film tells the story of Rocky, a "leg breaker" who facilitates collections for the local moneylender and who, in his spare time, boxes in the small clubs under the moniker "The Italian Stallion." He's a sad character and not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he's got heart. When Rocky falls for Adrian (Talia Shire), the painfully shy sister of his friend Paulie (Burt Young), the two begin to blossom in each other's tenderness. But, in that bicentennial year, heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) decides to stage a publicity stunt by fighting a local unknown for the world title, and he chooses Balboa as his opponent. Working with scrappy fight manager Mickey (Burgess Meredith), Rocky realizes this is his opportunity to make a stand. As Creed's manager points out to Rocky, "This is the chance of a lifetime and you can't pass it up." Of course this leads to the big final fight where Rocky hopes to be able to go the distance to prove that he's not a loser. Despite it's popularity, much of Rocky is an incoherent mess. The film is shot in a gritty style that was probably due more to financial circumstances than to artistic planning. Scenes are strung together in a disjointed way, the sound is uneven, and the lighting erratic. Character development is almost nonexistent and some characters make no sense (particularly the character of Paulie, who is so ridiculous that it's difficult to understand why Rocky would be his friend). But all that said, there is still a quality to the film that makes you want to see it to the bitter end. It is just impossible not to pull for Rocky — and for Stallone who works so hard to make this part believable. Stallone's own success story as a result of Rocky became a parallel metaphor. Successively poorer sequels to the original proliferated. MGM's special-edition DVD is offered in widescreen (1.85:1) with audio in Dolby 2.0 Surround (making Bill Conti's over-the-top theme song annoyingly clear). Three short and not very interesting featurettes are offered: A tribute to Burgess Meredith, a tribute to cinematographer James Crabe, and a behind-the-scenes look at some bad fight footage taken by director John G. Avildsen. Most interesting is the video commentary and very intimate interview with Stallone, who thoughtfully and articulately reminisces about the making of Rocky, all the while projecting an image that varies greatly from his dumb-guy screen persona. In addition, there is an audio commentary with Avildsen, Winkler, Chartoff, Shire, and Young. Theatrical trailers and original advertising materials also included. Keep-case.
—Kerry Fall

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