PictureIn doing this comparison, I admit the cynic in me expected the same visuals as for the previous release just with improved sound - however I was pleasantly surprised to see a marked difference for the better in this new version - with some of the movies being drastically better. On the comparison photos, the original Anthology is always displayed at the top - you can see that the image is a lot more life-like with better colour reproduction on the newer versions. This can be seen most on the old Rocky's - with I,II and III really being given good treatment. Rocky IV is subtly better and in Rocky V I could see no discernable difference in the image quality between the two releases, but this is to be expected on the newer films. All of the films have benefited from a reduction in the amount of grain and picture noise - the example screenshots from Rocky II demonstrate this particular well - especially in the background.
SoundSo, I was surprised to see that picture quality had been improved for this release, but I knew that the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was going to be included for each movie rather than just I,II and IV as per the previous release. There was still a surprise to be had however; I was presented with a DTS option for each movie! In the previous version, Rocky had a DD5.1 (448kbps) soundtrack - this is present on the new version but has been joined by a DTS 5.1 (768kbps) version. Obviously this will be most people's favoured option and I was delighted to see it there for each movie. The first few Rocky movies aren't packed full of surround action and the sound still has a slightly compressed, older feel to it - both soundtracks give more depth to the soundstage during the fight scenes with crowd effects coming from the rears but as the original soundtrack was not recorded using this technology it would be unfair to criticise the soundtrack for not being state of the art when the movie is thirty years old! Rocky II has been most blessed in this package - going from a DD2.0 (192kbps) soundtrack to DD5.1 (448kbps) and DTS5.1 (448kbps) - this time the soundtrack does provide a bit more bang-for-your-buck. Both versions are very similar - and as usual DTS edges it slightly in perceived clarity and richness but really you'd struggle to tell either apart. The music, dialogue and effects have a lot more richness to them than in Rocky. Rocky III previously had a DD5.1 (448kbps) soundtrack and again, maintains this but now has a DTS5.1 (768kbps) option as well. Here the added bitrate of the DTS soundtrack pays dividends giving the sound a crisper, sharper edge to it. Dialogue is excellent, although once again there isn't much surround action so this isn't one to really stretch your system. Rocky IV also previously had a DD5.1 (448kbps) option and now returns with this and a DTS 5.1 (768kbps) option also. The same comments apply to this movie as with the previous ones - DTS is marginally better but neither soundtrack is comparable to the latest movie releases - primarily because of a lack of surround and LFE action. Having said that, this is the best audio anyone has ever had the chance to hear from a Rocky film so for fans this is worth it alone. Rocky V returns with a much needed boost - this always bugged me with the previous release - the newest film had the worst soundtrack of the lot, sporting only a DD2.0 (192kbps) soundtrack - this time they've released this with a DD5.1 (448kbps) and a DTS 5.1 (768kbps) version. Here the DTS really is the one to choose - the opening fight sequence really demonstrates how much crisper the sound is - you can feel the punches flying in with explosive clarity. The higher production values and more modern sound engineering used on this 90's release pay dividends here - this movie sounds a lot better than its remastered older siblings.
ExtrasWe've established that the video and audio quality of this Ultimate Edition are much better than any previous version and for that I'm sold alone, but for anything calling itself “The Ultimate Edition” one would expect a raft of extra features - especially for a series of 5 movies right? Well, not exactly - so it is here that I raise my first complaint about this set. There aren't that many extras to be had and those that are here are nearly all present on the previous version. My biggest gripe is that the bias is almost entirely on the first movie - I know that Rocky was an award winner and the sequels were just popcorn movies, but I also know that a hell of a lot of people (myself included) love those sequels. Surely across five films there was more to be said - if there is a “No this really is the Ultimate Edition - We promise” release then I'd like to see interviews with Mr.T, Dolph Lundgren, Tommy Morrison. Behind the scenes for each movie - fight choreography, how they came up with the training montages, the ideas behind each plot and so on... but I digress. In this release there is a separate disc dedicated to special features and on here you will find:
Interview with Sylvester Stallone (28m52s) - this was on the previous release. It was shot in 2000 and sees Stallone reminiscing about Rocky and how we wrote and began production of the movie. Interestingly, it was whilst at an Ali fight, that Stallone was inspired to write about the character of Rocky. He witnessed no-hoper Chuck Wepner knock down Ali and this gave him the idea for Rocky - the story of a man given his chance in life to do something that would be remembered for ever.
John Avildsen (Director) presents the making of the film's fight footage (11m53s) (again not new to this release) - this is a brief featurette by the director showing early 8mm test footage of the first fight between Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa. It is quite interesting to see how they choreographed the fight sequences and shot from angles to make the punches look like they were connecting. It was also used to show Stallone that he looked a bit overweight on the screen and needed to tone up a bit!
Tribute to Burgess Meredith (7m26s) (not new). This featurette has Stallone, Burt Young and Carl Weathers paying tribute to “Mickey”.
Tribute to the film's cinematographer - James Crabe (3m25s) (not new) - John Avildsen pays tribute to the cinematographer for Rocky, James Crabe who he praised for giving the movie it's gritty dark feel.
Director/Cast/Producer Audio Commentary - this too was present on the previous release and features John Avildsen and input from various cast members although I did not notice Stallone on there unfortunately. I didn't have the chance to listen to the whole thing but I am looking forward to returning to it at my leisure as the input from Avildsen, Shire, Young and Weathers sounded insightful from what I heard.
Also as per the previous version there is a trailer for each five films and 3 TV spots.
The first new feature comes in the form of “Staccato - interview with Bill Conti: The Composer's Notebook” (11m) - this featurette explains how composer Bill Conti scored the movie and his thinking behind the use of various instruments and musical styles. It was interesting to discover how he works and how he can alter the emotional involvement of the viewer with his music.
”Make Up!: The Art and Form - interview with Michael Westmore” (14m32s) is another new feature, this time looking at the make up and prosthetics used in Rocky. Obviously we are all familiar with the swollen eyes of Rocky at the end of the fight but it was interesting to learn that Burgess Meredith also had prosthetics to give him the effect of a broken nose and cauliflower ears!
Steadicam: Then and Now - interview with the inventor of the steadicam Garrett Brown (16m44s). This was a great little featurette - Garrett Brown is one of those guys who makes you think “Why didn't I think of that”. He invented the “steadicam” and has gone on to invent most of the camera equipment used in various sporting events for capturing live moving action. Here we see his first attempt at a steadicam and his test footage running up and down some steps outside of his local art museum.....yep, when John Avildsen saw this demo footage, not only did he want to use the camera but he also wanted to know where the steps were!! The rest as they say is history. It was funny for Brown to return to the steps for this documentary, to show us the original footage and then to be passed by groups of tourists running up the steps themselves, apparently something that most visitors to Philadelphia now want to do!
VerdictThe Rocky Anthology Ultimate Edition is the best way to watch Rocky films currently available - period. The most important aspects have been addressed - namely the video and audio quality, so for this alone I'm happy. The extras present here are fine and make enjoyable viewing, however I just feel that there has been a missed opportunity compared to the depth available for the collectors editions of other movies. I certainly hope this is addressed when this makes it's debut on the next generation DVD format as it surely will.
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