PictureRocky Balboa comes to us on Blu-ray with a full High Definition 1080p video presentation in the movie's original theatrical widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The rendition certainly makes it look like the beautiful brand spanking new movie that it is. The detail is fantastic throughout, with very little softness indeed, and any grain there is very obviously intentional - like on the blue monochrome flashbacks (although some of the handheld shots do 'suffer' from that Michael Mann-esque 'real' look). The colour palette is limited only slightly by the fairly cold Philadelphia location although all of the colours come across vividly. Considering Stallone directed it, there are some memorable shots - like the backlit ice rink scene - which give it a nice, classic feel. And of course there are the glitzy, bright, colourful fight sequences, although they - I have to say - are nothing particularly spectacular. I guess if you keep remembering that it's a sixty-year-old versus a thirty-year-old in the ring, you can't help being impressed by the voracity of the fighting, and certainly the definition on the action in the ring is outstanding, further making this standout as an exemplary Blu-ray video presentation.
SoundFor this, the sixth and final Rocky movie, the BD-DVD release gets two main sound options: a regular Dolby Digital 5.1 track and an Uncompressed PCM 5.1 audio mix, the latter of which is arguably the best audio option available on High Definition formats to date. The dialogue comes across clearly - even Stallone's frequently mumbling banter - and coherently, predominately across the frontal array, except from perhaps the restaurant and bar mumblings and crowd cheers which populate the rears instead. Effects are predominantly small and subtle, the L-train getting plenty of exposure and background atmospherics taking over for the most part, at least until those thunderous punches towards the end of the movie. The score is quite simple throughout, mostly formed from instrumental variations on the original Rocky theme - which works quite well - and when it is cranked up for the climax of the drama you can feel the hairs prickling on your arms and it is simply tremendous.
ExtrasFirst up we get an Audio Commentary by Director, Writer and Star Sylvester Stallone himself. He talks about the way he shot things, the music he chose, the order of scenes and the concepts he came up with. A great deal of it was centred on returning Rocky to his roots, and with that he certainly succeeded. He talks about the character, developing him further, his surroundings and the relevant locations chosen, as well as the tone of the movie - which could have been saccharin-sweet but managed to avoid it without losing any resonance. Hearing about the little ideas he came up with (keeping a chair at the graveyard because he goes so often) is actually very interesting, and some of his visual imagination comes across quite eloquently from the man behind it all, Stallone. If you like the Rocky movies, or Stallone himself, this is requisite listening, but those who don't realise just how much more than a muscle-bound action hero he is should also give this their time. One of the best Commentaries that I have come across.
There is a Featurette which takes a brief look at the fight makeup of Rocky Balboa, with Stallone talking about the makeup tests, and some of the artists contributing comments about the realism of it all. At little over ninety seconds in length, it is nothing substantial but is worth checking out. Skill vs. Will: The Making of Rocky Balboa is much more comprehensive, taking eighteen minutes to look at how this production came together. Inspired by the last George Foreman fight, we hear how Stallone always wanted to make a nice closing chapter for Rocky. There are plenty of interview snippets from the cast and crew involved, talking about the character, the legacy and the inspiration that it provides to audiences worldwide. They chart the script, completed nearly half a decade back, and how it was finally put into production when Stallone made the decision to make it happen, looking at the casting, and the fight to return to the original feel of the first chapter. There's plenty of Behind the Scenes footage and some nice on-set chats, and it is well worth watching.
Reality in the Ring: Filming Rocky's Final Fight takes a fifteen minute look at the climactic end battle in the movie, with lots of Behind the Scenes footage of training, choreographing and shooting this momentous fight. Some of the advisors comment on how Stallone 'wrote the manual' on creating film boxing matches and we get the big man himself talking about how he filmed it, the sounds that he created for the punch impacts and the idea of using a real boxer as his opponent. Watching Sly's training regime is, on its own, pretty inspirational and this is a very interesting companion piece. Virtual Champion: Creating the Computer Fight spends five minutes looking at the making of the computer-simulated fight used in the movie. Showing Stallone and Antonio Tarver sparring for the sake of the computer, getting digitally scanned, cast in plaster and discussing what they wanted to portray, this is a nice little addition, again dominated by the ever-interesting Stallone. It closes with the full, uncut computer-generated fight which also makes this thoroughly worth watching.
We get over twenty minutes' worth of Deleted Scenes, as well as an interesting Alternative Ending which changes the outcome at the end of the movie quite significantly. We get more of Rocky and Paulie in a super little scene set within the meat refrigeration warehouse, an alternate take of the first meeting between Rocky and Marie, more of Rocky and Marie's son, and more about Paulie's thirty-one years of service, also further establishing the fact that Rocky and Paulie were sharing a flat. Finally there's some sparring work set to Opera music which might have worked well as part of the montage. All of the scenes are presented in their original aspect ratio and look tremendous, and considering that they are all extremely watchable I would not be surprised if they were amalgamated into a Director's Cut in the near future. Finally we get a bunch of Previews for upcoming Blu-ray discs.
VerdictRocky Balboa is a welcome return to form for Stallone, who has proven his abilities once again as a writer, director and as a star - and also as a boxer - even in his sixties. The Blu-ray presentation of this movie is outstanding, with near-perfect video and the best audio representation available for the soundtrack, as well as some worthy extras that are definitely worth forging through. Fans will appreciate this as a Dark Knight Returns (for non-Batman fans this was Frank Miller's superior vision of an aging Batman) version of Rocky, an excellent final chapter to Stallone's most popular creation. Seeing Rocky return is an inspiration in itself and you simply must pick up this excellent release to add to your collection. Recommended.
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