Rocky Blu-ray Review

From an unknown young fighter randomly picked to challenge champion Apollo Creed because of a colorful nickname to a weathered and battered ex-champion struggling to make ends meet, The Italian Stallion has had to continually fight tooth and nail for respect throughout his six-film career. You’d think the Philadelphian icon would catch a break and receive a red carpet treatment in his high definition Blu-ray debut after winning the Best Picture Oscar and being labeled as one of the greatest films of all time that. Then again, nothing ever comes easy for Rocky Balboa.

The original Rocky has risen past mere American pop culture status and become a permanent fixture in our lives. His heroic ascension from rags to riches and soul mate discovery in wife Adrian became, and still is, the classic American dream for millions of everyday Joes. Ask your friends, neighbors and co-workers if they’ve ever quoted Rocky, hummed the theme song or dreamed of one day jogging up the Philadelphia Art Museum steps to raise their hands in victory. Chances are they’ll respond with an emphatic YES. I can proudly say I’ve stepped foot on those very steps and hope to one day do so again, only this time under the shadow of the now permanently affixed Rocky 3 statue.

Our love for Rocky is both a blessing and a curse. The franchise’s popularity thrust Sylvester Stallone into the title role for one last round this past December which coincidentally timed with MGM’s entry into the Blu-ray Disc field. Rather than wait and coat the original “Rocky” with the treatment it deserves, MGM rushed out a bare-bones Blu-ray Disc release just in time for the theatrical release of Rocky Balboa. On one hand there’s jubilation in watching the now cleanest version of Rocky on home video to-date. But on the other it’s impossible not to miss the scores of featurettes, deleted scenes, commentaries and BD-J interactivity befitting a cinematic masterpiece.

MGM has encoded Rocky onto a 25GB single-layer Blu-ray disc via MPEG-2 at 18MBPS. The opening scene featuring Rocky sparring in a grimy washed-out gym signals what might be a horrendous transfer with enough fuzzy grain texture to make the sequence look like long shot archival footage from seventy years ago. But at the film continues outside the gym and various Philly locales, the picture sharpens up tremendously with strong contrast and detail while still maintaining a slightly aged-yet-improved overall sheen. By the time Rocky and Apollo square off for their epic showdown, all memories of the horrific opening scene picture quality have been erased.

Rocky features a brand-new DTS-HD 5.1 Master Lossless audio track in addition with the original 1.0 mono track found on previous DVD releases. The step up to lossless audio is a noticeable one through spreading the score and select ambient sounds into the surrounds and adding more oomph a 1.0 compressed mix simply cannot provide. Still, most of Rocky is dialogue driven and this compresses a large portion of the audio into the front soundstage, leaving Rocky with an appropriate “dated” aural experience despite a nifty new 5.1 mix.

What if MGM had waited until “Rocky Balboa” was ready for home video release before rushing out the original on Blu-ray Disc? Would we have gotten a 50GB treatment with all the bells and whistles? We’ll never know the answer for certain, but I’d call it a safe bet to assume a beefier version of Rocky on Blu-ray will see the light of day. Until then, this simplistic release offers the best audio/video presentation of Rocky yet, and for many of you, some high-def Rocky is better than none at all.

– Dan Bradley

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