The Italian Stallion goes the distance on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a Best Buy exclusive single-title Rocky two-disc SteelBook. The film packs a punch with a genuinely impressive Dolby Vision transfer. The same DTS-5.1 track has been brought over, but the “restored” original theatrical audio is wrong and may be worth WB offering a disc replacement. In the plus column, with the included Blu-ray you pick up an excellent assortment of bonus features. Highly Recommended if you like the 5.1 audio or don’t mind waiting for a disc replacement
Just another bum from the neighborhood. That’s all anyone sees when they spot Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). By day he’s a collector for small-time loanshark Gazzo (Joe Spinelli). By night Rocky is the Italian Stallion - a low-ranking heavyweight fighter. Even when he wins a fight, he’s still a bum. But he’s someone with something to prove. When he’s not fighting or collecting, he’s training at Mighty Mick’s (Burgess Meredith) gym or trying to woo his best friend Paulie’s (Burt Young) sister Adrian (Talia Shire). But when the Heavyweight Champion of the world Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) needs a new challenger for the upcoming Bicentennial match, the Italian Stallion will have his shot to prove that he can go the distance and isn’t just another bum from the neighborhood.
If there’s evern been a more true underdog film (inside and out) I don’t know what it’d be. Inspired by the real-life 1975 Chuck “The Bayonne Bleeder” Wepner vs Muhammad Ali fight, struggling actor Sylvester Stallone crafted a story about a Philadelphia club fighter given his chance to take on the Champion. Producers wanted it, and United Artists loved it - but they didn’t want Stallone to star. Knowing this was his real shot at making it as an actor, Stallone made his starring in the film conditional of the sale of the screenplay. The studio went along, but they slashed the budget to a thread-bare one million dollars.
Big scenes would have to be cut entirely, scaled down, or flat-out shot without permits, and even then, to finish the film producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff had to mortgage their houses to cover the final costs. Rocky would go on to be the highest-grossing film of 1976 scoring Best Picture, Director, and Editing Oscars with nominations for Stallone as writer and actor, Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith, Burt Young, and Best Sound, and Best Song. Nearly fifty years, five sequels, and three spin-off films later, Rocky still goes the distance.
This is one of the few films I have seen countless times and never tire of. Ever since my parents rented it when I was about eight, I’ve been a fan of the film. I may not love all of the sequels as equally, but I can’t get enough of Stallone’s endearing everyman who always finds a way to take the hits and keep getting back up. The complete antithesis of his Rambo persona, Stallone’s Rocky is all heart, instantly lovable, and relatable. You want him to succeed from the first time you see him fight in the dirty dregs of Philly to the big bought with Creed. If this had been the only film about Robert “Rocky” Balboa, it’d still be a timeless cinematic story worth revisiting again and again.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Rocky takes his first hits on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a Best Buy Exclusive single-title 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital release. The 4K disc is identical to the one found in the not-quite-so Knockout Collection and the included Blu-ray is the exact same disc offered by MGM/FOX for the Heavyweight Collection and remastered solo-title releases. So this one does have some extra features at least. The 4K disc opens to a static image main menu while the older blu-ray has an animated main menu.
The first and best of the series understandably has the most mixed results on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. The 1.85:1 2160p Dolby Vision transfer is undeniably a step up over the past Blu-ray releases offering genuinely impressive details with a rich film-like appearance given the film’s low-budget-scrappy gritty nature. By and large facial features, the 70s clothing, the grimy Philadelphia locations like the opening boxing arena to Mick’s gym to Apollo’s lavish office digs, you can fully appreciate every crevice, character line or grease stain on Paulie’s clothes. Dolby Vision HDR works some lovely visual magic for this film greatly stabilizing and enhancing black levels, giving whites that crisp lovely quality, while primaries are giving ample attention. The red and yellow of Rocky’s robe to Apollo’s over-the-top Uncle Sam outfit during the entry for the big fight is lovely stuff.
My one hiccup for this transfer is that it does look as if a little bit of smoothing was employed to balance some of the rougher heavier grain photography. The film famously was under-budgeted and would shoot illegally without permits to get shots done as quickly as possible. Those scenes look a lot cleaner and you can see the shift in film grain structure. However - it’s not a complete disaster. It’s employed judiciously, and it doesn’t appear completely scrubbed out since there’s still plenty of clear film grain and fine details, but you can feel the effort to make a small handful of scenes look more uniform to the rest of the film. Not a deal breaker but I wish they’d left it alone. Overall this is certainly miles better than the streaming 4K presentation that’s been around the block for a while since this disc doesn’t have to contend with bitrate issues and internet connection nonsense. 4/5
Well, if you’re here for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, you’re in luck because it sounds pretty solid. It wasn’t a track that was absolutely necessary to have in 5.1 but I’ve always liked it. It’s certainly not the best use of 5.1 since it keeps pretty front/center for long stretches and occasionally some dialog hits come in a little hot and loud, but overall it got the job done and for the iconic training montage “Gonna Fly Now” still sounds terrific and the big fight is a nice stretch in the mix. If you have a DTS Neural X function on your setup, it definitely helps deliver some more impact for the track.
But the big foul-up for this release is the DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that is not the original theatrical mono mix as indicated but a fold-down. And an obvious one at that. This definitely should be the original track and worthy of issuing a corrected disc for fans. While I’d probably stick to the 5.1 anyway, I’m also a bit of a purist and tend to prefer the original theatrical recordings when available. To that end, I’m not giving a final verdict here until a replacement is or is not confirmed.
Fairing far better for fans of bonus features is this single-title release of Rocky. This time around the previous 2015 Blu-ray was included that offered up a ton of excellent bonus features in addition to the great commentary tracks. Some of these extras carried over for the not-quite-so-Knockout Collection bonus features disc, but most didn’t so it’s nice to have pretty much everything ever created for this film in one convenient spot again.
Rocky 4K UHD Disc
Rocky is cinematic perfection. Written by an aspiring actor struggling to make ends meet on his own, the film is the perfect everyman story that’s instantly relatable and lovable. Stallone delivers a magnetic performance, one that he’d rarely ever match throughout the rest of his long career. Now on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, the film makes for a pretty damned excellent 4K UHD Dolby Vision presentation while coasting on the solid but not always necessary DTS-5.1 track from past releases. The shame of this release is that what was supposed to be the film’s original theatrical mono track is instead just another fold-down mix - and this will hopefully be corrected with a disc replacement soon. On top of the slick looking SteelBook art, this set also offers up the Heavyweight Collection Blu-ray that offers up all of the bonus features that were missing in the not-so-Knockout Collection. You may want to wait for confirmation of the disc replacement before grabbing it, but if you decide to snag Rocky on 4K - this SteelBook is the best way to go to get the most punch for your buck. If and or when replacement discs are confirmed and issued, we'll update our reviews accordingly.
Until Warner Bros. officially addresses the issues with the Rocky discs, we're withholding a definitive final Star and Recommendation rating