It’s us versus them. Those who want the Theatrical Cut of Rocky IV or those who want Rocky vs Drago: The Ultimate Director’s Cut. Fortunately, it’s not an arms race for nukes because this Best Buy Exclusive 4K UHD SteelBook has both cuts on the same disc. This ridiculous sequel is a true fan favorite for its 80s excess, legendary training montages, and the best fights of the franchise. Aside from that brief odd aspect ratio shift, this 4K disc offers up two unique but great-looking Dolby Vision transfers with excellent audio options.
Rocky IV - Theatrical Cut
Rocky III entered the era of 80s excess and Rocky IV lives it in style-over-substance geopolitical pandering - and it’s incredible! Edited like an MTV music video, the film features multiple music montages minus the iconic Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” trading in for “Hearts on Fire” by John Cafferty. Rocky avenges the death of his friend by taking on the biggest fight the Russians could throw at us Ivan Drago (the actually crazy brilliant chemist and martial artist Dolph Lundgren). It’s loud, it’s over-the-top but it’s also a hugely entertaining flick. 4/5
Rocky vs Drago: The Ultimate Director’s Cut
35+ years later, Stallone got the notion of re-editing the most financially successful Rocky film into something less 80s-excess and more dramatically satisfying. For the most part, it works. The fights are re-edited for maximum impact while a lot of the goofy humor and Paulie’s robot are excised entirely. It’s an interesting alternate take that some may prefer over the original version but isn’t strong enough to completely replace. 4/5 - Read my theatrical review
To be honest, I have a stronger affinity for the calmer more introspective Rocky vs Drago: The Ultimate Director’s Cut than I do the original theatrical cut, but I don’t really think one is naturally better than the other. While I appreciate Stallone going the distance to excise Paulie’s Robot and give Apollo more of a character arc than just being a jingoistic “us versus them” one-note personality, I do love that the Theatrical Cut has a better sense of humor and doesn’t quite take itself quite so seriously.
Stallone’s editing hand was a little heavy for this Director’s Cut leaning harder into the melodrama where it doesn’t really add anything. Especially for a sequel that is still so ridiculous and over-the-top. He could have dropped the midnight drive music video montage and had a net positive effect on the overall film without changing much else. I’ve watched both versions a couple of times in the last year or so now and I can say earnestly I don’t really have a favorite. I just feel more for one or the other depending on the mood I’m in. No matter what it’s still the critic-proof popcorn flick it always was and remains an incredibly entertaining adventure for the Italian Stallion
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Once more into the fray, to the last (for now) 4K Rocky fight I’ll ever know. At last, we come to Best Buy’s Exclusive 2-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital release of Rocky IV with Rocky vs Drago: The Ultimate Director’s Cut. This is the same BD-100 disc we got with the not-quite-so-Knockout Collection disc but this time with a 1080p disc that is the same one from the Fox/MGM set of Rocky IV. There is no 1080p Blu-ray release to date of Rocky vs Drago. Also missing from this release is the bonus features disc found in the Knockout Collection 4-film set, so that’s something to consider.
The fourth and most joyfully ridiculous entry in the franchise explodes onto 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a gorgeous 1.85:1 2160p Dolby Vision transfer… well… it’s almost all 1.85:1. Inexplicably there’s a scene at about the 10:17 mark where Rocky is chatting up Rocky Jr while washing the Lambo where the aspect ratio randomly shifts from 1.85:1 to 1.78:1 and back to 1.85:1. It lasts all of a few seconds - but it’s noticeable and very odd and the lone issue for this disc. Otherwise - the transfer looks great. Details are impressive letting you fully appreciate fine facial features, the costumes, and the production design work to turn Jackson Hole, Wyoming into Siberia.
The Dolby Vision HDR is an asset to this film in particular with all of the flashy colors, highly-stylized cinematography, and dramatic lighting effects. Those training montages and music video interludes never looked better with deep inky blacks, bright bold colors, and crisp bright whites. Depth is impressive, especially when the action moves to “Siberia” for Rocky’s training sequence to Hearts on Fire. 4.5/5
Rocky vs Drago: The Ultimate Director’s Cut
Now even though it’s on the same disc as the theatrical Rocky IV, it’s a completely different-looking film. Top to bottom this 2160p Dolby Vision transfer is its own beast. For starters, Stallone reframed the film for 2.35:1 - why I’m not sure when none of the other films in the series appear that way, but there you are. This version of the film may only run about three minutes long but it uses almost 45 minutes of alternate and deleted footage. Overall details are often striking giving you a full appreciation of fine textures and facial features, but some of the alternate footage looks to have been touched up a bit to make the film more uniform. The clearest examples of this are seen in the press conference footage introducing Drago and later when Adrian confronts Rocky about his decision to fight.
Likewise, the color timing for this edition is notably cooler with more of a slate gray appearance without going into dreaded teal/orange territory. The Dolby Vision HDR grade works with these alterations nicely, so the new version of Apollo talking to Rocky about fighting Drago is bright and beautiful with natural outdoor lighting and colors with Rocky’s baby blue shirt. Black levels are deep and inky offering up healthy shadows and terrific image depth. Primaries are bright and bold - considering how Apollo enters the exhibition match those reds, yellows, and blues are brilliant and bold but skin tones are natural and healthy throughout. Definitely has a different appearance but a good-looking one on 4K - and like the alternate cut itself fans of Rocky IV are likely to have some varying feelings about one version over the other. 4/5
Finally - a disc that doesn’t have an audio issue! Everything is spot on and right on the money for this disc and for both cuts of the film. The 5.1 and 2.0 options for the Theatrical Cut are terrific offering full-throated music cues, impactful sound effects, and clean clear dialog throughout. When Hearts on Fire kicks in, it's almost impossible not to leap out of your seat and try to work in some crunches. The few genuinely quiet conversational sequences are in great shape, but the mix really comes to life for the fights and generally sounds pretty fantastic throughout giving you a nicely immersive surround experience. 4/5
Rocky vs Drago: The Ultimate Director’s Cut
Re-editing the movie wasn't enough for Stallone, he also had to go in there and rework the audio for the fourth film for a more impactful DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track. Supposedly this was given an Atmos mix for the one-night-only theatrical outing. Now I didn't get that experience because my local theater shoved us all into the smallest screening room in the complex. But playing the Theatrical Cut and this new Director's Cut side by side, this new mix has a lot more LFE. Bass notes in music and the slams from the punches have a lot more impact. Most of the mix is still relatively front/center with sides only acting up for busy scenes, but as a whole, this 5.1 has a bit more heft to it. 4.5/5
Rocky IV and therefore by extension Rocky vs Drago: The Ultimate Director’s Cut more or less proves the old adage that you can have too much of a good thing. The film was a rip-roaring financial success upon release (the highest grossing of the franchise) and while completely ridiculous and removed from the every-man reality of the first two films, it’s a crowd pleaser popcorn-chomping great time. But it also left the franchise nowhere else to go but down with Rocky V. 35+ years and two very different cuts later, we now have Rocky IV on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and it’s an interesting release for sure. Each cut has a unique transfer to enjoy with the Director’s Cut looking a little more polished, slightly different color timing, and a little tweaking to get the old deleted footage to match up, but it looks and sounds great. Sadly Warner Bros. didn’t include any bonus features and again this disc does have that odd couple of seconds on the Theatrical Cut where the aspect ratio shifts, but that’s the only screwup there. WB may or may not correct the disc, we’re still waiting for word on that.
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