It was great news to hear: the entire Rocky franchise was coming out in a box set on Blu-ray. We could at long last enjoy the whole Sylvester Stallone series in glorious High Definition. Granted, some of the entries in this series were bad enough in the pan-and-scan VHS days, but a sliver of an upgrade every now and then never hurts…
And that’s just what MGM and Fox have given us here: a sliver of an upgrade. While Rocky: The Undisputed Collection brings all six films to Blu-ray (to date — you never know when Sly Stallone will decide to revisit the character in the future), the transfers are less than satisfactory in some cases. For those of you who are actually unfamiliar with the franchise (I find it hard to believe that there are moviegoers people out there who have not at least heard of the films), the series told the tales of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), an underdog boxer from Philly who became a sports legend worldwide.
The series started out with an iconic Academy Award winner (the first Rocky, in 1976) which changed the face of American cinema. As time went on though, the human drama that exploded off of the screen in the first film soon gave way to pale comparisons marred by weak writing (the extremely campy and dated Parts III through V have special reputations for being included in such a category). Finally, thirty years after the original, writer/director Stallone returned to revisit his famous creation with Rocky Balboa, the second-best entry in the line-up next to the first film.
Both Rocky and Rocky Balboa have been on Blu-ray before. Sadly, the releases of those two titles included in this set are identical to the standalone issues, so if you are content with simply owning those two flicks by themselves, there is no need to buy The Undisputed Collection. As for Rocky II through Rocky V, HD lovers will be ready to box MGM/Fox execs over the lack of care that has accompanied these Blu-ray transfers. While Rocky V is at least half-way decent looking, the rest (Rocky II and III stand out in my mind as culprits) are as flat as you can get.
Best defined by the word “lackluster,” the sheer A/V awfulness that is sometimes beheld in Rocky: The Undisputed Collection is a victory for greediness and laziness, and a crushing blow to the very thing Blu-ray set out to do in the first place. All of the new Blu-ray releases in this set are presented in their original 1.85:1 aspect ratios, with 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfers. Grain is noticeable throughout many scenes, while black levels are so bad that you can’t tell where a shadow ends and the background begins. Sometimes, the presentations come through and offer up a decent High-Def experience (such as the L.A. training montage footage from Rocky III).
Audio-wise, the new-to-BD films sport fresh 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless soundtracks, which come through fairly well — especially during the fight scenes — but can let you down when it comes to the standard dialogue scenes. Additional soundtracks include French, German, and Italian DTS 5.1, Spanish DD5.1, and Portuguese 2.0. Although there’s no mention of such on the box art, there are about twenty-some-odd subtitle options to be found on some of the newer discs.
Rocky through Rocky V are all barebones releases. And so, for the true bonus material aficionado, Rocky: The Undisputed Collection brings a bonus seventh disc into the ring full of special features. Among the goodies included are a 3-part documentary, a handful of featurettes (vintage and new alike), trailers/TV spots, and an interactive game. All in all, there’s some good stuff housed here (running over three hours total), and there isn‘t much that’s sorely missed from the old SD-DVD box set (apart from the audio commentary from the first film, and maybe a few other odds and ends).
In short: while the bonus disc is most welcomed (as it usually is in any set), the whole reputation of the set remains battered due to the lousy audio and/or video presentations found on Rocky II through V. Unless you are completely content with a few sub par Blu-ray transfers or must own the set for the sake of perfectionism, add Rocky: The Undisputed Collection to your rental queue. Otherwise, skip it.