Rocky: The Knockout Collection synopsis:
The ROCKY I-IV 4K 4-Film Collection includes the MGM feature films ROCKY, ROCKY II, ROCKY III and ROCKY IV, along with the ROCKY IV Ultimate Director's Cut, ROCKY VS. DRAGO. This collection contains a Blu-ray disc featuring the hour-long behind the scenes documentary on the making of this extended director's cut of ROCKY IV, ROCKY IV: ROCKY VS. DRAGO as well as a selection of previously existing EC.(from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
As a child of the 80's, Rocky Balboa was a household name. It didn't hurt that I came from an Italian family either, as Rocky was also known as "The Italian Stallion." But Sylvester Stallone's breakout role spawned 6 Rocky films and now 3 spin-off Creed films, for a total of 9 Rocky-related feature films. This new 4K UHD box set, titled Rocky: The Knockout Collection, only compiles the first four films, but they're also arguably the strongest of the Rocky saga. In all honesty, I have no recollection as to which Rocky movies I saw as a kid or how much of them I had seen. Rocky IV released when I was just 5 years old, but I think I have the most memories of that one, especially because of Creed's tragic demise. Included in this set is the theatrical version of Rocky IV and an all-new Director's Cut of Rocky IV that Stallone assembled during the COVID downtime. It's a more serious presentation that omits a bunch of footage and substitutes new scenes, only being a few minutes longer than the original, but including quite a bit of new material.
So how do these films from the late 70's / early 80's look in 4K UHD? Quite excellent, actually. I was impressed with the color and clarity of all four movies. It really breathes new life into them, especially the earlier entries. Although grainy at times, they still look truly great, and I never stopped being impressed by it. The only issues I found - and I'm not sure if this is the same for other resolutions - but the snow scenes in Rocky IV are really blown-out. The contrast is so high that the white of the snow is so bright that all detail in it is lost. However, the contrast of the characters in the snow looks relatively normal. It's a minor issue, which may have a lot to do with the quality of the film from the mid-80's, but it is pretty drastic.
Along with the four films on 4K UHD discs, there is a fifth disc for the special features, as well as a code for 4K digital copies of all four movies plus the Director's Cut of Rocky IV. Unfortunately, you can only redeem them on VUDU (I tend to prefer iTunes, but it's not a big deal).
Now on to the films themselves...
Rocky (1976) 2 hours / rated PG - Ah, the original that started it all. Honestly, I'm not sure I had previously seen all of the original Rocky film. And if I did, I have little to no recollection of it. Probably, as a kid, I zoned out for the "boring" dramatic parts and tuned in to the more exciting boxing scenes. However, as an adult viewer, I not only was surprised by how character-driven the movie is, but I was surprised by how little actual boxing is in this movie. It's definitely the slowest of the four films, but it does a lot to introduce these characters, their relationships to each other, and who they are as people. This is by far the most realistic and grounded of the four films. The acting is great, too, and I can see why this movie was so highly regarded for its time. It's a classic underdog story, and Stallone plays Rocky as a bit slow, but still lovable. This story is as much about his love affair with the painfully shy Adrian as it is about him becoming a fighter. The character development drops off a lot after the second movie, but these first two films really flesh the main characters out. 4/5 stars
Rocky II (1979) 1 hr, 59 min. / rated PG - I was impressed with how smoothly and naturally Rocky II continues the story from Rocky. It feels like a completely natural continuation. While the first film ends with Creed insisting there wouldn't be a rematch, his struggle with there not being a clear winner of their fight bruises his ego and pushes him to seek a rematch with the Italian Stallion. Obviously, this works in Rocky's benefit and not in Creed's. It's a strong entry in the saga and may be the best of the bunch. I also loved how Rocky prays a lot. He even asks to visit a hospital chapel when he's there. And, before his rematch with Creed, he visits a priest's home and asks for a blessing. And from this movie on, Rocky is shown blessing himself before his fights and often thanking/acknowledging God. In the end, though, Rocky II is nearly as slow as the first film, but it also further develops Rocky and Adrian's romantic relationship, and we even see them getting married. Again, these movies feel so grounded in comparison to those that follow, even if the popcorn-munching enjoyability of the following sequels makes them a bit more engaging. 4/5 stars
Rocky III (1982) 1 hr, 39 min. / rated PG - From the beginning, Rocky III illustrates Balboa's rise to stardom and success as the champion fighter. What's weird, though, is how Rocky suddenly seems sharper and less "slow" and Adrian has overcome her shyness. It does make these characters feel more relatable, but it doesn't feel as true to the characters themselves. There is a lot more boxing action in Rocky III, which makes it a bit more fun to watch, but it's also super evident how much thinner the characters are portrayed this time around. We also then see the passing of Mickey, and how that affects Rocky, and see Rocky basically lose his mojo. Seeing Creed step in as his new manager is a fun twist, and I really like how that ultimately changes Rocky as a fighter. That final fight between Rocky and Mr. T as Clubber Lang is really exciting and a highlight of these four films. By this point in watching these movies, I was all-in. 4/5 stars
Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago the Ultimate Directors Cut (1985/2021) 1 hr, 33 min. / rated PG-13 - I remember very little of the theatrical version of Rocky IV, but Drago beating Creed literally to death has always stuck with me. With the COVID lockdown, apparently Stallone kept himself busy by recutting Rocky IV as Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago the Ultimate Directors Cut. As a result, he cut out some frivolities - like Paulie getting a robot (?! ... I have no memory of that), and inserted more character scenes between Rocky and Creed, Creed and his wife, and Rocky and Adrian. Drago's character is also bulked up, and more motivation behind the character is revealed. All in all, what Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago does for the film is really tightens up the story and helps it flow better with the previous entries. Unfortunately, it still suffers a bit from thinner character development and Rocky and Adrian feeling so different than their characters in the first two movies. Granted, maturation and life's changing circumstances (like stardom, for example), can definitely cause character change, but it still feels a bit jarring when you transition from the first two movies to the next two. This cut is pretty good, and that final showdown between Rocky and Drago is super exciting, but this movie is still the weakest of the four. As a side note, the Director's Cut is rated PG-13 for brief strong language, but I didn't hear any. I'm not quite sure why it received that MPAA rating. 3.5/5 stars
It's kind of funny to me how I had little interest to revisit these classics over the years since they first released. But watching this set and basically binge-watching the first four movies really gave me a new appreciation for this series. I definitely want to watch Rocky V now (which I'm pretty confident I've never seen in its entirety) and rewatch Rocky VI (AKA Rocky Balboa). I'm also really curious how the Creed movies feel after watching Rocky's journey play out. In the meantime, Rocky: The Knockout Collection is an excellent upgrade for the films visually, and I highly recommend this new transfer for any fans of the franchise.- John DiBiase (3/15/23)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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