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ROCKY BALBOA
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver, Geraldine Hughes, Milo Ventimiglia, James Frances Kelly III
Director:  Sylvester Stallone
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Sony
Features:  See Review
Length:  102 Minutes
Release Date:  March 20, 2007

ďYouíre one CRAZY old man!Ē

ďYouíll get there.Ē

Film ***1/2

Thereís something about Rocky Balboa that appeals to the underdog in all of usÖthat small, persistent voice we all have that reminds us nothing is impossible.  Perhaps thatís why, out of all the formula movies that have rolled off of Hollywoodís endless conveyor belt, fans have been flocking to Rocky for better than 30 years.

He was the brainchild of writer and actor (and oft-times director) Sylvester Stallone, who launched his memorable character into box office and Oscar glory and one of cinemaís most storied franchises.  Like many franchises, Stallone may have dipped into the well a few too many times over the years.  There was a noticeable decrease in quality from installment to installment, until the final one, Rocky V, did little to further the champís legacy and left a lot of bad tastes in mouths.

But like Rocky, there was no quit in Stallone, and like Rocky, Stallone may have faced his biggest underdog challenge to date when he chose to resurrect his classic creation one last time.  Stallone strapping on the gloves as he crossed the 60 year mark?  It was an idea ripe for ridicule, unceremonious venom, and possibly the stake that would forever drive the heart out of a once glorious cinema sensation.

Yet Stallone had the last laugh.  Though critics were waiting to deride, and many fans, myself included, were quietly uncomfortable and wincing at the very notion, Rocky Balboa surprised us all by going the distance and being the very embodiment of art imitating life.  If Stallone was too old to bring back Rocky, Rocky was too old to BE brought back.  And that makes the point of the film:  age is just one of many obstacles life throws at us.  We each deal with it as we do all others; each according to his gifts.

Rocky Balboa is an emotionally riveting return to form for Stallone, the character, and the franchise, and Stalloneís script and surehanded direction provides the perfect bookend along with the first movie.  This is a film that isnít afraid to look to the future through the past, and each nostalgic glance backwards is a heartwarming reminder of all that Rocky and ourselves have been through in 30 years.  Characters we havenít seen in forever are here, including the Rockís one time nemesis Spider Rico, and even Little Marie, who isnít so little anymore.

Stallone puts an aging Rocky in uncharted waters by robbing him of one thing heís had for decades, and thatís the stability and inspiration of his wife, Adrian.  As the movie opens, we learn his dutiful life mate has passed on.  Rocky mourns year after year by making the rounds in Philadelphia where they had their special moments, along with his brother-in-law Paulie (Young), aging also but less interested in living in the past than Rocky.

His fighting days are long past, and now Rocky runs a small restaurant, where the locals who still consider him a celebrity drop in for food and stories of his glory days.  The current champion is a young fighter named Mason Dixon (Tarver), a man whose professional career has seemed easy.  Heís never lost, never had to go the distance, but is accused of fighting purposely inferior athletes to pad his record.  Needless to say, he isnít as beloved as Rocky.

Rocky is also dealing with his son Robert Jr. (Ventimiglia), all grown up, and trying to make his life out of the shadow of his father.  He also encounters Little Marie (Hughes), a grown single mother with a teenage son (Kelly).  Each encounter points to Rockyís past and to his uncertain future.

That future is soon shaken up when a sports show creates a simulated computer fight between Mason Dixon and Rocky in his prime.  In it, Rocky wins.  It means nothing, but it gets restless boxing fans stirred up.  And for Mason, whoís losing his marketability as champ, it means a strange opportunity as presented by his managers:  a charity exhibition between the aging Rocky and the hotheaded young talent.

Itís crazy, but well-timed, because Rocky has been trying to get his boxing license reinstated.  He wants to do some small club fighting because something inside is still troubling him.  Maybe itís the prospect of aging and fading away, or maybe itís the lack of Adrian in his life.  But when a chance comes Rockyís way, he always makes the most of it, even when nobody believes in him, including his own son. 

Rocky Balboa really isnít so much about one last fight as it is the ongoing fight.  Nor is it so much about defying your age as it is facing it with dignity.  And it isnít a question of whether a 60 year old man can step into the ring again realistically or not, but about what we choose to do every day of our lives, no matter what stage weíre in. 

This film has most of the heart of the first chapter, with Stallone as writer, director and actor in top form and lucky enough to have the character of Rocky speak everything he probably wanted to say himself.  Like his character, nobody gave Stallone a fighterís chance in the world at realizing his dream at his age.  And like Rocky, Stallone proved naysayers wrong with grit, determination, and yes, heart.

Video ***1/2

This is the case of a Blu-ray disc starting off pretty good and getting better and better as it goes along.  Some early shots show a little grain and a touch of murkiness, but by the time the story gets to Las Vegas, it looks absolutely spectacular, with bright colors, sharp crisp images, and plenty of action (mostly staged to look like a real pay-per-view event) that showcase the capabilities of a 1080p system. 

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 audio does the sameÖthere arenít many demands placed on it earlier, but what happens in Vegas stays in your surround system.  Crowd action, dynamic range, and plenty of boxing open up the listening experience and give this disc a late round knockout.

Features ***1/2

The features are generous and enjoyable, starting with a solid commentary from Stallone sharing his experience at bringing back his most famous character one last time.  There is a making-of featurette, deleted scenes with an alternate ending, bloopers, a look at the filming of the final fight, and how the virtual boxing sequence was created.

Summary:

No one believed Rocky could enter the ring with a much younger champ.  No one believed Sylvester Stallone could recreate his classic character at his age and have it be anything but an embarrassment.  Rocky Balboa therefore is the story of not one, but two big-hearted champions who have lived their lives defying the odds and shaking up the world.  Itís a moving, fitting farewell.

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