|Written by Mel Odom|
|Sunday, 01 July 2007|
People said, A sixth Rocky Balboa movie with a near-60 year old Sylvester Stallone? No way. Everyone figured it was a desperate dream on Stallone’s part, and that he’d dragged people along for the madness. But people forget that “Rocky” the original movie was such a long shot in the beginning too. Here was a no-name guy who had dreams of being a movie star with his fist wrapped around his own B-movie script that movie studios were trying to buy at a (then) reasonable price. By accepting the deal, he would have been able to move his family into a better home. Taking what was on the table would have changed Stallone’s life.
But it wouldn’t have changed Stallone’s life forever. So he kept that big fist of his tight, closed his eyes to everything that was being offered, and focused only on what he wanted: to see the script he wrote realized in the manner he hoped for. The first “Rocky” movie cost a little over a million dollars to shoot. It went on to win Oscars as best picture and for director (John G. Avildsen,) and to gross over $200,000,000. The franchise was launched almost immediately.
Speculation about the plot of “Rocky 6”, as it was being called during pre-production, rose all over the internet. Many people thought this one would show the death of Rocky. They thought the mantle would be passed on to a younger boxer/son. Either of those paths would have led to dissatisfaction with the end. Fans weren’t that happy with “Rocky V”, though many still argue that Rocky’s street fight was the bomb.
Instead of focusing on the boxing and the violence that he could have, Stallone’s script and directing concentrates on Rocky Balboa, the person. The years haven’t been kind to Rocky. He lost Mickey in “Rocky 3”, lost Apollo in “Rocky 4”, and lost all the wealth he’d had in “Rocky V”. But in “Rocky Balboa”, Rocky has lost the greatest thing in his world: his wife Adrian.
Rocky’s scene at Adrian’s grave is heartbreaking. Not so much because Stallone is a great actor, but because Rocky Balboa is such a great character. Even people who weren’t swayed by the boxing championships could always see the love Rocky had for Adrian. That loss resonates stronger than writing or directing.
Burt Young returns to his role as Paulie Pennino, Rocky’s brother-in-law. The opening moments of the film are mesmerizing for the true fan of the series. So many memories get covered in a few short moments. And it’s done so well through the different filters of Rocky and Paulie. Rocky grieves painfully for Adrian, but Paulie is racked by guilt over how he treated her while she was still alive. The fact that these two men are still connected emotionally is a driving part of this film. That the relationship still stands is a statement of the fictional relationships as well as Stallone’s own sense of what Rocky’s world would really be like.
The movie builds slowly. If this was a stand-alone movie, it might not have worked. The beginning is too far off from any kind of pay-off. And there are some other problems with character development outside of Rocky that probably would have gotten the script nixed. But this is “Rocky Balboa”, the culmination of thirty years of history and the sum total of one man’s life.
Rocky’s relationship with his son, Robert Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia), is strained because Robert is trying to find a life beyond his father’s shadow. Although that circumstance would probably happen in real life, it feels a little artificial in the movie and gets solved far too easily, but again: this isn’t a movie about other people. This is a movie about Rocky.
There’s a tentative romantic relationship initiated as well. Staying with the roots of the movie world, Stallone re-introduces Little Maria (Geraldine Hughes), a woman he told to stop smoking (in the first movie) when she was a young girl. Now she’s grown up and has a son who might turn out to be a juvenile delinquent without proper male guidance. Geraldine Hughes is a great foil for Stallone. She brings some of the same nervous innocence and reluctance to trust that Talia Shires as Adrian had. Even better, Stallone chose only to show the friendship part of whatever relationship Rocky and Little Maria might eventually have. So fans can have it either way they want it: that Rocky remained true to Adrian, or that Rocky found someone else he could love during his final years.
Stallone chose Antonio Tarver, a real light-heavyweight boxer, to play Mason “the Line” Dixon because he wanted realistic boxing scenes at the climax. As a matter of fact, those scenes are some of the most realistic in any boxing movie. Critics and fight enthusiasts, for the most part, agreed about that. Tarver doesn’t exactly scintillate on-screen, but he anchors the threat and villain part just fine. Incidentally, Tarver reportedly knocked Stallone out by accident during filming because Stallone insisted on physical contact.
Tony Burton reprises the role of cornerman Tony “Duke” Evers for Rocky in this film. Burton originated the role in the first movie as one of Apollo Creed’s crew. Besides Stallone and Young, Burton is the only person to have appeared in all six films.
The audio and video presentation of the movie are impressive. Featuring uncompressed audio tracks, “Rocky Balboa” is a knockout. The street noises, the conversations, the explosions going off in the ring at Las Vegas, and the stirring music is all clear and spins through the surround sound system really well.
Visually, “Rocky Balboa” is a dream. Rocky’s neighborhood comes to brilliant life. The gray, gritty streets mix with light and shadow. The scene when Rocky changes Little Maria’s burnt-out light bulb is beautifully lit and the high-def rendering available on the Blu-ray disc allows that to happen on the screen easily. The pomp and color of Las Vegas are astounding, and it’s all captured on the digital video on this disc.
The special features included on the disc are good. It’s nice to see the deleted scenes, but nicer yet to hear Stallone talk about what he was thinking and feeling while the movie was being made. Most of all, though, with the alternate ending added, fans can watch and see why the movie had to end the way it did.
“Rocky Balboa” won’t be to everyone’s taste. People coming to the series late probably won’t get it at all, or they’ll just see the plot conventions as mechanical applications. Stallone’s script is emotional for anyone tied to the series, but someone new to Rocky’s story won’t buy in on this one because it relies so heavily on past events and understanding of character. But for the fans, this is the movie that needed to be made to give them perfect closure to Rocky.