While new Blu-rays of old movies are sometimes dubious replacements for prior editions (hence the need for this column), box sets released in the high-definition format have thus far been fairly helpful, at least in terms of shelf space: many or most of them forego a lot of the frills and flourishes of their standard-definition iterations in favor of more streamlined packaging. Unfortunately, that's also sometimes extended to their extras, thanks in no small part to the legal entanglements of transferring commentaries and bonus content from one format to another.
Both Warner Brothers and Fox have faced this challenge a couple of times thanks to their ownership/ adoption of the libraries of MGM and United Artists, which until a few years ago issued their own releases. Rocky, which is one of United Artists' premier franchises, was recently released on Blu-ray in The Undisputed Collection, a set that contains all six of the films in the series, but it remains to be seen whether complete also means comprehensive in this particular case.
What's Already Available:
Rocky was previously released several times on DVD both as a standalone title and in Rocky-themed box sets. 2006's Rocky Anthology featured remastered versions of the first five films (it was released prior to Rocky Balboa) and no extra content. Meanwhile, a Special Edition of the first film was released in December of that same year and featured three commentaries, a three-part making of documentary called "In The Ring," seven featurettes, TV spots and trailers, deleted scenes and a collectible booklet.
What's In The New Set:The Undisputed Collection features all of the films as well as a bonus that has more than three hours of extras and special features. Additionally, all of the films are presented in high definition with 5.1 DTS-HD audio tracks, or in Rocky Balboa's case, English PCM 5.1 uncompressed audio.
What's The Difference In The Movie Itself: Like many Blu-ray reissues of films more recently released or updated on DVD, the films basically feature the same transfers as their standard-definition version, albeit now presented in uncompressed high definition. Much like the DVD transfer for the '06 edition, Rocky shows its age (and its initial price tag) with picture presentation that has a lot of grain and soft detail, but with the exception of the new film, which was transferred to HD when it was originally put on DVD, it by far looks the best of the series.
According to online information the '06 Anthology set boasted remastered presentation of the other films as well, but here they're all grainy and muted, with soft colors and a focus that quite frankly should be sharper in high definition. Meanwhile, in terms of the content of the films, they're all the same as in previous sets, with no edits or changes implemented.
What's The Difference In Everything Else: This set unfortunately is a victim, at least in part, of the same rules that kept the bonus materials for Robocop off of its Blu-ray release. None of the films have commentaries, which means that the first film lost all three of the existing ones, and the new ones, well, they never received (and one might argue, they never deserved) one. Further, almost all of the special features on Disc Seven are the same as the ones on the '06 Rocky Special Edition, which begs the question why the commentaries couldn't also carry over in addition to the featurettes and other stuff.
That said, the material is all genuinely interesting – a featurette about Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown explores a footnote in filmmaking history that is virtually unknown to anyone outside the industry – but again it would have been interesting to see something new among these existing extras, or in lieu of that a sort of one-stop set that collected everything together.
What's The Final Grade:C. The appeal of the Rocky series is mostly predicated on personal experience – all of the films aren't great – so if you saw certain ones at important times in your life (at least cinematically speaking), then this set is a must own. But for folks on the fence, the transfers are definitely not terrific, and the slate of extras is incomplete, especially if you've already spent some money on making this palooka a winner.