One of the most triumphant sports-drama franchises in film history returns with a new look in ROCKY IV: ROCKY VS. DRAGO — THE ULTIMATE DIRECTOR’S CUT.
Director-writer-star SYLVESTER STALLONE has masterfully revisited and reshaped the fourth entry in the Rocky Balboa saga. The film famously pits The Italian Stallion against his most formidable opponent: The towering Soviet terror Ivan Drago (DOLPH LUNDGREN), who killed Rocky’s friend and mentor Apollo Creed (CARL WEATHERS) in the ring.
During the Covid-19 shutdown of 2020, Stallone tackled his long-planned cut of the film, re-editing crucial moments, tightening the narrative, finessing the sound, trimming some scenes and adding to others. The result is ROCKY IV: ROCKY VS. DRAGO, which emerges as an artist’s fine-tuning of a legendary film as well as a fascinating time capsule of a pop-cultural moment when entertainment echoed audiences’ feelings and fears — in this case, the nuclear-fueled friction between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
ROCKY IV: ROCKY VS. DRAGO delivers the knockout punch Stallone envisioned, letting audiences step into the ring one more time with an iconic hero…and the rival who took the franchise in a new direction.
When it was released in 1985, ROCKY IV became the highest-grossing of all the “ROCKY” films. From writer, director and star Sylvester Stallone, ROCKY IV also features Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Brigitte Nielsen, Dolph Lundgren, Tony Burton, Michael Pataki, Robert Doornick, and Stu Nahan.
Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff produced the original film, with James D. Brubaker and Arthur Chobanian serving as executive producers.
MGM will release ROCKY IV: ROCKY VS. DRAGO — THE ULTIMATE DIRECTOR’S CUT on November 11th with a special one-night-only exclusive engagement in partnership with Fathom Events. The nationwide screening event will feature a live Q&A with Sylvester Stallone from Philadelphia. Tickets for the special event can be found at https://www.fathomevents.com/.
The film will be available on demand and digital everywhere beginning Friday, November 12th.
In 1985, the world saw Rocky Balboa rise to the challenge of battling, and ultimately defeating, the Russian fighter who killed The Italian Stallion’s friend and mentor Apollo Creed in Rocky IV. Released at the height of tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, the fourth entry in the astronomically successful film series that began with 1976’s Best Picture- winning Rocky, and continued with Rocky II (1979) and Rocky III (1982), the politically-tinged and personally challenging Rocky IV became the biggest moneymaker of the franchise as it launched the career of costar Dolph Lundgren, made Ivan Drago an all-time top movie villain, became one of the most beloved sports drama in history and set up the backstory for 2018’s hit Creed II, which saw Rocky coaching Apollo’s son for a match against Drago’s son.
Yet for SYLVESTER STALLONE — whose Academy Award-nominated original screenplay for Rocky set the stage for the iconic character’s nearly 50-year cinematic journey, including two Oscar nominations for his portrayal of Philadelphia’s favorite (fictional) son — there was, all these years later, still one more round to go with Rocky IV: He wanted to re-cut it into the film he always wanted it to be.
Stallone spent hundreds of hours in a Los Angeles editing room, going on a relentless hunt for unused footage, alternate audio tracks, alternate music, scenes to be trimmed and others that needed new angles. Among other things, he wanted to emphasize Rocky’s inner journey, Ivan Drago’s arc, Apollo Creed’s tragedy, and heighten the drama that is the heart of the film.
Among the exciting additions are 42 minutes of new footage blended seamlessly throughout the film. Additional scenes include Apollo (Carl Weathers) discussing with Rocky and Adrian (Talia Shire) his plan to fight Drago; Adrian telling Rocky her deep concerns about the upcoming Creed-Drago match; a graveside speech by Duke (Tony Burton) at Apollo’s funeral and a tense meeting at the boxing commission as it debates the fallout of Rocky going to fight in the Soviet Union.
Plus, the iconic Rocky opening banner (with the screen-filling title crawl moving from the right side of the screen to left) and classic end titles are now included. Among the boosted technical specs are remastered Dolby ATMOS (which places each voice, instrument, or sound detail in its own space to add clarity and depth, and elevating ROCKY VS. DRAGO’s music and aural atmosphere) as well as Dolby Vision Home Entertainment. The film will be presented for the first time in wide screen format (2.39:1).
BRINGING A HIT MOVIE INTO THE PRESENT Rocky IV premiered Nov. 21, 1985.
“There were takes from the film that I hadn’t seen since 1985 — it was so much footage, it was hard to wrap my head around,” says Stallone. “It was all there. I knew that I now could take the audience in a different direction, using sound and a new cutting pattern. Even in terms of its color: I wanted the Russian training sequence to be in a bluer, colder tone. And the final fight is now in more realistic color tones.”
The fight scenes — always the raw personification of heart, determination, and redemption in the Rocky films — were reconsidered just as much as everything else.
“Boxing films are the hardest to make,” notes Stallone. “The drama has to be worthwhile so that you know what a character is fighting for. Then the boxing match itself is a whole other movie — one with no dialogue. In real life, boxing is sloppy and rough and chaotic. It’s not structured. That’s one reason every fight Rocky has in the films takes on a different thematic element. The fight in Russia actually has a very futuristic feel.”
ROCKY VS. DRAGO also features some new versions of the film’s music — including clean, alternate takes of composer Vince DiCola’s exciting score and songs by James Brown, Survivor, John Cafferty, and others.
The pace of the film became a primary goal: Stallone wanted to tighten the film up while also letting certain moments have more breathing room. And as some scenes were cut, others were given a bit of time to increase their emotional wallop.
“I think I lacked patience as a young director,” Stallone says. “Rather than letting a moment sink in, I would rush through it. Now I see the fallibility in that. When you’re younger, you want to just cut to the chase. But what’s more important, the fight or getting to the heart of the fight? I didn’t believe in myself as a filmmaker the way I do now. What’s valuable isn’t the shine on something — it’s what’s under the shine that counts.”
THE MAIN EVENT: PERFORMANCES IN FOCUS
The technical achievements of ROCKY VS. DRAGO are just one level of the new version Stallone has created. The characters and performances take on added perspective as well.
Ivan Drago, especially, is given new depth in Stallone’s re-cut of the film. Now, the character is seen as more contemplative, even wary, as he fights in his home country and when he assesses the media circus he’s brought into when he arrives in the United States — including Brown singing the Grammy-winning song “Living in America” before Drago’s fight with Creed.
Apollo Creed’s tragic arc, and his fateful fight with the Soviet as well as Talia’s moving portrayal of Adrian are expanded upon.
“Without her, there is no him,” says Stallone about Adrian. “With Adrian, Rocky had something to live for, something to protect.”
STALLONE GOES THE DISTANCE FOR ROCKY VS. DRAGO
Re-cutting and reinvigorating the mega-successful fourth film in the Rocky franchise into what would become ROCKY IV: ROCKY VS. DRAGO naturally made Stallone reflect on his own life’s journey.
“I never thought we’d get past the first Rocky,” Stallone reveals. “To this day, I can’t describe what Rocky is. Maybe that’s the beauty of it — that the story touches levels even I don’t understand. One of the themes of course is that no one goes through life without bruises and sore knuckles. Life is a battle; it makes us go beyond what we think we can do. That’s why I wrote that line for Rocky Balboa in 2006, ‘Nobody hits as hard as life, it’ll beat you to your knees and keep you there if you let it.’ Everyone identifies with that.”
Stallone further adds, “I’m gratified that I got this chance to go into a time machine. I changed, and the movie changed. I’m a different person. I’ve lived a lot in the 35 years since the original was made. It transcends just being a boxing film — it’s now about man versus machine, rugged individualism, and about fighting the system.”
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