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'Rocky' Director on Blu-ray Release: 'It's Never Looked Better'

11 Mar, 2014 By: Chris Tribbey

Right while 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and MGM were planning the Blu-ray Disc release of the Rocky: Heavyweight Collection, John Avildsen, director of the first “Rocky” film, and the film’s pre-production manager Lloyd Kaufman (co-founder of Troma Entertainment) randomly found the best bonus feature that ended up included in the collection.

“We found a bunch of home movies from when we were shooting the film in Philadelphia in November of 1975, and we had forgotten all about this 8mm stuff. It was just sitting in Kaufman’s basement,” Avildsen said. “When he showed it to me, I was delighted. We had to edit it down and include it on the [release]. We put it up on YouTube, and the fans loved it, because nobody had ever seen what it looked like when we were shooting [the film].

“It had been sitting there all these years.”

That eight-minute bonus feature — narrated by Avildsen and Kaufman — tells the story of how Avildsen went against the wishes of the film’s producers, who wanted to use a union crew and shoot the film in Los Angeles. Instead, he got the non-union crew he wanted, to make the low-budget shoot in Philadelphia possible.

“We got about a dozen days worth of shooting before the Teamsters found us and shut down production,” Avildsen said, laughing. “Looking at that 8mm film, something I had never seen before, it brought back a lot of memories.”

That bonus feature (“8mm Home Movies of Rocky”) is just the tip of the three-plus hours of extras in the collection, which was released in February as part of MGM’s 90th anniversary collection. Other bonuses include a three-part making-of documentary, several behind-the-scenes and boxing featurettes, interviews, commentaries, and more.

But what’s most impressive about the collection, at least according to Avildsen, is the remastering work done with the early films to make them ready for Blu-ray Disc.

“It’s never looked better. It’s just amazing. I can see stuff I never saw on film in the original, snowflakes, and breath from the cold,” he said. “There are no scratches, no dirt. On film prints scratches and dirt are just accepted, and this Blu-ray version is flawless. It’s never looked better.”

To this day Avildsen is blown over by the reception of Rocky (which took home Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing Oscars). He said nobody involved realized the film would still be beloved the way it is today, almost 40 years later.

“It was a very sweet story, a love story, Sylvester was an unknown, a fresh face that nobody knew, and we hadn’t seen anything quite like it in the movies before,” he said. “Sylvester disappeared into that character. And it worked. It was a most-pleasant surprise, because we had no idea what it was going to be with audiences.

“We thought it was going to be on the bottom-half of a double-billing at a drive-in in Arkansas. There were no expectations.”

As for the rest of the franchise, Avildsen’s favorite film out of the five that came after Rocky may come as a surprise: he thinks 2006’s Rocky Balboa is the best of the bunch. After the original, of course.

“I thought the boxing at the end was a little too flashy, but the story up to that point was so well done,” he said.

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