The original theatrical cut of Rocky IV is 91 minutes long. The new director’s cut of the movie runs 93 minutes. But it’s got a lot more new material than what’s in those 120 extra seconds.
According to the film’s press release, Rocky IV’s director’s cut (which is officially titled Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago) contains “40 minutes of never-before-seen footage.” The reason Rocky vs. Drago isn’t 130 minutes long is because writer/director/ star Sylvester Stallone also trimmed a lot of scenes from the theatrical version. Hence, we now in a world with two Rocky IVs that are basically the exact same length and vastly different viewing experiences.
The key additions include a new opening montage that recaps almost all of Rocky III, a longer funeral for Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) that includes a eulogy from Tony Burton’s Duke, and a meeting between Rocky and a boxing commission where he demands permission to challenge Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) to a match. Lundgren himself gets a few more lines and so does Talia Shire’s Adrian, who cautions Rocky about rushing into a fight that could kill him and ruin their seemingly perfect lives of wealth and fame.
Rocky vs. Drago’s most significant cut is already famous: The elimination of Paulie’s Robot. One of Rocky IV’s early scenes involves a birthday party for Adrian’s brother Paulie (Burt Young). For some inexplicable reason, Rocky gives Paulie a robot as a gift. The robot then becomes Paulie’s servant and, for even more inexplicable reasons, begins speaking in a breathy female voice. The robot (who was named Sico, if you’d like to refer to him formally) was originally built as a teaching tool for autistic children; Stallone encountered Sico with his own son and then decided to put him into the film. The pure mind-boggling what-the-f—ery of a sophisticated artificial intelligence appearing without explanation in a story about a palooka boxer from the mean streets of Philly has made Paulie’s Robot an object of fascination for decades of Rocky fans.
Not for Stallone, though. When he began hyping the Rocky IV director’s cut last summer, he warned his Instagram followers “I don’t like the robot anymore,” and insisted to one commenter that “the robot is going to the junkyard forever.” Sure enough, poor Sico is nowhere in sight in Rocky vs. Drago. Stallone didn’t just snip out some of his dialogue, or cut out some of his closeups; he completely removed every single entire scene that featured Paulie’s Robot. He never appears. He is never referred to. Paulie now lives a meaningless, robot-free existence. There hasn’t been a movie robot this completely obliterated since Arnold Schwarzenegger dropped the T-1000 into a vat of molten steel.
It’s amazing how different Rocky IV becomes just from cutting out Paulie’s Robot. That’s because Stallone originally put Paulie’s Robot front and center as the comic relief in almost every scene in the film’s first act. For example, he’s the focal point of Paulie’s birthday party. You couldn’t remove him from the scene because he’s in almost every single shot. So Stallone omitted the scene entirely.
He did that several times. He cut out the part of the scene between Apollo, Rocky, Adrian, and Paulie (seen above) where they’re interrupted by Sico, and removed the scene where Rocky washes his Lamborghini in his driveway while he explains to his son (and the robot) why he boxes for a living.
These cuts drastically change the tone, pacing, and flow of the film’s first act. Pretty much all the comedy is gone, replaced by a more earnest story about Rocky and Apollo confronting their personal demons. “We have to be right in the middle of the action, cause we’re the warriors,” Apollo tells Rocky while trying to justify his decision to come out of retirement to fight Drago. Can these warriors — or anyone — change their nature? Apollo argues they cannot, and he pays the ultimate price for that belief.
That idea comes full circle at the end of the film, when Rocky delivers his impassioned speech to the Russian audience at the boxing match, and notes that “during this fight, I’ve seen a lot of changing, in the way you feel about me, and in the way I feel about you. In here, there were two guys killing each other, but I guess that’s better than twenty million. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!”
While those themes come through loud and clear in Rocky vs. Drago, that clarity comes at the expense of mudding up its narrative. Cutting out all of the early stuff with Rocky’s family (and the dreaded robot) also removes all the connective tissue setting up the relationships between the (non-robotic) characters. The first scene in the director’s cut after the opening recap is Apollo in his pool watching a news report about Drago; that cuts directly to Apollo and Rocky talking in the backyard of a mansion. The juxtaposition makes it seem like Rocky’s come to visit Apollo at his house, but in fact, it’s the opposite; Apollo went to see Rocky. (The director’s cut removes all the scenes establishing Rocky’s mansion and the moment where Apollo calls him on the phone to say he’s coming to visit.)
Similarly, there’s a moment later when Rocky seems to head off to Russia alone for his match with Drago, and then when his plane lands Paulie is suddenly there without explanation — because Stallone removed the scene from the theatrical cut where he showed Paulie packing for the trip. Paulie’s Robot appeared in the background, so the whole thing had to go. (Paulie’s part in general is just a sliver of what it was originally, mostly because he shared almost all of his scenes with that darn robot.)
Some of these changes feel like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Yes, Stallone got rid of the silly robot and yes, Rocky IV is more serious as a result. I’m not sure, though, that what Rocky IV needed was more solemnity. This is a movie that starts with a montage and ends with a montage and has about six more montages in between in the span of 90 minutes. James Brown does a full-blown musical number and Stallone lifts an ox cart full of people to train for his match with Drago. In the big finale, Rocky ends the Cold War single-handedly with his impassioned speech about change. (In the theatrical cut, Mikhail Gorbachev even gives him a standing ovation!) This is not exactly Battleship Potemkin we’re talking about.
At worst, though, Rocky vs. Drago represents a really interesting experiment where the director completely reworked and reshaped the same set of material two times across a stretch of 35 years. (Both are worth watching in concert with the YouTube documentary about the making of the director’s cut.) And while some of the alterations weaken the film in my opinion there’s no denying that in presenting a drastically different vision for Rocky IV, Stallone is only reinforced its key theme about the vital importance of accepting change in all our lives.
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