Much though the fairly recent jigging around of the Sky Movies system seems to have taken a lot of new films off the air – splitting the channels into individual genres seems, instead, to have been an excuse to dump the back catalogue back onto prime time – there has been one upside. And that’s the channel called Sky Modern Greats.
I’m not sure who creates the criteria for what qualifies as a Modern Great, and thus what should be broadcast on the channel, but I’d flat out love that job. After all, anyone could stage a pub argument as to what constitutes a Modern Great and have a sporting chance of getting away with it, and even the website of the channel seems to have no idea about selection criteria. “What constitutes a Modern Great?”, it asks. “Is it the box office success? The Critical acclaim? A combination of factors? What are your Modern Greats? Be a part of the discussions on our forum dedicated to the Modern Greats Debate!”. It’s Web 2.0 talk for “Fucked if we know”.
Still, the channel has been showing some cracking movies, which even briefly cause you to stop thinking why you’re watching this in Sky broadcast quality when you’ve got a DVD of said film not three metres from your feet. The Untouchables? To Live And Die In LA? Annie Hall? Sin City? We’ll have some of those.
But searching through the listings really throws up some bizarre inclusions. Sitting alongside Salvador, Amistad and The Usual Suspects, for instance, we found, er, Death Wish 3 and Death Wish 4. The first thoughts in our mind weren’t quite “I wonder if anyone vets these listings properly”, but words with a similar meaning. Sixteen Candles was quite a find, presumably to flush out the Molly Ringwald fans paying their direct debits, and then even Rocky V appeared. That’s the really crap one where there’s not even a proper boxing match.
Yet suddenly, through the mist of all of this, came a shining beacon, a film so majestic it positively demands a channel of its own. Perhaps the single greatest blockbuster sequel of the 80s. A film so tinged with brilliance you wonder if everyone else should have stopped making movies right then. It was Rocky IV. Truly, truly a Modern Great.
Rocky IV is, of course, the one where Stallone fights the invincible 63 foot Russian boxer Ivan Drago, played with such a menace and sneer by Dolph Lungdren that it’s to the shame of the Oscars they snubbed him. Not seen it? Get the Sky subscription going, and ignore the fact that we’re about to ruin all of the intricate, tightly-woven plot.
Of course, where the Rocky series is concerned, you’re supposed to love the brilliant Oscar-winning original the most. Even Rocky III, where Mr T and Hulk Hogan get in on the act, is a contender for the best sequel in the franchise.
Yet Rocky IV trumps them all. In many ways, it’s outright genius. Introduce an opponent who’s effectively the prototype for Robocop, and have him kill your best friend with one punch. Give said opponent very few lines, but make them key. “I must break you”, should just about do it. Then, go and fight him in the middle of Moscow on Christmas Day with a crowd who hate even the sniff of an American, yet alone that man from the Rambo films who shoots everyone. Move the training montage to the snow, and throw in KGB agents. That’ll work. And then, in the boxing match proper, have the robot kick the shit out of the title character for half the fight.
And here’s the twist. Never mind those punches from Drago have 72 times the power of anyone else in the entire world (as has been, crucially, scientifically proven earlier in the film), all they seem to do when they hit Rocky is hurt his eye a bit. Yet when Rocky then lands a punch back a few rounds in, Drago predates the Transformers movie by switching from a one-man killing machine into a right pussy cat, happy to have seven shades knocked out of him for the time it takes a fierce crowd to decide this Yankee bloke is great after all. Heck, why not even chant his name?
Wars should be settled in the same way the seeds to the ending of the Cold War were sown in Rocky IV. Not with delicate negotiation, or diplomacy. But with a Rocky movie. And much though Rocky I is great, and even Rocky Balboa is a surprisingly good comeback, the franchise surely topped out with Rocky IV. It’s five-star blockbuster brilliant, and its mere inclusion on Sky Modern Greats alone has delayed my cancelling of my subscription for one more month.
After that? If it dies, it dies…