"Rocky Balboa," the sixth and allegedly final installment in the "Rocky" franchise, hits theaters Dec. 22, and the filmmakers have wasted no time courting religious America for the release.
While not an overtly religious film, "Rocky Balboa" is being marketed to churches as a witnessing tool. (RockyResources.com)
MGM has enlisted Motive Entertainment to help market "Rocky Balboa" to faith audiences. Motive is headed by Paul Lauer and is based in Westlake Village, Calif. Lauer helped market "The Passion of the Christ" and "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."
The Network Solutions database indicates that Motive Entertainment registered the URL rockyresources.com in August 2006. The site, now online, offers various print and electronic resources for sharing what the Rocky marketing team calls "the greatest underdog story of our time."
(As a refresher, "Rocky," written by and starring Sylvester Stallone, premiered in 1976. It earned
10 Oscar nominations and won in three categories: Best Picture, Best Film Editing and Best Director. Sequels followed in 1979, 1982, 1985 and 1990, though none captured the critical acclaim of the original.)
As expected, RockyResources.com uses boxing-themed language, referring to "rounds" of self-help steps and sermons that have "punch."
The site is splashed with words like "courage," "integrity," "faith" and "victory," and nearly every click turns up a Bible verse. One of the most obvious fits for the movie is 2 Timothy 4:7: "I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith."
While the site offers generic marketing tools like free Web banners and wallpapers, it also includes some very specific resources targeted to the faith community.
One such resource is the free "Rocky Balboa Outreach Box," which includes a resource DVD, leader's guide, fliers, posters and other items. It calls this a "faith-based resource kit."
That leader's guide can also be downloaded as a PDF. It runs nine pages and includes a preface by Motive's Paul Lauer, who writes, "Rocky is tailor-made for teaching the biblical themes of courage, integrity, faith and victory!" The guide includes short lessons on each of those topics. Curiously, the guide's last page quotes two people: Sylvester Stallone and the Apostle Paul.
One of the more interesting resources is the downloadable PDF of "tickets" that function like tracts.
"Get your ticket to the fight of your life!" reads one ticket/tract. At bottom is a reference to the verse from Timothy mentioned above. Other tickets talk about the fight between good and evil. One ticket ends thusly: "If you'd like to find out more about going the distance in the fight of your life, and having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, talk to the friend who gave you this ticket or visit www.RockyResources.com/ticket."
That link actually goes back to the home page of RockyResources.com, where there doesn't appear to be anything specifically about "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ."
The home page does feature, however, an exclusive video of Sylvester Stallone, now 60.
"I know you all stand for strong values, and I respect that," says Stallone. "As a husband and dad, I struggle every day to live a life of faith and values." Stallone has two children from a previous marriage and three children with his wife, Jennifer Flavin.
Stallone goes on to talk about Rocky and his story.
"Whether he won or lost a fight, he became a hero because of his faith, his hope and what was in his heart," says Stallone. "This film has a powerful message that will inspire a lot of people." The new movie is rated PG for "boxing violence and some language."
The site also links to recent news articles about the film. One of those articles is from Focus on the Family's Citizen Link, written by a FOTF staffer who participated in a November conference call between Stallone and religious leaders.
The site also streams a video of various pastors and faith leaders talking about the film, as well as a "Keeping the Faith" trailer made especially to convey the spirit of the film. This trailer, however, feels no more or less inspirational than the regular trailers. "Rocky" has always been about heart and fight and spirit, and it certainly doesn't need a specially edited preview to make it that way.
Lastly, the site makes available audio files of Stallone answering questions about the film and his own faith.
You can hear Stallone talk about his Catholic upbringing, his lostness, his renewed faith. At one point he talks about Rocky as a broken figure who brings others together and in so doing does God's work.
"The church is the gym of the soul," he says in an extended comparison of how people need the church for guidance like athletes need trainers.
Some people may approach RockyResources.com skeptically. After all, isn't it just another attempt by Hollywood to exploit faith? Maybe. But recall that "Rocky" actually begins with a portrait of Jesus. And throughout the films, we see Rocky in church, having his son baptized, on his knees praying before bouts.
Of course, he also pounds people in the head, but we're not deconstructing boxing here. It does merit mention, however, that Rocky's interest in faith hasn't entirely been superimposed on the franchise in 2006 for the upcoming film. The character has a track record of least acknowledging God and the role of religion. In fact, the real weakness of RockyResources.com is its lack of anything that highlights Rocky's faith history and story.
All told, the easy-to-use site stands as another fascinating exhibit in Hollywood's ongoing interest in faith dollars.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
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