Written by: Carroll Jenkins on December 18th, 2013
Release Dates: Various
DVD Release Date: November 19th, 2013
Approximate running time: 540 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33.1 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo English
DVD Release: WWE
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $29.93
A documentary celebrating the 50th year anniversary of the world’s largest extant wrestling brand, WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment).
The documentary begins pretty much with the formation of the CWC by Vince McMahon Sr. whose bread and butter was from the booking of Madison Square Gardens for boxing matches and wrestling events. Conflict with the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) prompted Vince Sr. (with partner ‘Toots’ Mondt) to secede and form the WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation). Buddy Rogers was their first ‘star face’ but was injured shortly thereafter and replace by Bruno Samartino. His reign is described in some detail, as is the genius and generosity of Vince Sr.. At about the 15 minute mark everything melts into a puddle of veneration to Vince Jr. as wife and two-time senate race loser Linda McMahon begins the accolade of Vince Jr. and the documentary now glorifies his selection of Hulk Hogan as his star commodity.
Stop the press. I grew up watching wrestling in Nashville, TN with Gorgeous George an obvious highlight, and I pelted my dad with questions that he was reluctant (or unable) to answer. In later years I followed the various regional telecasts as best I could with the likes of Paul Rogers, Baron Von Raschke, and other heel (and face) talents; tag team champions Ric Flair and Greg ‘The Hammer’ Valentine; outrageous managers including Jim Cornette and Sir Oliver Humperdink; and announcers such as the inimitable Gordon Solie. This was the world of professional wrestling from the early sixties through the late seventies. Starting in the 80’s with the advent of cable TV a new wrestling brand was available, the WWF on the USA Network. Problem was, despite entertaining announcers such as Gorilla Monsoon, Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura, and later Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan, the matches were all dreadfully predictable and always featured a star and a jobber (professional loser). Many of the matches were incomplete and often ‘joined in progress’ which greatly lessened any enjoyment to be had. Worse still, many of the performers had little or no actual wrestling capability. Wrestling was becoming lots of theater and little technique; mostly punches and chops and bouncing off the ropes. Hulk Hogan’s wrestling moves were limited to the ‘big closeline’, ‘big leg drop’ and ‘big boot in the face’.
Now back to our regularly scheduled review. The documentary now chronicles the cable era, and especially WrestleMania’s I – III, and Saturday Night’s Main Event. Then we stop dead in the water to tear our hair asunder over the unfair steroid trials (this is at about the 50 minute mark). The Monday Night Wars period with WCW is next, with the RAW and Attitude eras. Finally there is the coronation ceremony of Vincent Kennedy McMahon as Emperor Of Wrestling (I exaggerate a bit).
There are lots of interviews with wrestlers and managers involved with WWE over the years, though a few of them don’t look particularly happy to be there. Bret “The Hit Man” Hart comes to mind in this regard, whereas other wrestlers are very enthusiastic and eager to participate such as George “The Animal” Steele.
The archival footage varies quite a bit in quality, of course. What doesn’t vary is the omnipresent WWE watermark, which leads to speculation that this is just a TV show ported over to DVD with two additional discs of matches slapped on. These are some famous matches, but most likely many fans will already have some or all. This includes McMahon’s WCW acquisition announcement in which he fantasizes firing all the WCW stars face to face. The biggest and greatest surprise is that the documentary and all the match commentaries are closed captioned.
Since WWE now holds the libraries of about 80% of wresting from the regional promotion era, it would be great if we could have some box sets that seriously document the history of wrestling, and not just that of the McMahon family.