In just under a week, WWE will release its latest DVD/Blu-ray: The History of WWE – 50 Years of Sports Entertainment.
Today, I am going to be looking through the documentary and Blu-ray exclusive stories.
As we have reported previously the total run time for the documentary is a little over 2 hours, and not the 3 hours which was stated on the early marketing materials. I know this caused a degree of disgruntlement amongst fans, especially when it was accompanied by what some collectors feel to be a rather lackluster collection of matches and moments.
After watching the documentary I can say it does provide a good overview of the past 50 years of WWE, however as you may have expected some topics were glossed over or simply omitted completely – maybe that additional hour would have helped with this?
The feature opens with footage of Vince McMahon arriving at WWE headquarters and walking through the building and on into his office. This leads to the more “traditional” DVD open which has been featured on the site a few weeks ago (watch).
A criticism which certainly cannot be leveled at this documentary is under delivering on the number of subjects interviewed. The sheer number of interviews on the set is quite spectacular; ranging from newly recorded interviews with Linda McMahon, Undertaker, Roddy Piper, Bret Hart and Jim Ross through to recycled interviews from previous projects. The newer interviews are used more often through the documentary while the older individual interviews are used sporadically with some only being used once. A good job is made of integrating the new and archive footage as the older interviews are presented in widescreen format with no sidebars.
Here is a list of SOME of the talent which is featured within the documentary:
- Arnold Skaaland
- Basil DeVito
- Blackjack Lanza
- Blackjack Mulligan
- Bob Backlund
- Bobby Heenan
- Bret “Hitman” Hart
- Bruno Sammartino
- Chief Jay Strongbow
- CM Punk
- Dick Ebersol
- Ernie Ladd
- Fabulous Moolah
- Freddie Blassie
- Gene Okerlund
- Gerry Brisco
- “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant
- Howard Finkel
- Hulk Hogan
- Jack Brisco
- Jake “The Snake” Roberts
- Jerry Lawler
- Jim Duggan
- Jim Ross
- Jimmy Snuka
- JJ Dillon
- John Cena
- Kid Rock
- Larry Zbysko
- Linda McMahon
- Mae Young
- Mark Yeaton
- Michael Hayes
- Michel Cole
- Mick Foley
- Ozzy Osborne
- Pat Patterson
- Paul Bearer
- Paul Heyman
- Randy Orton
- Ric Flair
- Rocky Johnson
- Rowdy Roddy Piper
- SD Jones
- Shawn Michaels
- Sherri Martel
- Stan Hansen
- Stephanie McMahon
- Stu Saks
- Ted DIBiase Sr
- The Rock
- Tony Chimmel
- Triple H
- Vince Russo
You may have noticed a glaring omission from the above list and you would be correct. Vince McMahon is not interviewed for the documentary. The only occasions when we hear from the Chairman are through archive clips from news stories and special features on the company. In my opinion, especially given the open, there should have been some “closing thoughts from the Chairman” in which he discussed the 50 year milestone of the company with a possible forward looking statement.
The documentary is formatted in a very similar way to “The True Story of WrestleMania”, even down to the fact that the feature is voiced over by renowned film, television and voice actor: Keith David. A minor criticism would be that at times when introducing WrestleMania III, The History of WWE feels very similar to The True Story of WrestleMania, however given both are discussing the same thing, in a similar style – this was inevitable.
The documentary in earnest begins looking at the history of McMahon family in the promotion business; from Jess McMahon and then on to Vincent J McMahon and beginning the Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC) and the TV show Heavyweight Wrestling from Washington, here we hear stories of those early tapings from Blackjack Mulligan and Lou Albano.
The next portion of the documentary looks at the CWC breaking away from the NWA, Buddy Rogers and the Bruno Sammartino era. The North East portion of the United States is then attributed as helping towards the success of McMahon Sr’s business with its heavily populated cities and the importance of the wrestling magazines, which were published in the area. The stars of the 1970s are looked at next including Andre The Giant. To conclude this portion we are given insight into TV syndication and the logistics of “bicycling” tapes from TV station to TV station, used to set the stage for the next part of the documentary and the rise of cable TV.
The documentary then moves on to 1982 and the purchase of the promotion by Vince McMahon and Titan Sports. We are given insight into Vince McMahon’s plans to take his North East promotion nationwide, using cable TV as the primary method for distribution and the fact that a national promotion would need a worthy top star to carry the business, enter Hulk Hogan.
Hulk Hogan and Hulkamania is examined in detail and the attributes which made Hogan perfect for the role of #1 attraction with his tremendous charisma which brought the company mainstream attention. The mainstream attention was especially important leading into the first WrestleMania. The first WrestleMania and its build is looked at, along with Linda McMahon’s explanation of the importance of the financial success of the show to both the promotion and the McMahon family.
The next landmark for the company was the first Saturday Night’s Main Event and the partnership with NBC. It is explored how Saturday Night’s Main Event revolutionized WWE’s television production – even to this day. Dick Ebersol explained how the show brought WWE an additional level of attention and awareness. The expanded audience was then capitalized upon in ways which were incredibly unique for the wrestling business – consumer products. This video was featured on the site just a few days ago (watch).
The next major milestone for the company is looked at now: WrestleMania III at the Silverdome. We see some of the build to Andre The Giant vs. Hulk Hogan, and this is the only real storyline which is looked at during the documentary. The highlights of which for me were a very rare 1984 promo from Andre discussing challenging Hogan for the championship and hearing from fans about their predictions for the Hogan/Andre WrestleMania showdown. From the build to the show the documentary moves to the actual event itself, as we hear from superstars who appeared and their thoughts on competing in front of the 90,000+ in attendance. The expansion of pay per view is covered next with the addition of Survivor Series, Royal Rumble, etc. until WWE were running a PPV each month.
The next section was potentially one of the most interesting topics going into the documentary – The Steroid Scandal. We see footage from a March 1992 press conference with Vince and Linda McMahon discussing steroid use within the then WWF. This is then complemented with hearing from 2013 Jake Roberts, Roddy Piper and Jim Duggan about their experiences with steroids and how they felt them necessary to cope life on the road; at this point, in my opinion it felt like we were using the word “steroids” as a catch all term for drugs in general. Discussion is given to Dr. George Zahorian and the 1994 trial, with its effect on WWE and the McMahon family. It is even mentioned by Paul Bearer about the plan for Jerry Jarrett to assume running WWE’s day-to-day operations should a guilty verdict be returned for McMahon. This section of the documentary is supported with news footage and even clips of Vince McMahon and “Superstar” Billy Graham appearing on The Donahue Show. Only the steroid scandal is looked at, while the other sex scandals of the era are not discussed.
Coming out of the Steroid Scandal it was explained that WWE’s business was down; many of the top stars had left for WCW and thus came the necessity for a “New Generation” of WWE stars. The documentary then moves on to discussion about the formation of Monday Night Raw – its original premise and where it has come to today. The launch of Nitro and the Monday Night War is discussed and the financial strife which being on the losing end of the war was having one WWE. This is used to segway into discussion of the Montreal Screwjob and then onto the birth of The Attitude Era.
The Attitude Era is given a decent chunk of time; no real discussion is given to the angles and story lines of the era, but rather the general tone of the era’s edginess and envelope pushing. At one point the era was described by Basil De Vito as teenage WWE for the children of the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling era. Of course the segment is highlighted with clips of some of the outrageous moments and stars. The Tragedy in Kansas City, which was of course the death of Owen Hart, slots in to place here. This chapter is done in a very classy way by first discussing the events of May 23, 1999 and then Owen the man. We hear from Chris Jericho, JR, Linda McMahon and the Undertaker talking about the tragedy. Martha Hart is only referred to once (by first name only, by Linda) and none of the legal events that followed are mentioned.
An interesting link is then made between Kansas City and WWE’s return there after Over the Edge for the first episode of SmackDown. Initially SmackDown aired on broadcast TV (UPN), which would bring WWE additional viewers outside of their then cable only reach, and the show also offered the superstars an additional television platform to “get over”. This part of the feature is highlighted with clips of SmackDown throughout the years which culminate with Vince McMahon’s address following 9/11.
WWE “going public” is next on the agenda and how their initial public offering has affected WWE’s business operations, and what the cash injection of the initial stock sale meant for the company. This segment is supported with news clips, including a CNN interview with Vince McMahon and clips of the Wall Street event from October 1999.
The purchase of WCW is looked at along with the acquisition of ECW’s assets. Linda McMahon discusses the advantages of acquiring WCW from a business perspective. The closure of WCW and ECW also mean the amount of superstars which WWE had was vastly increased which brought about the brand split. We then hear about the benefits of the split, supported with stories from Randy Orton, Batista and Edge about the opportunities which the brand extension offered them by being able to capture a World or WWE Championship.
The documentary then moves onto discussing PG and the benefits at the moment of them being PG. This section also features a look at the leader of the PG Era – John Cena and the recent charitable activities of WWE with the good causes they support: Make-a-Wish, Be a STAR, Susan G. Komen and Tribute to the Troops.
WrestleMania returning to stadiums and the Hall of Fame is the focus of the documentary next. Here we are given backstage clips and snippets of the induction ceremonies from 1994 onwards. The documentary then looks at WWE wrestlers being part of cinematic productions, from No Holds Barred; the WWE’s first foray to the silver screen through to the more recent WWE Studios productions. We then move from the silver screen to the flat screen with the advances in technology such as WWE’s adoption of HD, social media and new content delivery methods such as YouTube and Hulu.
The video library, which was looked at briefly earlier, is touched on in a little more detail with a nice graphic illustrating exactly which footage WWE owns. Interestingly they do list the Global Wrestling Federation library, which we have not heard an official announcement of. We hear about how the library now consists of more than 20 regional promotions which comprises more than 100,000 hours, used on home video and Classics on Demand (there is no mention of a WWE Network). We then move on from securing the past with their video library to securing the future with NXT and the new Performance Center in Florida.
The conclusion of the documentary looks at how WWE’s talent core had changed and evolved over the years yet their core business has remained exactly the same – entertainment.
The Blu-ray exclusive stories run for just more than 12 minutes and look at: Buddy Rogers losing the NWA Title, the McMahon’s bankruptcy in the ’70s, the formation and story behind Titan Sports and Vince McMahon being hands on with promos (which includes candid footage of Vince helping with promos from various points in time including WrestleMania V and Razor Ramon’s introductory vignettes). The final extra looks at the WWE Universe and the current use of social media. This extra includes stories from WWE super-fans Rick “Sign Guy” Achberger and John Glick discussing their favorite WWE memories.
Many of the major topics are discussed; however there are others which were omitted. Some of the topics which are not covered (or even mentioned in passing) include some of WWE’s non-wrestling exploits such as: Boxing, WBF and the XFL, Benoit and the development of the Wellness Policy and the 2002 WWF to WWE name change.
Regarding blurring/editing throughout the set and special features, all instances of “WWF” remain intact both visually and audibly. The vast majority of the documentary is presented in widescreen format with only a handful of clips displayed with sidebars. Also interesting to note, the “WWEHD” logo usually top left is not present throughout the documentary or pre-2008 special features. The WrestleMania III – Hogan vs. Andre match is described as “arena camera – no commentary” and this means the match is shown exclusively from the hard camera viewpoint and has no commentary, just crowd noise, which is somewhat of an interesting twist on this previously released match. Other small notes are that Jesse Ventura’s commentary is removed from the 1988 Royal Rumble match and Mike Tyson’s entrance music has been changed on the Tyson and Austin Confrontation from Raw in 1998.
I believe that most people will enjoy the documentary. I don’t believe it will be looked at in the same regard as “The Rise and Fall of ECW” which is honestly a shame, since The Story of World Wrestling Entertainment did deserve this. As always Joe Israel will be back very soon with his full review of the set and all of the special features. Stay tuned for that.
The History of WWE – 50 Years of Sports Entertainment hits stores across the United States this Tuesday, Australia one day later and UK/Europe on December 2nd.
Pre-order your copy of “The History of WWE” on DVD or Blu-ray…
– Australia: Pre-order the DVD/Blu-ray from WWEDVD.com.au for November 20th.
– UK/Europe: Pre-order the DVD/Blu-ray from WWEDVD.co.uk for December 2nd.