If I’m being honest, I was pretty skeptical when this History of WWE set was first announced on the 2013 calendar. I had trouble believing this would even be released, and once it was confirmed, I was nervous that it would be impossible to put 50 years worth of history onto 2 Blu-rays. It was pretty much a sure thing that most of the matches included would be repeats, but it still was a big task to distill the WWE down to under 20 matches. I don’t think I’ve ever been more wrong when it comes to forecasting my thoughts on a WWE release. This serves as a great primer for the WWE, and a must have for any fan’s collection.
Disc 1 of the Blu-ray contains the 2 hour documentary and 1 hour, 15 minutes of bonus features. Disc 2 runs 4 hours, 25 minutes. The Blu-ray is rated TV-14. As Mark pointed out last week, notable edits include Jesse Ventura’s commentary from the 1988 Royal Rumble and Mike Tyson’s entrance music from Raw.
“Then. Now. Forever.”: The Main Feature
There was a bit of controversy here on the site when we found out the documentary on this release was only going to be 2 hours, instead of the previously speculated 3 hours. I think we all were a little concerned that there just wouldn’t be enough time to properly cover everything that needed to be covered on this DVD. In the end, the short runtime was the right choice. Yes, this could have easily been a 4 hour documentary, hitting on every important moment in the history of the company, but that doesn’t make for a good film. It was possible to get away with this on Rise & Fall of ECW because ECW existed for under 10 years, not 50. It’s not fair to compare the two.
Instead of hitting on every individual moment and every individual superstar, a macro approach was taken in looking at the history. Ultimately, this makes for a more successful storytelling choice in looking at the ups and downs of the company’s history. The most important matches, moments, and wrestlers are discussed in a little more detail, but this is dovetailed into a discussion of the era they represented as a whole. Everyone’s going to have an opinion on certain topics that should have gotten more discussion; it’s pretty much unavoidable for this type of documentary. For me, I found it strange to completely ignore the XFL, which is probably the WWE’s biggest creative disaster in their 50 year history. Overall, though, some great choices were made. The highlight is probably the discussion of the steroid scandal of the early-90’s, which hasn’t really been discussed with such candor before. There also are some great highlights from the talk shows of the era discussing the scandal.
Of course, what is arguably the most important incident in the past 10 years of the wrestling industry could not be included. Now, I didn’t expect the Benoit tragedy to be covered at all, and it IS the right choice to not include it. However, there is something noticeably missing, and someday in the future, it will be interesting to hear from those in the company how this really affected life in the WWE.
One thing that impressed me a lot about this documentary was how well edited it is. If you are a long-time fan of the WWE (like I know a lot of the readers here are), then you aren’t going to learn anything too groundbreaking here. There are new insights from different superstars, especially in regards to controversial topics like the steroid scandal, but for the most part nothing is really going to surprise you. That being said, the WWE did a great job making everything feel fresh through the way the documentary is put together. They transition between the ups and downs pretty well, explaining how the company was able to take each setback they’ve had and turn it into a positive for the future. It makes for a cohesive documentary that stands well on its own, which is impressive for such a broad topic.
The other thing that helps keep things fresh is the huge array of personalities interviewed for the feature. A good deal of the interviews were taken from past releases, but a number of them are new as well (including more thoughts from The Undertaker). Again, the editing is really well done, and the interviews work together very nicely. Even if some of them are old, they work in this new context, and most of them I didn’t recognize anyway. As usual, the WWE reached out to some interesting personalities to be interviewed. My favorite was the ring crew member who was responsible for ringing the bell at the conclusion of the Montreal Screwjob match. Little touches like this made the documentary feel special. I also enjoyed hearing from NBC’s Dick Ebersol, who gave great insight into the significance of Saturday Night’s Main Event. As expected, some classic footage is shown along with the interviews, and with the fast paced narrative, you certainly aren’t going to get bored. There are so many great interviews, I barely even noticed that Vince wasn’t included!
“Irresistable Force Meets the Immovable Object”: The Matches
WWE Championship Match: Bruno Sammartino Vs. “Superstar” Billy Graham (4/30/77) – * 3/4
This match is difficult to review. To modern standards, it’s pretty uninteresting. The majority of the match is restholds and power struggles, which don’t hold up well over time. However, these were probably the two biggest names in pre-Hogan era WWWF, so the match is certainly a worthwhile inclusion.
WWE Championship Match: Hulk Hogan Vs. Andre the Giant (WrestleMania III, 3/28/87) – ** 1/2
As has been reported, this is a new edit of the match from the hard camera only, with no commentary. It makes for an interesting new viewing experience of the classic match. No one is going to pretend that this is a wrestling clinic, but it did exactly what it was supposed to do. A case can be made that this is the biggest match in the history of wrestling.
1988 Royal Rumble Match (Royal Rumble, 1/24/88) – N/A
In hindsight, this is a pretty basic Royal Rumble match, but being the first, it has a ton of historical value. In my opinion, the Rumble is the greatest gimmick match of all time, so even a lesser rumble isn’t too bad. At the time, the line between good guy and bad guy was pretty clear, which is what makes the match fairly by the numbers.
Koko B. Ware Vs. Yokozuna (Raw, 1/11/93) – N/A
An extended squash match. Understandable inclusion since it’s the first match in Raw history, but other than that, it’s nothing memorable.
King of the Ring Finals: Jake “the Snake” Roberts Vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin (King of the Ring, 6/23/96) – **
Another weird match to review here. The match itself is pretty quick since Roberts was “injured”. For getting the Austin character over, though, I think this match worked pretty effectively. It also made Roberts pretty sympathetic. Of course, the highlight is the promo from Austin afterwards. I don’t know if this match really needed to be included on the Blu-ray, but the promo afterwards certainly deserved a place on here.
WWE Championship Match: Bret Hart Vs. Shawn Michaels (Survivor Series, 11/9/97) – *** 1/2
I usually hate matches that feature lengthy brawls around the arena, but it works here because the hatred between the two men is so palpable. That’s impossible to fake, so it takes a situation like this to make it work. Overall, the match has a strange feeling to it because of the politics going on, but in a way that makes it more of a must see. It’s certainly not a bad match, but the lack of a properly built ending does somewhat hurt it.
WWE Championship Match: Triple H Vs. The Rock (SmackDown, 8/26/99) – ** 3/4
For a quick TV match, this is totally fine. Obviously, Rock & Triple H have had better matches, but at the same time, they never have any bad matches. It’s well paced for the time it was given. And being the main event of the first true episode of SmackDown (not counting the pilot), it certainly has historical value.
The Rock Vs. Hollywood Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania X8, 3/17/02) – **** 1/4
A classic match, and a personal favorite for me. Everything is put together wonderfully, from the double turn to the high spots to the post match moments. A great example of how good storytelling can make a match great without doing too many crazy, flashy moves. Of course, the awesome crowd doesn’t hurt either.
Battle of the Billionaires Hair Vs. Hair Match: Bobby Lashley (w/ Donald Trump) Vs. Umaga (w/ Vince McMahon) (WrestleMania 23, 4/1/07) – ***
This match was a lot more fun than I expected it to be. This has more to do with everything going on at ringside and with Stone Cold as ref than with the wrestlers themselves, but I was certainly entertained. Of course, the post-match head shaving is also a lot of fun.
John Cena, Rey Mysterio, & Batista Vs. Chris Jericho, Big Show, & Randy Orton (Tribute to the Troops, 12/20/08) – * 3/4
This isn’t really much of a match, but it gives the audience something fun to watch. It’s very quick, but the wrestlers hit their big moves throughout. It actually works pretty well as a “spotlight” match for a compilation set like this; it shows off a bunch of wrestlers from the era even if it is short.
WWE Championship #1 Contender’s Match: CM Punk Vs. John Cena (Raw, 2/25/13) – **** 1/2
Punk & Cena are incredible together; I’ve given both their Money in the Bank 2011 and Night of Champions 2012 matches very high ratings. This match is no exception. The ending is the part everyone remembers, and it does suffer a bit from “indy match syndrome”. There are a lot of false finishes and big time moves. However, since Punk & Cena had already wrestled each other so many times, it works for the story they are telling here. A great, great match.
Blu-ray Exclusive Matches
Floyd “Money” Mayweather Vs. Big Show (WrestleMania XXIV, 3/30/08) – ** 1/2
The rating for this match is based purely on the entertainment value. While there isn’t much to the match, it’s well put together, and Mayweather ended up making for an outstanding bad guy. At the time, this was a big deal WrestleMania match, so I understand it’s inclusion.
The Undertaker Vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania 25, 4/5/09) – *****
In my opinion, one of the 3 greatest matches in the history of Wrestlemania (along with Savage Vs. Steamboat and Bret Vs. Owen), if not in the history of the WWE. An incredible match.
“Global Phenomenon”: Closing Thoughts
There was a lot of hype to live up to on this set. When the company waits this long to release a compilation set about their own history, there’s bound to be a good deal of expectations. I was a bit skeptical, but overall, I think this was a pretty successful release. The documentary covered most of the important moments in the company’s history, and was told in a compelling way. An effort was made to give the story of the company a nice structure, which is something you don’t always see on WWE’s releases. Especially with superstar biographies, they are often content to just run through the superstar’s career in a basic way. Here, each topic flows together well to show how WWE became the global phenomenon it is now. While it may not be perfect, I can’t see anyone being too upset after watching through the documentary. The Blu-ray exclusive bonus stories are all very short, and may just give further evidence that it was the right choice for the documentary to only be 2 hours. Seeing Vince work with talent on promos was neat, but other than that, there’s not much to these extra stories.
I have mixed feelings on the choices made for the bonus matches. They all make sense as a representative match for the history of the company. A lot of big matches are included, without feeling like a retread of the matches that are always put on DVD’s. Of course, we’ve seen Hogan/Andre countless times, but that match absolutely needed to be included, and they gave us the new edit of the match to make it feel new. The matches do skew a bit modern, but I expected this given the audience most likely to be purchasing WWE DVD’s and Blu-ray’s nowadays. My major disappointment, though, is that the matches aren’t all that good. Out of the 13 matches, sure, you have 3 great in-ring encounters, which isn’t a bad percentage. But when the WWE has pretty much their entire library to choose from, I would have preferred to see some stronger matches. Like the documentary, the match choices were never going to be perfect for everyone, but they made some solid choices, even if the in-ring quality isn’t always great.
The bonus segments included were fun, even if they don’t add too much to overall set. I’m glad we got a classic Austin segment from the Attitude Era, as well as CM Punk’s pipebomb, which I think ushered us from the PG Era to the era we are currently in (which I call the “internet era”). As a whole, I think this a must own for any collector. Even if you already have a good number of the bonus matches, watching them all in one place does feel like a nice representation of the WWE’s history. The documentary is the big selling point, though, and I can see myself revisiting this one pretty often. Simply put, it’s just well made. For me, this is probably the strongest documentary of 2013. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Blu-ray extras add too much. It’s nice to have the documentary in HD, which I think makes the Blu-ray pickup worth it, but don’t expect to be blown away by the extra stories.
My biggest complaint really comes down to the ultimate length of the Blu-ray package. While I have no problem with the doc only being 2 hours, there’s no excuse for such a high profile release being one of the shortest 2-Disc Blu-ray’s the WWE has ever released. I’m usually an apologist when it comes to this, but they easily could have given us more bonus matches to make the Blu-ray a little closer to the 8-9 hour range we’ve become accustomed to. It’s not like there was a lack of footage for this particular topic. This shouldn’t deter you from buying the set overall, but it is an annoyance. If you’ve picked up the DVD or Blu-ray, let us know what you think in the comments below!