When I first heard about this DVD, I was unsure about what the point of it was. Everybody knows the story behind why the WWF adopted a more mature approach to its television product (the family-friendly formula had gone stale, WCW was dominating the WWF in the ratings on a weekly basis, and stars such as Shawn Michaels were in Vince McMahon’s ear about targeting adults rather than children). Plus, because it’s a WWE product, certain points which would be covered in the likes of Jim Cornette’s WWE Timeline 1997 presentation for Kayfabe Commentaries (which by the way is an absolute classic if you’ve never seen it) would probably not be touched upon here. Add to that a mostly familiar match listing, and I was approaching this DVD with caution.
Fortunately, though, “1997: Dawn of the Attitude” proves to be a pretty entertaining package. The main feature is a legends round-table hosted by Renee Young, and she is joined by Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, Ron Simmons, The Godfather and Kane. This one-hour discussion takes on a relaxed feel, and is more in line with the WWE Network specials which have seen multiple wrestlers reminisce on the likes of Dusty Rhodes and The Undertaker. As such, this isn’t really a true analysis of the year 1997, but more of a trip down memory lane as the performers offer their perspectives on what was happening, on-screen and off, along with some cool stories and amusing anecdotes.
Renee Young frankly does a great job as the host here as she attempts to provide structure to the group conversation, offering topics and prompting the likes of Michaels and Foley (who do the most talking by far) to divulge their true thoughts on certain key characters and moments. It’s also weird to hear Renee, who as the host of Talking Smack and RAW Talk always moderates discussions from a kayfabe standpoint, using insider terms when detailing specific matches or personas. It’s not a major thing by any means, especially in 2017 where everybody knows that wrestling is a work, but it’s just a funny thing that I noticed when watching this DVD.
The main subjects covered are the rationale for Attitude happening in the first place, the evolution of performers like Steve Austin and The Rock, Mick Foley’s multiple personas, the D-Generation X gimmick, the presentation of females such as Sunny and Sable (the contrast between this and how Alexa Bliss and co. are handled today is like night and day), the Montreal Screwjob, and some smaller topics which are no less intriguing, such as the revamp of the RAW set and even Shotgun Saturday Night (incidentally, I find Shotgun to be an incredibly fascinating show because it launched with a gritty, mature approach at a time when the rest of the WWF programming was still TV-PG; ironically, the elements which made early episodes of Shotgun stand out would quickly disappear, meaning that it eventually became a watered-down version of RAW once Attitude fully kicked in).
As noted, there are some cool stories to be told here. I won’t go into detail about the anecdotes as they reduce the appeal of the DVD for anyone reading this review, but I will mention that we hear about how the phrase “Know Your Role” was coined, the role that Bruce Prichard played in helping talent to unleash their true personalities on-screen, how certain gimmicks came to life by accident, and more. We also hear about what the WWF locker room thought of the new approach to television, as well as those who weren’t best pleased, and we also learn about what other WWF wrestlers besides Hart and Michaels truly thought of what went down in Montreal that night. After all, we only ever hear Vince/the WWF’s side and Bret’s side, so it’s cool to hear the thoughts of other performers who were present on the night of the double-cross.
The hour-long duration of the main feature flies by, and you’re left wanting to hear more when things come to a close. It’s far from the greatest presentation that WWE has provided, and context is mysteriously absent in some key areas (WCW is only mentioned in passing despite its success being the biggest catalyst for change within the WWF, and ECW isn’t mentioned at all despite influencing Attitude greatly). Whilst the transformation of the product definitely happened in 1997, it could actually be argued that the traits of Attitude were actually planted in 1996 between Steve Austin becoming Stone Cold, Sunny being booked to deliver sex appeal, Mankind taking brutal punishment even in his earliest matches against The Undertaker, and the infamous “Pillman’s got a gun” angle, not to mention the increasing language and flipping off which creeped onto WWF screens in 1996. Hell, some may even say that the “new direction” began showing signs of life in late 1995 with the arrival of Goldust, as well as the first use of the Spanish announcer’s table for a high spot.
Nevertheless, taken for what it is, the main feature here is very enjoyable. It feels like you are sitting in almost as a friend to the veterans as they provide their perspectives on that crazy year, and the anecdotes and stories make up for the lack of true revelations or hard-hitting comments. Having watched this DVD, this will hopefully be the first in a series of DVD retrospectives on specific years, because this is a simple formula which could be used to cover just about any year of note in WWF/WWE history.
Aside from the group discussion, there are several segments included amongst the bonus footage (Owen Hart accepting a Slammy award which he hadn’t even won, which is amusing; Mankind’s sit-down interview with Jim Ross, which Mick Foley considers to have been the moment when Vince McMahon truly became a fan of his; Steve Austin Stunnering Vince McMahon for the first time in Madison Square Garden; DX bending kayfabe in a promo which included footage from the Curtain Call; and Sable stripping down from a potato sack… you read that right), along with over a dozen matches, which I will cover now.
WWF Royal Rumble 1997 – January 19, 1997
WWF Championship Match
Psycho Sid (C) vs. Shawn Michaels
We kick off with a match between a man who would depart the WWF for good by the summer, and another whose character would undergo a complete transformation by the end of the year. Their Survivor Series 1996 match is better, partly because Shawn had been suffering from flu prior to this match, but it’s enjoyable enough, and the Alamodome backdrop for Shawn winning the WWF Title in his hometown makes this a significant moment. (Incidentally, do you think Shawn would have agreed to Sid pinning him here to “get heat”, using the rationale that he would for defeating The British Bulldog in his home country later that year?)
WWF Shotgun Saturday Night – January 25, 1997
Bret Hart vs. Mankind
This is the only match on the DVD which hadn’t been previously released. It’s cool to see these two meet as their paths rarely crossed, and the spectacle of the Webster Hall nightclub setting makes this even more unique. The finish is a bit disappointing, but the action is good, and Owen Hart delivers some amusing one-liners on commentary.
WWF RAW – March 3, 1997
WWF European Championship Match
British Bulldog vs. Owen Hart
If you had to compile a list of the top ten RAW matches of all-time, taking the context of the era into consideration, this match has a good chance of making the cut. It’s a simple wrestling match between two longtime partners, battling to become the inaugural European Champion. This is more about the story and the one-upsmanship than the high spots, and it’s a classic television bout. The occasional, subtle barbs thrown at WCW by Vince and Honky Tonk Man on commentary are impossible to ignore.
WWF RAW – March 17, 1997
WWF Championship Steel Cage Match
Psycho Sid (C) vs. Bret Hart
It’s unthinkable nowadays that WWE would hold a World Title match, inside a Cage no less, just six days before WrestleMania. But things were different in 1997. This is a wild match/angle, which is a very effective and compelling last-push for the WWF’s biggest show. It’s worth noting that WWE bleeps the uses of “s–t” in the post-match angle (but not the uses of “g—–n”, oddly), contrary to the uncensored version on the Network.
WWF WrestleMania 13 – March 23, 1997
Submission Match (Special Guest Referee: Ken Shamrock)
Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin
I covered this in the recent Bret Hart DVD retro review, so I’ll simply reiterate that this is one of the greatest matches in WrestleMania history and a definite must-see. A random note is that, for some reason, Ken Shamrock’s mini-entrance is cut out here. Also cut is the spot towards the end of the match where Austin is choking Bret with television cables before being whacked with the ring bell; instead, we go from Steve’s middle-rope suplex on Bret straight to the match-ending Sharpshooter.
WWF RAW – April 21, 1997
Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin
Austin and Bret would battle again at the subsequent In Your House, but it’s their scrap the next night on RAW which appears on this DVD. It’s more angle than match, and the chaotic nature of it is a precursor to the formula which would serve the show so well over the next few years. It was also clear, even at this point, that Austin would be a huge hit as a rebellious babyface.
WWF King of the Ring 1997 – June 8, 1997
King of the Ring Tournament Final Match
Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Mankind
This was a transitional period for both stars. Hunter was at the very early stages of shedding his “blueblood” persona for a more aggressive approach (backed up by Chyna, who had recently become his bodyguard), whilst Mankind had recently turned babyface via his aforementioned sit-down interview with JR. This violent match marked the beginning of one of the year’s most underrated rivalries, one which elevated both competitors in the eyes of the fans.
WWF RAW – July 14, 1997
WWF World Tag Team Championship Match
Steve Austin & Dude Love vs. British Bulldog & Owen Hart
The official debut of Dude Love opens disc three. The presentation of the match seems a little corny, especially for Austin’s tough-as-nails character, but it worked brilliantly at the time and completed the storyline of Dude/Mankind/Mick Foley wanting to be Steve’s new tag team partner (which incidentally only happened due to Shawn Michaels temporarily walking out after his backstage fight with Bret Hart).
WWF RAW – July 21, 1997
Six-Man Tag Team Flag Match
Bret Hart, Owen Hart & British Bulldog vs. Steve Austin, Dude Love & The Undertaker
This match has been featured on so many DVDs that I struggled to maintain interest when watching it again, to be honest. It’s one of those RAW bouts that WWE has a fondness for continuously releasing. Even though the action is enjoyable and the atmosphere is tremendous, if WWE had to re-release a match from the Canada vs. USA rivalry, the Canadian Stampede ten-man tag team affair would have been a better choice.
WWF Ground Zero: In Your House 1997 – September 7, 1997
The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels
The forgotten match of the original Shawn-Undertaker feud which led to their Hell in a Cell war and the Casket match at Royal Rumble ’98 where Shawn suffered his infamous back injury, this is a straight-up fight which mostly exists to set up HIAC, rather than providing a stellar match in its own right. It’s still compelling, though, and Undertaker’s post-match dive onto almost half the roster is a breathtaking sight.
WWF One Night Only 1997 – September 20, 1997
WWF European Championship Match
British Bulldog (C) vs. Shawn Michaels
I referred to this bout earlier on. I won’t go into the whole back-story of this match, because it would take too much space to explain why the result of this match was more controversial than merely the American heel screwing over the British babyface in his home country. Judging it solely on the action, it is an unforgettable battle, and the crowd heat is phenomenal. Whether it was the right result (even bearing in mind that Bulldog was supposed to regain the title the following year) is a matter of personal opinion.
WWF Survivor Series 1997 – November 9, 1997
Kane vs. Mankind
Kane’s debut match is arguably one of the best matches of his entire 20-year WWF/WWE tenure. That’s not a knock on Kane, but an indication of how well this match worked, as Mankind went all-out to put Kane over as a monster. Some of the bumps he takes in this match would not be authorized by WWE today, but this match went a long way towards establishing Kane as a major threat on the roster.
WWF Survivor Series 1997 – November 9, 1997
WWF Championship Match
Bret Hart (C) vs. Shawn Michaels
I still believe that those who say that the Montreal double-cross was Vince McMahon’s greatest ever business decision are wrong. McMahon’s subsequent heel turn only came about due to the backlash towards his “Bret screwed Bret” promo, and seeds had been planted for an Austin-Vince feud before then anyway, so Montreal may have had no bearing on the creation of Mr. McMahon. Nevertheless, people sometimes forget that this is an exciting brawl in its own right before the double-cross shenanigans occurred.
WWF D-Generation X: In Your House 1997 – December 7, 1997
WWF Intercontinental Championship Match
Steve Austin (C) vs. Rocky Maivia
The penultimate match is the first PPV clash between two of the Attitude Era’s biggest stars. Even though both were positioned as upper mid-carders at this point, Austin was already the WWF’s top babyface in the eyes of the fans, as the reaction to this short yet very entertaining brawl confirms. Austin would forfeit the IC gold to Rock the next night, and six weeks later, he would win the Royal Rumble again and have his famous pull-apart with Mike Tyson the following evening.
WWF RAW – December 22, 1997
WWF European Championship Match
Shawn Michaels (C) vs. Triple H
The last bout is more of an angle than a match, as Shawn Michaels and Triple H make a mockery of Commissioner Slaughter’s attempts to force DX into fighting each other. Though it buries the European Title in a way that the belt would never recover from, it’s entertaining in a hammy sort of way, and it’s so over-the-top that the lack of action does not offend the fans, unlike when WCW pulled a similar stunt in the infamous Fingerpoke of Doom match for the WCW World Title between Kevin Nash and Hollywood Hulk Hogan in January 1999.
As you can see, there’s a lot of fine action on display here (and a little more if you go Blu-ray). It’s tricky in the Network era for WWE to decide between releasing a DVD which has familiar content but is topnotch stuff, or to go down the unreleased route and focus on rare matches which may not be of a high quality. Here, WWE tends to lean towards the former, but had we been given the Canadian Stampede and Badd Blood main events instead of the Flag match and Ground Zero top-liner, this would have been a more faithful in-ring retrospective of 1997 within the WWF.
That being said, there are still plenty of great matches and moments here. Throughout the DVD, we see most of the company’s biggest characters or storylines from that time period represented in some form, and it’s clear to see how the product evolved over the course of the year when watching discs two and three. So, it’s still a very entertaining round-up of memorable bouts and angles.
Summing this one up, then, if you’re looking for a simple slice of nostalgia, the main feature is well worth watching, and the selection of matches largely provides first-class wrestling and/or chaotic brawling, while also delivering many of the year’s key moments inside the squared circle.
Overall, I give “1997: Dawn of the Attitude” a thumbs-up, as it’s a fun look back at one of the most fascinating years in the company. So, will you be adding some Attitude to your collection this week?
Get a copy of the new WWE “1997 – DAWN OF THE ATTITUDE” DVD…
– UK/Europe: NOW! Get WWE’s new 1997 DVD or Blu-ray ordered now via Amazon.co.uk.
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