Everyone has their “holy grail” documentary, the Superstar or storyline they are most hoping will get its own DVD release. For me, this one has always been a no-brainer.
The feud between Jerry Lawler and Andy Kaufman might be the most famous in wrestling history to a mainstream audience, and at the same time it’s one of the most bizarre. When the Jerry Lawler DVD was first announced, I was thrilled that we were finally going to get a look at this famous feud, while at the same time getting a peak into a lot of other aspects of Jerry’s career. I haven’t been able to review too many releases this year (medical school makes that a challenge), but when this DVD was announced, I immediately told Daniel I was interested.
When you look back on it, there have been a lot of interesting moments throughout Jerry’s time in wrestling, and I felt this could be a pantheon documentary. From Kaufman to Memphis to his ECW rivalry to his brief departure from the WWE in 2001, there are a myriad of topics to be dealt with, and this only scratches the surface. After watching the documentary, I learned that the WWE only scratched the surface of Lawler’s life as well.
The Jerry Lawler documentary runs just a little over 80 minutes, with 6 hours of extra features and an additional 90 minutes of exclusive Blu-ray content.
The Royal Story:
If you’ve read any of my past reviews, you’ll know that I usually think WWE does a pretty good job when it comes to selecting a runtime for their documentaries. Sure, pretty much any doc can always be longer, but I think the editors have done a great job selecting what should be in a main feature and what can be left as Blu-ray extra story. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to join the “this should have been longer” camp for this one. 80 minutes simply isn’t enough to time for one of the most interesting careers in wrestling (yes, I think he is in that conversation) when it comes to Lawler’s life both in and out of the ring.
I actually was able to remain fairly optimistic during the first half of the documentary. I didn’t know too much about Lawler’s career in Memphis going into the documentary, and to the layman, I think the start of his career and rise in Memphis was covered pretty well. We got some great interviews with major players like Jerry Jarrett and Lance Russell, who were able to give a great perspective on Lawler’s start. We’re also given a ton of great footage from the early days, a lot of which has not been seen before on any type of release (either DVD or WWE Network-based). I did have a bit of trouble following the timeline, and they seemed to jump all over the place, but I still learned a lot I hadn’t previously known about The King’s run in Memphis. Outside of Jackie Fargo, who was largely responsible for starting Lawler’s career, they didn’t spend a lot of time profiling any of the other Memphis superstars, which was a disappointment, but I think this was a conscious choice on the producer’s part. Maybe they felt this would have caused the doc to run too long, but I think one or two other feuds could have been highlighted.
A discussion of Memphis wouldn’t be complete without a breakdown of the Kaufman/Lawler feud, and I was hoping that this would finally be given it’s proper due. I fully acknowledge that it’s impossible to truly capture this feud in only 10-15 minutes of a documentary, but I think the producer’s did an admirable job trying to break down the highlights here. The WWE reached out to names from Kaufman’s life, like Bob Zmuda and Lynne Marguiles, for interviews, but unfortunately these interviews aren’t used too often. Both of these people were with Kaufman through the bulk of his career, and it’s strange that we couldn’t get to hear more from them about Kaufman’s view of the story. We do get so see some great historical footage, which has not been released on home video before (at least through WWE), and that alone is almost worth the price of admission. I do wish the WWE would have paid for the rights to show some of the famous David Letterman interview with Kaufman and Lawler, which was a big moment in the feud, but we are only given a still photograph. Hopefully, in the future, we can get a full documentary or Network special breaking down these moments in more detail, but I’m happy with what we’ve been given for now.
After Memphis, the documentary really begins to fall apart. Lawler’s career in the WWE is rushed through very quickly, and it’s shocking how many big moments were left out. While his move into being an announcer in the mid-90’s is discussed, none of his major feuds are. We get no details about the Bret Hart feud (even the Blu-ray exclusive story “The King vs. The King” is not about this rivalry, as many of us suspected), and his “feud” with ECW is not touched on at all. Both of these feuds are given a lot of time in the extra features, which makes it even more odd that they aren’t even touched on the documentary. I personally was hoping for a lot of details about his feelings on ECW, but we never really get them. We do get a good breakdown of Lawler’s departure in 2001 (including a new interview with Lawler’s ex-wife Stacy “The Kat” Carter), and his run for mayor of Memphis during that time period, which was interesting to learn about. After he returns, though, the doc jumps right to his Hall of Fame induction in 2007 as if it happened right away! While I acknowledge there isn’t anything major to hit on in Lawler’s career from 02-07, the timeline can be very confusing.
Some more recent moments in Lawler’s career are given a good deal of time, such as his WWE Championship TLC Match with The Miz and his sole WrestleMania match against Michael Cole. I think they did a nice job conveying that these were big moments for Jerry, so I have no problem with the amount of time they were given. I do feel that a little too much time was spent discussing Jerry’s heart attack that occurred on air in 2012. I understand why it was given so much time; showing Lawler fight back from a heart attack makes a great ending to the documentary from a narrative perspective. It can get a little exploitative, though, and we probably didn’t need to relive as much of the actual moment as they gave to us. This is far from my biggest problem with the documentary, but I wish some of this time were given to the other subjects barely covered.
The King of all Extras:
While the documentary was a disappointment, I can’t say the same about the extra features, which were chosen about as perfectly as one could have hoped. I’m going to end up repeating myself a lot here, but this Blu-ray is absolutely worth a purchase for the extra matches and promos alone. We have not gotten to see a lot of Memphis wrestling footage on DVD in the past, and the matches that were included here are great pieces of history. Lawler’s matches were never about technical prowess, so there aren’t any “5-star mat classics”, but these early matches were still highly entertaining. The empty arena match with Terry Funk and No-DQ match with Bill Dundee are the two big stand-outs, each of which have a big time atmosphere. The Funk match in particular is very unique, and I don’t want to give anything away, but it has a very memorable ending. Some title matches with Curt Hennig and Kerry Von Erich are included, which were probably the two strongest matches on the DVD from a ringwork standpoint. Thankfully, we are also given a complete Kaufman match (and a second as a Blu-ray exclusive feature), and even though the video quality isn’t great, this is a wonderful piece of wrestling history to have at one’s fingertips.
The bonus features from Lawler’s WWE run were also very well-chosen. We get a number of famous King’s Court segments, including the Tiny Tim and William Shatner interviews, which were both a big deal for the upstart Monday Night RAW. Feuds with Bret Hart and ECW are given a ton of time, with multiple matches and segments included. The King vs. Bret Kiss My Foot match has never been my favorite, but its inclusion is certainly warranted. The ECW footage is great, with the highlight probably being his verbal debate with Paul Heyman. The Dreamer match from Hardcore Heaven is a worthy inclusion as well. There are a ton of surprise appearances, and while the match could certainly be called overbooked, it is a lot of fun.
A rare house show casket match against The Undertaker is not a great match, but it is such a neat piece of history, I loved watching it. The only match from this era I really did not care for was the match against Jake “The Snake” Roberts from SummerSlam 1996. I find this match difficult to watch knowing just how close to death Jake was as a result of his alcohol and drug addictions and seeing these problems used for storyline purposes.
We are given a few “late era” Lawler matches to round out the DVD, including a RAW legends match against Ric Flair that serves as a nice complement to the Blu-ray exclusive match between the two from 1982. The TLC match against The Miz is way better than it has any right to be, and while the match with Michael Cole from WrestleMania 27 isn’t amazing, you can’t argue it being here.
The Blu-ray exclusives continue the trend of awesome bonus features. The bonus stories are almost all told by Lawler (with very little footage) giving these stories the feel of a shoot interview. While I don’t feel any of these would have had much of a place in the main doc, they are all pretty interesting. The final story comes from Brian Christopher, discussing advice his dad gave him when he first started in the business. The bonus matches are a plethora of rare treats, including the aforementioned TV match against Ric Flair (including a pre-match promo), an additional Kaufman battle (with Kaufman at his best), and a rare OVW match featuring a young “prototype” John Cena. The Blu-ray is an easy recommendation over the DVD because of these fun, unreleased matches.
It almost feels like I should be writing two separate reviews given the gulf of quality between the main documentary and extra features. The fact of the matter is, you are probably going to be disappointed by the documentary. Part of me wonders whether or not the doc was meant to be a WWE Network special, and they just expanded it a little bit and went with a DVD release instead. It’s rare for the WWE to leave huge chunks of someone’s career out of a retrospective documentary; even the shorter ones don’t leave out such major parts of a superstar’s timeline. What we do get is all very interesting, but there was just too much left out for me to really be able to give it a strong recommendation.
The bonus features do a great job of outlining important moments from The King’s reign, though. Pretty much all the major moments are included, and while I would have loved more classic Memphis footage, I can’t really argue with too many of the inclusions from his WWE run and onwards. The bonus features really tell a more complete story than the doc in some ways. Much in the way that Legends of Mid-South was worth a buy just to own that classic footage, I feel the same way about this DVD and the old Memphis footage. I know I’ve been going on and on about the Kaufman stuff, but I can’t emphasize enough how big of a deal that feud is, and I would buy this Blu-ray for those two matches alone. Because of the great extras, I would give this Blu-ray set a pretty strong recommendation, even if the documentary is one of the weaker ones we’ve seen from WWE in quite a while.
Get your copy of “It’s Good To Be The King” on DVD/Blu-ray…
– UK/Europe: May 25th. Pre-order it now from WWEDVD.co.uk.
– Australia: June 3rd. Pre-order it now via WWEDVD.com.au.