Monday, 7 September 2015

The History Of WWE: 50 Years Of Sports Entertainment

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 387 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: December 2 2013

When it was announced, The History Of WWE sounded like a very exciting project. For all the documentaries produced by WWE, never had there been an official one to cover the entire story of World Wrestling Entertainment. Given the subject matter, expectations were high, as high as for any documentary that the company has ever made. In the end, whilst there are potential improvements which could have been made, the documentary is a very good one which should satisfy viewers, especially longtime fans, and the bonus matches help make this a quality DVD.

The story begins by focusing on Jess McMahon, a boxing promoter in the early-to-mid 20th century, and his son Vincent J McMahon, a wrestling promoter who in 1953 would give life to a company named Capitol Sports, which ultimately morphed into the World Wide Wrestling Federation. Bruno Sammartino is spotlighted here as well as other contemporaries of the pre-expansion era. The roots for the modern-day WWE were sown in 1982 when Vincent Kennedy McMahon (or Vince McMahon Jr.) bought from his father the World Wrestling Federation (renamed in 1979) and, over the next two years, laid the groundwork for an audacious attempt, the success of which or lack thereof would determine if McMahon and his WWF would remain in business.

Of course, the company thrived as the national expansion ultimately paid off, led by Hulk Hogan from 1984 onwards. This included the make-or-break first WrestleMania (the gamble was so great that Linda McMahon admits she wouldn't have had the courage to do it herself) and the landmark WrestleMania III which set the all-time U.S. attendance record for pro wrestling. Also covered are the debut of Saturday Night's Main Event on NBC in 1985 (a milestone in the growth of the WWF's popularity), the increased number of Pay-Per-Views and the general impact that this family-friendly wrestling product had, and how it changed the wrestling business forever.

Interestingly, we get coverage of the steroid scandal from the 1990s, which has never been so much as hinted at on most company features in the past. We also look at how, partly due to this and partly due to a stale product, the WWF was less popular by the mid-1990s, despite new main-event stars like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, and the debut of Monday Night Raw in 1993. The company really felt the heat when WCW Monday Nitro launched in 1995, and began dominating Raw in the ratings following the formation of the nWo in July 1996. The eventual company response? To take on a whole new Attitude.

Indeed, the Attitude Era changed everything for the WWF. A risque new product that focused on violence, bloodshed, swearing and half-naked Divas, Attitude saw the rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Mick Foley, D-Generation X, the Mr. McMahon character and many other things, and in the process saw the WWF rise into a financial juggernaut that was as popular as it had ever been before, and one which saw the Federation overtake and eventually purchase WCW. That being said, the era wasn't all rosy; there was the Montreal double-cross at Survivor Series 1997, where Vince cheated Bret out of the WWF Title, and the tragic accident that killed Owen Hart at Over The Edge 1999. Both events are covered here, with the latter being a particularly emotional segment.

Post-Attitude, we move onto the Brand Extension, whereby the WWF (soon to become WWE) would split into two divisions for Raw and SmackDown! (which launched in 1999). This essentially meant two products under the company umbrella, later followed by a third in ECW (and NXT has now become a brand in its own right, even if the split ended earlier this decade). The rest of the documentary sums everything up rather quickly about the changing landscape, including the switch to a PG format (a source of controversy to many to this day), the rise of modern-day stars like John Cena, and the potential for WWE in the future (via the Performance Center to train tomorrow's main eventers, and probable ownership by Triple H and Stephanie McMahon). We don't cover one major event, arguably the biggest of the last decade, that being the 2007 Benoit Tragedy. Some criticised the omission of this, but I was fine with it; covering the Owen tragedy is one thing, but the Benoit double-murder suicide was such a horrendous occurence that it would be very unpleasant to relive the course of events here.

The documentary features a ton of talking heads, including many of the company's major stars over the course of its history, important corporate figures (both famous and unknown), memorable performers from the last half a century, and even some fans! However, one glaring absentee is Vince McMahon, head of WWE today and since 1982. Why Vince wasn't interviwed for this feature is beyond me; occasional comments by Vince would have taken the documentary to another level. Seriously, imagine the Paul Heyman doc without Heyman getting involved, or The Rise & Fall Of ECW without, erm, Paul Heyman commenting. Why this decision was made is anyone's guess. The story is still told very well, but without Vince the documentary feels like there is something missing.

The run time is two hours, which also disappointed some, especially since the ECW history feature lasted three hours. Personally, I feel that this covers everything in the two hour framework, but at the same time some parts feel rushed, and to be honest this really should have been three hours. Had the Vince comments been included, we surely would have gotten at least another 15-20 minutes just off those, so adding another half-hour or so of discussion points wouldn't have been hard, especially considering the company's rich history and eventful highs and lows.

On the whole, though, the documentary is still a must-see. Besides the Benoit incident, everything that you would truly expect or hope to be covered is covered, even if the last decade is rushed through somewhat. The stories told by contributors are engaging and in some cases a revelation, and the vast number of commentees ensures that specific eras and chapters of the company's history are discussed by the relevant parties. Add to that a ton of archive footage, some of it seen here for the first time, along with revealing backstage clips, and this is a heavyweight amongst WWE documentaries. I wouldn't put it in the top three or five, but it's definitely top ten; had we received Vince comments and another hour of running time, I actually think this would have been the best documentary WWE has ever produced. As it is, it is not quite the greatest WWE doc, but it does belong in the top league of such features.

As stated, there are a number of bonus matches which cover some of the company's most memorable moments. The vast majority have been released elsewhere, but on a DVD such as this, repeated bouts are a bit more acceptable. Superstar Billy Graham's 1977 WWWF Title win over Bruno is decent for the era, but why include this and not one of Brunos' two championship victories? We next get Hogan-Andre The Giant from WM III, this time in a film cut form. This match had to be here, so no complaints from me. The first televised Royal Rumble is a fun inclusion, and Yokozuna's win over Koko B. Ware in Raw's very first match is an understandable entry.

Stone Cold's King Of The Ring win over Jake Roberts in 1996 is more notable (of course), for the post-match promo that gave birth to Austin 3:16. The Survivor Series 1997 Bret-Shawn bout is here too, but I'd have preferred neither of these two being used and instead having Austin's milestone WWF Title win over Michaels at WM XIV. The main event of the first SmackDown! (besides the one-off pilot show a few months before) between The Rock and Triple H is fairly good, but better is the iconic Rock-Hogan showdown from WM X8.

A refreshing inclusion is the WM 23 Battle of the Billionaires, since it's never been released on an compilation before. A six-man from the 2008 Tribute To The Troops kind of serves its purpose, before a bonus segment in the form of CM Punk's unforgettable "Pipe Bomb" promo from Raw on June 27 2011. The last match is Punk vs. Cena from Raw on February 25 2013, a really good encounter albeit one which is overrated and feels like an odd inclusion (why not one of the Rock-Cena WM matches?). The Blu-ray adds some bonus documentary segments, as well as Floyd Mayweather vs. Big Show from WM XXIV and Undertaker-HBK from Mania 25.

In conclusion, this DVD is an essential purchase. It isn't five-star, but it features a wealth of entertaining and informative content, and the matches are either great, historic or at least understandable inclusions. The strength of this release is the documentary, since most bouts have already been seen on DVDs before. Therefore, it's crucial that the main feature lives up to its potential which, besides no Vince comments and the slightly short running time, it effectively does. If you're an avid WWE collector, you'll own this anyway, but if you're a fan who only chooses to purchase the best DVDs, The History Of WWE is definitely one that you should get.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 - Excellent

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