Friday, 5 August 2016

WWE The Attitude Era Volume 3 - Unreleased

Image Source:
Fetch Publicity
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 410 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: August 8 2016

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

The third instalment in the Attitude Era DVD series is unique, in more ways than one. Whereas the first two sets provided a combination of unforgettable moments and some forgotten gems from Raw and PPV events, Volume 3 takes a very different approach of not only showcasing matches which have yet to be unreleased, but bouts which have never even aired. All of the matches are either "dark" matches (which take place before or after a televised event, with only the crowd getting to see what unfolds) or house show matches (bouts which take place on live events). It's an interesting format, and a chance to provide content which even the biggest fans of wrestling's most exciting era will have never seen (unless they had attended these shows, of course) - but does the concept work?

Presented by Corey Graves, who does a pretty good job of not only presenting matches but explaining the backstory to said bouts, the compilation kicks off with a Bret Hart-Steve Austin clash from Germany in April 1996. Hang on, 1996? Yes, the timeline here begins in the spring of '96, a time when the Attitude Era was still a pipe dream. Sure, we had the Goldust character, whose sexually-motivated behaviour was pushing the envelope for those who understood what was happening (which wasn't me at the time since I was only aged 7), the odd swear word was popping up in promos, and we recently had the introduction of the Spanish announcer's table gimmick (i.e. the act of putting one through said desk), along with some increasingly violent matches (such as Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel from In Your House 7). But one would not really suggest that this was the Attitude Era. It's true to say that the seeds of Attitude were being sown over the next couple of months, from the arrival of Mankind to the Austin 3:16 promo, but it wasn't until 1997 that the Attitude Era truly began (and some could argue that it wasn't official until Steve Austin won his first WWF Title at WrestleMania XIV, held in March 1998). To provide context, this opening Bret-Austin bout happened a few months before Steve's legendary 3:16 promo; his career was nearer the Ringmaster phase than it was the Texas Rattlesnake.

That quirk aside, the first disc (which solely covers 1996) is the best of the three from a match quality standpoint. Indeed, Bret vs. Austin is very good (why Austin is wearing pink wristbands, I do not know), and the first Undertaker-Mankind meeting held after the aforementioned IYH 7 is good too. Bret and Undertaker vs. Owen Hart and The British Bulldog from Kuwait is a little too focused on stalling, but it doesn't fail to entertain the fans in attendance. That same night, Austin returns to face Shawn Michaels in a strong outing, although it is hampered by the lights going out in the arena for a prolonged amount of time (which was exactly two weeks before the lights went out during the live In Your House 8 event; is it a coincidence, or should conspiracy theories arise?).

One man who very few WWF fans would have associated with the Attitude Era is The Ultimate Warrior, yet he pops up next to face Owen in a short match from Madison Square Garden on the night of the infamous Curtain Call (check out my review of the Kliq DVD for the full story; you can access it by clicking here). Austin makes his third appearance to face Undertaker in an MSG clash from August 1996, followed by Shawn Michaels bouts with Goldust and Mankind after In Your House 11 and 12 respectively. The Mankind match is okay but doesn't hold a candle to their great (televised) match at IYH 10, whilst the Goldust match is most notable for Shawn grabbing Goldust's penis more than once. Seriously. (Does that count as Attitude Era content?)

Onto disc two, and we enter 1997 with a nice little gem: a three-way between Psycho Sid, Bret and Shawn, held after an episode of Raw in Toronto SkyDome. I should point out that this happened just before Shawn "lost his smile" and vacated the WWF Title under the proviso of a supposedly career-ending knee injury, which many took as a cover for him refusing to lose to Sid that night (Thursday Raw Thursday) and to Hart at WrestleMania 13. In his book Heartbreak and Triumph, Shawn notes that his knee was hurt in - wait for it - a three-way against Sid and Bret. So, might this have been the match which proves that in actual fact Shawn was correct, and that those accusing him of lying were in fact wrong? (Personally, I think that Shawn was hurt, but not so severely that he couldn't have continued wrestling; that he returned to action in May '97 without undergoing any surgery speaks volumes.) Incidentally, Triple Threat matches had yet to be broadcast on WWF television, making this main event even neater.

Since 1997 was the year in which the WWF product almost completely transformed, it's odd that the next match doesn't occur for nearly 11 months: after the final Raw of '97, we have a decent eight-man scrap pitting Austin (by now a super-over babyface en route to the top), Undertaker, Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie (Terry Funk only debuted his Chainsaw character earlier that night on Raw) against The Nation Of Domination. After that, it's The Rock vs. Ken Shamrock in an Intercontinental Title showdown a few weeks before WM XIV, and then two MSG clashes from the weekend before Mania, as Cactus faces Badd Ass Billy Gunn in a Falls Count Anywhere match, and Austin takes on Triple H (that the still-partially-injured Austin competed one week before the biggest WWF match for almost a decade, where he would face a severely-injured titleholder in Shawn, was a big risk for the WWF to take in my opinion). Strangely, the compilation jumps ahead 15 months to June 1999 and an okay Big Show-HHH match, before a short doubles outing with The Dudley Boyz facing T&A in Times Square (this free event marked the WWF entering the New York stock market) in October 2000. And that's it. Wait, that's it? It's only disc two! Only WrestleMania events end on disc two, right?

Yes, but not to worry, because the remaining disc includes bonus matches (not sure why they weren't all presented in one big feature as is the norm, but okay). We have Yokozuna vs. The Sultan from South Africa, Austin vs. Goldust (which was also held after IYH 12; as both were heels, the fans have no idea who to cheer for), Taker teaming with Ahmed Johnson and (a now-babyface) Goldust against The Nation just before WM 13; Austin-Undertaker again from June 1997; Shawn and HHH facing The Legion Of Doom; Austin and Cactus battling Rock and D'Lo Brown (by which point Austin is mega-over); Austin siding with Cactus and Chainsaw against HHH and The New Age Outlaws en route to Mania XIV; another Austin-HHH clash the week before their MSG main event (which is almost exactly the same match move-for-move); Austin against Undertaker once more from June '99 in MSG; and The Hardyz against Lo Down from the aforementioned Times Square show.

The DVD has some nice touches, such as the Raw backstage backdrop during Corey's links, and some GTV clips to provide Graves' intros to some bouts. It also carries over the menu theme song from the first two sets (even if the lyrics are largely inaudible). And those who bought the Attitude Era book in late 2015 will notice that the artwork between the book and this DVD are extremely similar (in fact, with some pre-orders, you can get a mini-version of said book with this set). The most obvious trait to the bouts, though, are the lack of commentary throughout and the regular "fan cam" angles that footage was shot through during matches. The colour balance becomes inconsistent, so one moment the match is clear as day, and the next minute, it looks like someone has filmed it on their phone. However, the camera angles become a real hindrance near the end of disc three.

I get that multi-man matches on live events, where you only have one camera, can be hard to film. But that doesn't excuse how much of the action in the Austin/Cactus vs. Rock/D'Lo, Austin/Cactus/Chainsaw vs. HHH/NAO and Austin/HHH matches on the final disc is not seen. We'll see Austin attacking D'Lo whilst hearing the crowd react to Cactus and Rock exchanging weapon blows, without knowing what actually happened. We'll watch the action in the ring, and then suddenly see shots of the fans for around 20 seconds, completely ignoring the matches. Worst of all, the cameraman actually misses the Stone Cold Stunner which wins Austin and Cactus their match against Rock and D'Lo. Seriously, Stone Cold is primarily known for one move, and everybody knows that he wins 99% of his matches with the Stunner. But somehow the cameraman chose to film ringside shenanigans instead of Austin Stunnering Rock (and the interfering Kama Mustafa) and the actual three-count to clinch the victory. Through years of watching WWE DVDs, I have never seen anything like this. When fans complain today that there are too many camera angles of the action on Raw or SmackDown, just be glad that in the vast majority of cases, at least you can see what is happening, and that the actual finishing moves and closing sequences are not ignored, as is the case here. Sure, it was a house show, but imagine being Austin or Rock watching that back and thinking "where the hell is the finish?"

That gripe aside, I found this to be a very unusual and ultimately entertaining compilation. If you're expecting action to the level of that time period's greatest matches, then don't; remember that the standards when the cameras are not (technically) on are very different to when they are on. And, to be honest, this demonstrates very few of the traits which made the Attitude Era so memorable; the stars are here, but the sets are low-key, the pyrotechnics are minimal, there is no sexual content outside of Goldust's antics, the violence is pretty basic, and the colourful language is only occasional. So, as a representation of Attitude, this may not be the best example (especially with a third of the set being devoted to 1996).

But don't take these comments as a criticism, because this does represent the era perfectly if you were lucky enough to attend Raw tapings or house shows while the WWF product was at its hottest. This was the WWF live event experience during the Attitude Era, and besides Kane (who is oddly absent) and a couple of others like Chris Jericho and Edge and Christian, all of the key players from that unforgettable period of history are present. And there are some pretty good matches too, particularly on disc one involving Bret, Austin and Shawn. Furthermore, as noted earlier, unless you were in attendance at any of these shows, then you will have never, ever seen the matches included here, and it raises the question as to how many more hidden gems are in the WWE archives? If we assume that all events are filmed, even if only on one basic camera, there could be thousands, if not tens of thousands.

So, if you loved the Attitude Era, or if you're keen to get an insight into how popular the big names of the era were, and if you're interested in watching some rare gems, then you'll get a kick out of this third Attitude Era compilation. Just try not to dwell on the time period being covered and definitely try to ignore the occasionally-frustrating camera angles, and you should enjoy this collection.

Overall Rating: 7/10 - Respectable

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