Monday, 3 April 2017

DVD Review: WrestleMania Monday

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 363 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: April 3 2017

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

Over the last few years, the episode of Raw held the day after WrestleMania has become almost as anticipated as Mania itself. Whilst the post-WM Raw has always served the purpose of pressing the reset button, so to speak, and acting as a platform for debuts, returns and even retirements, since 2012 the combination of truly major developments and increasingly raucous crowds have led to this being the most watched, and most eagerly-awaited, television show of the WWE Calendar.

The latest WWE release focuses on this phenomenon, with a documentary being accompanied by a selection of matches and moments from down the years, all of which, of course, come from post-Mania editions of Raw. They include some of the most memorable and historic Raw moments of all-time, and some of the loudest crowd reactions in Raw history provided the soundtrack for them. All of which makes for a pretty entertaining DVD.

Beginning with the documentary, then: it's actually the same as the WWE 24 feature recently added to the Network, albeit with around 20 minutes extra footage. It is a behind-the-scenes look at last year's Raw-after-Mania, with comments from the talent who were about to make their Raw debuts that night (Apollo Crews, Enzo Amore & Big Cass, Baron Corbin), return (Maryse) or were set to debut/return shortly afterwards (The Vaudevillains, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson). We're treated to footage of some wrestlers being informed about their promotion to the main roster, along with candid thoughts on their WWE journeys to date (Cass notes that an unnamed WWE employee told him that he would have been fired a long time ago had he not been seven feet tall; to be fair, you can't teach that). There's also discussion and clips relating to the increasingly-crazy crowds, and quick highlights of past Raw-after-Mania moments, which I'll explain shortly as they're included in full on the remainder of the DVD.

The documentary is good, and it's cool to see the preparations for debuting talent (such as the new faces practicing their entrances, presumably so that the production team can ensure the best possible camera angles and lighting effects). I would have liked to have seen a greater focus on the classic post-Mania moments, as they weren't allocated a lot of time in the main feature, and the sound levels are unusually inconsistent near the beginning; one cannot hear what the wrestlers are saying at times as the volume of the background music is much louder. Otherwise, it's a watchable doc, but as noted you can watch a (shorter) version of this on the WWE Network.

The rest of the DVD takes us through the history of the Raw-after-Mania. Bearing in mind that Raw debuted in January 1993, we aren't given any clips from 1993 or 1994 (if my memory serves me correctly, Hulk Hogan becoming WWF Champion was barely even acknowledged on the post-WM IX edition of Raw), so our trip into the past begins with 1995. Bull Nakano vs. Alundra Blayze is one of the better Women's Championship matches from the era, and has a notable post-match angle. From the same show, Diesel and Shawn Michaels rekindle their friendship after an incident involving Michaels' bodyguard Psycho Sid, but bizarrely, there must have been an issue with the show's running time on the night (it was a one-hour show back then), because the key moments took place during a commercial break, the recap is very brief, and so when we're given a full replay of the events, it actually comes from the opening scenes of Raw from the following Monday. Weird.

Next up, Mankind makes his in-ring debut the night after WM XII against Bob "Spark Plugg" Holly, with the attendees who recognised Mankind as being Cactus Jack in ECW making their voices heard, but not so much as to dominate proceedings. We then jump to 1998 and, despite it only being two years later, the WWF product couldn't be more different as we get a Steve Austin-Vince McMahon angle and X-Pac's memorable return as a member of D-Generation X, on a night which some say marked the true beginning of the Attitude Era. There's nothing from 1999, strangely, so after that, it's a quick Chris Jericho-Eddie Guerrero European Championship match from 2000, but 2001 isn't represented at all, which is disappointing since that show included a Steel Cage showdown between newly-turned heel Steve Austin and The Rock.

So, it's onto 2002, and Hulk Hogan officially confirming his babyface turn in a promo alongside The Rock, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall (Nash genuinely took offence to Rock amusingly calling him "Big Daddy B---h" as it wasn't a scripted line, supposedly), and Brock Lesnar making his WWF debut by interrupting a Hardcore Championship match. Then, from 2003, we see a promo which essentially marked the end of Steve Austin's career (most fans assumed it was an angle that would lead to Austin wrestling again later in the year or the following year at a push; as it turned out, Austin has never wrestled again since), an enjoyable three-team match for the World Tag Team Championships (Chief Morley & Lance Storm vs. Rob Van Dam & Kane vs. The Dudleyz), and Goldberg's WWE debut in an angle involving The Rock, who was on fire as a heel whose fame from Hollywood had gone to his head. The years 2004 and 2006 aren't covered, so disc two ends with a forgotten gem of a three-way Intercontinental Title match from 2005 (Shelton Benjamin vs. Christian vs. Chris Jericho) and not one but two 10-team Battle Royals for the World Tag Team Titles from 2007, in an unusual slice of booking that dissolves the shaky John Cena-Shawn Michaels alliance (I found it funny that Jerry Lawler suggested during the first BR that Chavo Guerrero and Gregory Helms were involved, but they didn't show up until the second BR, and Lawler again mentioned them being participants without realising his earlier mistake).

Disc three kicks off in unforgettable fashion via Ric Flair's retirement ceremony from 2008, and is followed by a forgotten Lumberjack match for the Unified Tag Team Titles between Carlito & Primo and The Miz & John Morrison from 2009. Batista's return from injury that night isn't here, nor is Shawn Michaels' retirement speech from 2010 (although it is on the Blu-ray). Therefore, we next turn to 2011, and the night when The Rock and John Cena officially confirmed that they would collide at WrestleMania the following year. However, the true reputation of the post-Mania Raw, from the truly massive moments to the red-hot crowd, began in 2012, as on a night filled with "Yes!" chants and some other unexpected shouts, Brock Lesnar makes a stunning return to WWE by flattening John Cena, which gets one of the loudest pops in Raw history. Amazingly, this reaction is trumped by the next moment, from 2013, as Dolph Ziggler finally cashes in Money In The Bank for a World Championship clash against Alberto Del Rio.

The crowd on that night took things to another level when it came to bizarre yet (mostly) amusing chants, which peaks when Fandango battles Kofi Kingston, only for the crowd to start singing his music, which soon led to his theme tune climbing the iTunes charts and momentarily making him a star. The 2014 show was less notable, though it still has its moments as featured here: The Ultimate Warrior cuts a promo in what would be his final televised appearance, as he would tragically pass away just 24 hours later, and Paige debuts against AJ Lee in a short Divas Title match (with a regrettably botched finish). The crowd was a bit hit-and-miss in 2015, with some chants taking things too far, but there was still fun to be had in the ring, with two enjoyable bouts included here: Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler for the Intercontinental Title and John Cena vs. Dean Ambrose in the first United States Championship Open Challenge. The DVD ends, as one would expect, with the 2016 moments, as Zack Ryder defends the IC gold against The Miz and we're treated to a really good Fatal Four Way, with number one contendership for the WWE World Championship at stake, starring AJ Styles, Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens and Cesaro (who replaced the "injured" Sami Zayn, although we see Sami backstage during the show after his injury angle took place at one point on the documentary, hmm ...).

There's a lot of fun to be had watching this, especially if one gets the Blu-ray version which includes further matches and moments. There are a couple of downsides, though. Although the Raw-after-Mania has become an event in its own right, I'm not sure if the proceedings warranted a full DVD release, as it focuses more on angles than matches, and the vast majority of those have previously been released on DVD. The other thing is that, if you have the WWE Network, you'll be able to find the vast majority of the content here (along with other moments like the aforementioned Austin-Rock Cage collision) in a dedicated collection, meaning that you could just watch everything there, and that's not to mention that every episode of Raw ever is now on the Network if you wanted to watch, say, the 1998 or 2012 shows in their entirety. The documentary on the DVD doesn't remove the references to WWE 24, a Network-exclusive series, despite adding further scenes, and the artwork for the DVD sleeve feels a little lazy, rather than something uniquely designed for this specific release.

Those aside, however, this DVD is a fun one to watch, and a worthy tribute to WWE's most unpredictable television show of the entire year. The timing of its release is clever, since we are just hours away from the 2017 Raw-after-Mania. It remains to be seen what we'll get from tonight's show (or SmackDown tomorrow, since it's the first live SD after WM, meaning that we may be treated to some magical moments there too), and one does wonder if it's always a good thing for the crowd reactions to go completely off the rails (it's great for one night, but with some performers it has spread to crowds throughout the year, and caused a bit of damage in the process). At its core, though, people watch WWE to be entertained, and this DVD definitely succeeds in that regard. The documentary is enjoyable, there's a few good matches here, and if nothing else, you'll be treated to plenty of the biggest or most memorable Raw moments ever, particularly over the last ten years.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 - Good

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