Thursday, January 9, 2014

50 Years Of WWE Comes To Blu-Ray

When a company reaches the fifty year milestone, you have to expect them to celebrate it.  In fact, it's surprising just how little WWE, a company known for touting anniversaries of any size, actually pointed out their 50th recognized year in 2013.  A few mentions may have been made here and there on WWE programming, but to the best of my knowledge it came and went relatively quietly.  That is, except for the new WWE 50 DVD and Blu-Ray release.

To the hardcore fan, it actually appears on the outside to be a relatively useless release.  Most fans already know the history of the company and hardly need another lesson, but you can never get enough of the great quality footage that usually fills out these releases.  It was in fact some special footage included here that made me want this disc, that being an alternate view of one of the most historic matches in WWE history, but we'll get to that in a bit.

As with most WWE releases, you do get a dose of the "revisionist history" that some fans can't ever complain enough about.  Here, the revisionist history actually begins in the title itself.  If you recall, the WWE was claiming in their mid-1990's opening logo that the company had been the revolutionary force in sports entertainment "for over 50 years."  So which is it?  When did the company "officially" begin?  Does it really matter?  It's a business based on fictional history and telling fictional stories, so does "revisionist history" really make all that big of a difference?

A large portion of the beginning of the documentary celebrates the early success of the company thanks to Bruno Sammartino.  With Sammartino back in the WWE fold, it's obvious that the company wanted him back, in part, to help tell the story.  Though footage of his early days are limited, I still hope to see a dedicated Sammartino release in the future.  Hopefully WWE could obtain the rights to the epic 1960's battle between Sammartino and Giant Baba in Japan that exists on video.  The quality of the footage is absolutely amazing and would automatically qualify as an instant purchase in Blu-Ray format.

The story of the company is told not just by footage, but also by the obligatory "talking heads."  Instead of the usual troupe, here we get interviews with names not normally used such as Ivan Koloff, Jimmy Valiant, and Lex Luger as well as some with stars gone by such as Captain Lou Albano, Chief Jay Strongbow and Sensational Sherri Martel.  The one that struck me as the most interesting was none other than Linda McMahon.  Always well-spoken, Mrs. McMahon was well-utilized here as someone who definitely saw the company in good times and bad.

In addition to the normal stories of the national expansion, Hulkamania, WrestleMania, and the Attitude Era, this release also delves into darker territory that the company does not always speak of.  The 1990's steroid trial and the death of Owen Hart are both given dedicated sections and kudos should be given to the company for acknowledging both as part of its history.  The Benoit family tragedy is not mentioned here nor should it be.  Unlike the Hart death, the events did not take place anywhere near a WWE event.

The last fourth of the documentary is where my prime issues with it lie.  To begin with, we are "treated" to the opinions of "fans" in place of where we could be hearing more stories from the stars themselves.  The only "fan" of notoriety interviewed is Michelle Beadle, who WWE seems to have an obsession with.  Not being a very big sports fan, I know of Beadle solely from her constant mentions on WWE programming.  Why the company seems to get off on her attention is beyond me.  If WWE is an entertainment company, why is it any great shakes that a sports reporter (or whatever she is) is a huge fan?  If you ask me, she seems to have been someone with a casual interest who found a way to get free tickets.  Keep doing the "fake-football-team-fight-when-shown-on-camera" hun, your fifteen minutes have been long over in my eyes.

It is also around this time in the documentary where the story begins to feel as if it's transitioning into a commercial.  A large commercial.  Actually, it begins to remind me of a promotional video of a company trying to sell some sort of syndication package to a television station about two decades ago.  Obviously they're only going to promote today's product, stars, and concepts in a positive light, but it seems to go on just a bit too long here.  If I hear how great and state-of-the-art the "performance center" is one more time...

Honestly, you won't watch the documentary more than twice.  The extras, however, may be another story.  When "new-old" material is presented on a Blu-Ray, it's always intriguing, but how about something you've never seen before?  The WrestleMania III main event of Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant has been on countless media releases, but how about from the purely hard camera perspective?  It's here, it's amazing, and it's something that any fan needs to see at least once.  No commentary, a singular view, and the closest you'll get to watching the match live at the Pontiac Silverdome.

Also amongst matches and segments that really do capture the most celebrated moments in the company is another unexpected inclusion: my personal pick for 2013 Match of the Year.  That match would be the February 25, 2013 Monday Night Raw battle between John Cena and CM Punk.  These two always seem to make magic, but this particular match even threw the WWE's "rules" out the window with not only a piledriver but the kind of drama that wrestling's popularity was built on.  More kudos to the company for including this modern masterpiece.

This is WWE's 50th anniversary celebration.  There wasn't a televised special or even much hoopla.  Aside from an upcoming book (a flyer advertising this is included), this is how the WWE wants to be represented for their golden anniversary.  It definitely works and seems to cover the exact moments and eras that most fans covet.  Aside from a seemingly odd omission of much material related to the legendary Gorilla Monsoon (most likely unintentional), I can't think of anything else that they absolutely should have covered.  This is a definite purchase for the aforementioned extras, but if you can wait I'd do it.  With the recent heavy discounts on releases just months after their release, you may be able to pick this up as a total bargain not too far down the line.

As for what should've been left out, how about the opinions of the fans?  Or at least fans that no one cares about.  I've never witnessed anyone scan the crowd of an event to see if this Beadle woman was present.  If the company wanted to dive into it's fan base, why not talk about the legendary Ringside Rosie(s) of the territories?  MSG's own Mrs. Krieger?  1990's staple known as "Faith No More Guy?"  Or why not track down Vlad the Superfan?  I did!

Now there's a shot of two fans that have seen their share of the WWE's fifty years!


Anonymous said...

Wow a pic of Vlad! Pretty cool. I always wondered if he visits any wrestling forums as he must have some pretty cool stories from the countless shows he has been to. I've never seen him post on any sites or if he has he never revealed who he is.

J\/\/ said...

He seems to be a pretty private guy, so I wouldn't imagine him doing so, but you never know. The picture here was taken in 2007, but just the other day I saw a picture he took with a fan at WrestleMania 29.