Saturday, December 30, 2006

Capsule Review Cavalcade: The Wrestling DVDs II

I just recently attended Ford Field for a football game. Being there to see the home team lose didn’t matter – I was jazzed just thinking about being down there in the middle of this huge complex amongst screaming fans. It’s the site of Wrestle Mania 23, a return to Detroit after a 20 year absence. I have my floor tickets safely locked away, waiting for that day. So here we are off that kick doing some wrestling DVD reviews. Included here are two recent releases from WWE home video as well as a few-years-old one I watched too.

WWE Hall of Fame 2004 Induction Ceremony; Two-Disc Set
This presentation took place the Saturday prior to Wrestle Mania 20. It was the first year they did a whole ceremony, and I think it’s just as good if not a tad better than the other two that have taken place. The setting was a more intimate ballroom, which I prefer a bit to the huge ampitheaters they’ve been using lately. The class included among them Tito Santana, Harley Race, Junkyard Dog, Don Muraco, Big John Studd and others. The extras are fun, with Superstar Billy Graham’s famous title win, Slaughter vs. Patterson in a street fight, all of celebrity inductee Pete Rose’s Wrestle Mania appearances, etc.

But the highlight, and the number one reason to plunk down whatever it is for these discs, is Bobby Heenan’s speech. This was, for all intents and purposes, his public comeback after throat cancer, and you see him steal the show and turn a short acceptance speech into a great set of Heenan ad-libs and fan appreciation. Of all the guys in the business, Bobby is one of the most revered, one of the most unique, and certainly deserving of the honor bestowed upon him. ****

The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA (2006); Two-Disc Set
For a period in wrestling, there was a legitimate big three: the NWA, the WWF and the AWA. Verne Gagne’s Minnesota-based promotion was the breeding ground for many wrestlers. Through their hallowed halls many passed including Curt Hennig, Scott Hall, Shawn Michaels, Hulk Hogan, Bobby Heenan, Jesse Ventura, Gene Okerlund, and many many more. This doc uses anybody and everybody they could get to chronicle how the league started as an off-shoot of the NWA and went on to draw money and make stars we’d see later on.

The big turning point for them was not giving the title to Hulk Hogan as his star was as its peak in the early 80s. Throughout the documentary, Verne seems to teeter on the line of kayfabe and reality, and Hulk never seems to verbalize what was going on well either. Considering this was a major breaking point for them, to have it not very well articulated is a shame, and hurts it for somebody who might not know the story already. The extras are a smattering of matches from their years, and are really…well, bad. I didn’t yet watch the Bockwinkel/Hennig title bout, which features two wrestlers I enjoy, so I can’t speak to that. But I took in several discombobulated tag matches with no direction, and some joined-in-progress title bouts that left me with a bad taste. The doc is great, the extras – woof. An okay interview here and there, good stories, and maybe the aforementioned title match, but eh. ***

Brian Pillman: Loose Cannon (2006); Two-Disc Set
The story of Brian Pillman is both inspiring and tragic. All throughout his life and career, he overcame adversity as a smaller guy, somebody nobody thought would make it. He would wow football teams all over the map, yet never get the recognition he deserved until he dug in and let them know he earned it. Flash forward to a period where he’s red hot as a new, wildman, “loose cannon” character in WCW. He works the office into giving him his release. He takes off to ECW, gets offers from the WWF, and has the whole industry talking. Then…a car accident. His high flying style crippled by an injured ankle. An injury that he would never let fully heal, an injury that led him to take many a prescription pain killer. The documentary is very real in its treatment of these last days, as death almost seemed imminent, and that Pillman wouldn’t get or give himself the help he so needed at the time.

Even with that huge dose of sadness, there’s an upside. His family is still triumphant in the face of his death, celebrating his life rather than crying all over it. And the extras truly put you in a happy mood. I found myself going through most of them in an afternoon. It’s a lovely collection of lots of NWA TV, a Stampede contest, a hot “RAW” bout with Steve Austin, the 10-man tag from “In Your House: Canadian Stampede” that made me mark out for the first time in a while, some WCW stuff including a “War Games” match, the Thundercage bout from “Super Brawl,” his famous PPV opener with Jushin Liger – it’s great! There’s also a collection of cut-from-the-feature stories including a gutbuster from Jim Ross about an urgent meeting. ****½

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