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Blu-Ray : Highly Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: March 28th, 2023 Movie Release Year: 1998

Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows

Overview -

Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows is a fantastic look behind the curtain at what the pro-wrestling business was like in the '90s, which was something that wasn't widely available back then. The film follows Hart in the year that led up to the Montreal Screwjob and what plays out is nothing short of incredible. The video and audio presentations are sub-par here, but the source wasn't great, to begin with. The bonus features though are out-of-this-world amazing. Highly Recommended!

 

25th anniversary special edition!

It’s 1997, and the World Wrestling Federation is facing fierce competition from Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling. When the legendary Bret “The Hitman” Hart is offered a lucrative opportunity to jump ship to the WCW, WWF mastermind Vince McMahon appeals to his sense of loyalty and lures him back with a 20-year contract. But when McMahon abruptly reneges on the deal, Hart reconnects with the competition, paving the way for one of the most notorious events in the history of professional wrestling: the Montreal Screwjob.

Widely hailed as the greatest wrestling documentary of all time, Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows is an engrossing look at the life and career of Bret Hart and the Hart dynasty. Granted unprecedented access to the secret world of wrestling, director Paul Jay presents a real-world narrative far more dramatic than any story created for the ring. Expanding on the film’s eye-opening perspective, this disc also includes the potent companion doc, The Life and Death of Owen Hart – co-directed by Jay and Sally Blake – which explores the tragic death of Bret’s brother Owen.

directed by: Paul Jay
starring: Bret Hart, Vince McMahon, Steve Austin, Blade Hart, Helen Hart, Julie Hart, Owen Hart, Stu Hart, The Honky Tonk Man, Mankind, Dave Meltzer, Shawn Michaels, Jim Neidhart, Tammy Sytch, The Undertaker
1998 / 94 min / 1.33:1 / English DTS-HD MA 1.0

Additional info:

  • Region A Blu-ray
  • Transferred and restored from the Betacam master
  • Audio commentary featuring Bret Hart and Wrestling Observer Newsletter editor Dave Meltzer
  • Anatomy of a Screwjob (2022, 23 min.) – New interview with Bret Hart
  • Directing with Shadows (2022, 23 min.) – New interview with director Paul Jay
  • Screwjob-specific commentary (2022, 13 min.) featuring Bret Hart
  • Archival interview with Bret Hart (2008, 22 min.)
  • Archival interview with Paul Jay (2008, 22 min.)
  • The Life and Death of Owen Hart (1999, 47 min.) with an intro by co-director Paul Jay
  • Booklet featuring an interview with producer Sally Blake
  • Reversible cover artwork
  • English SDH subtitles for both films

OVERALL:
Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Blu-ray Disc
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p AVC/MPEG-4
Length:
94
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.33:1
Audio Formats:
English: DTS-HD MA 1.0
Subtitles/Captions:
English SDH
Release Date:
March 28th, 2023

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Most people at some point in their lives watched pro-wrestling, whether it be live at the Sportatorium in Dallas, TX with the Von Erichs live on World Class Championship Wrestling or the beginning of the Attitude Era of WWF where Stone Cold Steve Austin challenged everybody in the world as one of the first anti-heroes of Wrestling. No matter what period, the Hart Foundation consisted of the pro-wrestling family of the Harts from Canada. One of the more famous Hart members was Brett The Hitman Hart, the best in the business, but had an extremely unfortunate set of events during his tenure with the company that made him famous.

When people think of the Hitman Hart, they usually tend to walk on over to what is referred to as the Montreal Screwjob, which famously screwed over Brett in his hometown during a pay-per-view match with Shawn Michaels. This amazing documentary titled Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows follows the last year of Hart's career inside the WWF which started at the end of 1996 and ended with that infamous Montreal Screwjob. Directed by an award-winning journalist named Paul Jay, this film was one of the first, rare glimpses behind the highly shrouded pro-wrestling business curtain, where most people only knew what was being shown on television or in magazine articles. This doc shows the seedy underbelly behind the curtain.

Over this particular year in Hart's life, Brett was at the top of his game in WWF, and the Monday Night Wars with Vince McMahon and his WWF were starting with WCW. Vince had offered Brett a lucrative deal, but WCW came along and made an insanely large offer to Brett to come and work for them. Brett wanted to keep true to his mentor and father figure in McMahon because he was loyal and a great worker both in and out of the ring. Tensions and backroom dealings were happening behind Brett's back and he was forced to change his heroic character to a big villain, something Brett didn't like. At the infamous PPV at the end of 1997, Vince and Brett went back and forth on who was to win the match between himself and Shawn Michaels, where it was agreed that Brett was to win the match by disqualification in his hometown before he left to work for WCW, ensuring his character and career was intact for his long time fans.

Vince and a few others had alternate plans and when Shawn Michaels put Hart in his own signature Sharpshooter, the ref immediately rang the bell and called the match for Michaels as the winner with Hart clearly NOT tapping out. What followed was a real emotional backlash and physical altercation between Hart and McMahon that for a long time, permanently made fans and wrestlers angry. This documentary follows Hart through that year and sticks closely to him and his family as these events unfold, giving those ultra-rare glimpses of what really happened. It's a sad story and knowing what's come out over the years about McMahon makes it sting a little more. But one thing is for sure, Brett Hart is a class act and conducted himself in a wonderful manner throughout his career.

 

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows sharpshoots its way to Blu-ray via Vinegar Syndrome. The one disc is housed inside a hard, clear plastic case with newly illustrated artwork in pink with Hart front and center in the iconic glasses with a shadow pointing at him. There is a booklet that features an interview with the producer of the film Sally Blake that covers the film. There is reversible artwork that features the original movie poster.

Video Review

Ranking:

Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows comes with a 1080p HD transfer and looks a little janky. This is a documentary made back in 1996 and 1997 and a lot of the elements don't make for a super crisp or modern-quality look. The image is still a bit soft and suffers from those issues of live television before there was HD. The video has been restored from the Betacam Master and while it's serviceable enough, it by no means looks like a real or even good true 1080p HD transfer. Still, the bright colors of the wrestling matches look great, but the detail suffers a lot.

Audio Review

Ranking:

This release comes with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track and it sounds good enough. The archival footage of the wrestling is a bit muted and dull with no heft to it. But the narration and interviews from the '90s sound very good. The narration especially and the music cues bring in those low ends nicely. Other than that, there isn't really much to say about this audio track.

Special Features

Ranking:

There are 150 minutes worth of extras here that included new and vintage interviews, a commentary track, and the documentary about Owen Hart. All of these are worth watching.

  • Audio Commentary - Brett Hart and wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer come back and talk about the film and the time period when this took place. He recalls all the emotions he went through back then with Meltzer acting as the moderator. It's a great listen.
  • Anatomy of a Screwjob (HD, 23 Mins.) - A zoom interview with Brett Hart from 2022 where he talks specifically about the Montreal Screwjob and his thoughts now about it.
  • Directing With Shadows (HD, 23 Mins.) - A new interview with director Paul Jay inside his sound studio from 2022. He discusses making the movie, working with Brett, and more.
  • Screwjob Specific Commentary (HD, 13 Mins.) - The Screwjob sequence can be seen here with Brett specifically talking about that moment yet again while the movie plays out in 2022.
  • Archival Interview with Brett Hart (HD, 22 Mins.) - A 2008 interview with Hart.
  • Archival Interview with Paul Jay (HD, 22 Mins.) - A 2008 interview with Paul.
  • The Life and Death of Owen Hart (HD, 47 Mins.) - This is the full 1999 mini-documentary about the life and death of Owen Hart that happened in Kansas City.

Final Thoughts

Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows is back with its 25th anniversary and once again reveals all of the nastiness that went on backstage during that one year of Hart's life that ended with the Montreal Screwjob. It's a wonderful yet discerning glimpse of life backstage in the pro-wrestling world. The video and audio are serviceable but the extras are incredible. Highly Recommended!