In 1985, World Wrestling Federation owner Vincent K. McMahon created a showcase for his product, a massive live-event that would be the biggest wrestling event of its time, with a massive audience and closed-circuit television screenings relaying his vision across the States. Dubbed WrestleMania, the event was the first step towards taking a wrestling territory national, into the mainstream and pop culture. With a card full of interesting matches, and a whopping amount of star power from the celebrity and sporting worlds, history was made.
With 'The True Story of WrestleMania,' the WWE have created a retrospective, of sorts, for its annual extravaganza, the culminating point of numerous story lines and feuds, a place where legends are both made and destroyed. A two hour look back at the history of the event itself, rather than the company as a whole, this pseudo-documentary takes fans, new and old, back through the annuls of sports entertainment history, focusing on the events and moments that shaped the medium, its successes and failures, and the interesting plots and backstories hidden behind the "showcase of the immortals."
This feature is, without a doubt, interesting. It's candid, to be sure, and entertaining. It's also has about as much impact as a right hook from Liberace or Cyndi Lauper. With entire years passing by with a simple footnote, if even that, and many events being showcased for less than a minute's worth of runtime, 'The True Story of Wrestlemania' doesn't come close to hitting all the necessary angles or documenting the reason why the show is such a success, instead focusing on individual accomplishments and a few memorable moments and characters. It's downright shameful that Donald Trump gets more airtime than numerous WWE Hall of Famers and current legends. Heck, aside from two quick flashes, it takes 111 minutes for the show to even mention the Undertaker's name, let alone his "streak." Considering how much weight is put on said character to symbolize the event, that just goes to show the peculiar focus of this feature.
It's not all bad, though. With the first WrestleMania event in Madison Square Garden in New York, we learn the history, the importance of the event, the gamble that it was, and the following two events, with their amazing attendance records, we see the show at its peak, in terms of interest. The heavy focus on these formative years is essential, and pays off, as we gain a great base to build off of as we progress through the years. The show doesn't go in order, so much, as events that took place in the same arena are discussed and/or shown back to back, jumping back and forth through history.
It's just questionable, though, when what is supposed to be an in depth, end all and say all concerning WrestleMania skims so close to the surface, padding itself up rather than delving into the nitty gritty. The focus on celebrities, musical performers, and sporting figures who crossed over is nice, but the added attention and extended runtime given to these sidetracks takes away from the legends who gave their all, in the main event of main events, the moment every man and woman in the business dreams of being a part of. It's downright shameful, really, when such pivotal moments, like the end of Ric Flair's run, culminating with a loss at WrestleMania XXIV, is not even mentioned, nor is Shawn Michaels' return to retirement after XXVI. We get the send off for Stone Cold Steve Austin, sure, but one out of three isn't a good track record. There's also no love for the legendary announcers, the men viewers heard the action through, like Jesse "the Body" Ventura, Jim Ross, or even Jerry Lawler, aside from quick snips showing they were Hall of Famers. That's it?
The show is a mixture of historical footage, both behind the scenes and of the event, and of interviews from the men (no women, strangely enough) behind the event. It's really bizarre, too, that one of the main participants is Hulk Hogan, a man currently working for another promotion. We also hear from HHH, Shawn Michaels, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Mean Gene and the Fink, Brisco and Patterson, The Rock, The Fridge, Chris Jericho, John Cena, Big Show, Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat, Ted DiBiase Sr., Sergeant Slaughter, Austin, Mike Tyson, Sheamus, Randy Orton, and Jack Swagger, among others, as their experiences and thoughts on the event, as performers or as children growing up inspired by it.
For such an important release, I really wish it were pulled off better. The constant light touches and scratches failed to get me into the history of the show, even if I loved the attention and respect given to the legends of the event, like Hogan, Austin, Michaels, Bret Hart, and even the late great Andre the Giant. I never, ever expected to see the infamous Alundra Blayze title in the trashcan shot here, which was nice to give the show a bit of a view from both sides, but there are too many longtime performers who are shown briefly, and never even mentioned, for me to get behind this release. The WWE has been about more than just the main eventers, as the other bouts on the card often times put out more effort and tell a better story, so it's a shame that these other performers get the shaft so thoroughly. I get not mentioning Chris Benoit. That makes sense. But no mentions of the tag teams of lore, let alone veterans like Curt Hennig, Mick Foley, Owen Hart, Lex Luger, Superfly Jimmy Snuka, or Harley Race, amongst countless others. This feature fell short of telling the whole story behind WrestleMania, instead focusing on selective "truths."
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The True Story of Wrestlemania' comes to Blu-ray across two Region A locked BD50 discs from WWE Home Video. There is a number of pre-menu trailers before the first disc, but all are skippable save the injury warning, while the second disc only has the injury warning pre-menu. The second disc of this release has special features exclusive to this release, on top of bonus matches. The play button on the second disc just plays through the bonus matches that are also found on the DVD release.
The 1080i, AVC MPEG-4 encode (framed at 1.78:1, but with blurred pillar boxes for 1.33:1 footage) used for 'The True Story of WrestleMania' is neither good nor bad. It's an interesting release, to be sure. With the majority of the footage found on the release being from before the days of WWE in HD, it's interesting to see how the various eras of WWE history look in high def. The varying grades of vintage stock contain nasty noise, heavy artifacting, fringing, macroblocking, color bleeds, and some occasionally heavy ringing, but since none of this footage was made for this release, it's hard to fault it. In fact, this is just the second non-pay-per-view release the WWE has put out on Blu-ray, after 'The John Cena Experience' late last year, so this is still relatively new for the company.
The newly recorded interview footage can seem overly glossy, and has some very random skin tones, often appearing warm, though some involved appear purple due to, among other things, peculiar lighting. Black levels are appropriate, and detail on the journalists, and various combatants, new and old, is a nice step up from what you see from WWE in SD these days, but it's hardly impressive. There were no technical errors on the interview portion of the show, aside from the comments from Chris Jericho concerning the Steamboat vs Savage bout, where the picture stutters slightly.
These types of features will always be a tough grade, due to the amounts of aged footage that are best left alone instead of being tampered with. With no tinkering done in post to boost appearance, I can say this release is a visual success, but it is definitely one odd duck.
The only track on this release is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that is about as straight forward as they get. Rears get activity from the soundtrack, and, light as that is, that's it. Bass elements are so soft that they may as well not be mentioned beyond that. They're puny. The interview footage is the real element to judge this release by, as the historical footage will obviously have its wear and tear, degradation and random static, and the newly recorded audio is always clear, front and center, with perfect prioritization. There was a quick little blip at the 1:20:52 mark, where the audio drops for a split second, but it's hard to miss. This release, much like other WWE Blu-rays, doesn't emphasize audio.
The primary extra on this release is the inclusion of a number of historic WrestleMania matches, which are in high def, running an astounding four hours and ten minutes. It's amazing seeing the event evolve over the years, not just in action and pacing, but audience and stage layout, as well as the ever rotating commentary crew. These bouts are presented in 1080i, all in their original aspect ratios. Some of the old WWF logos are horribly defaced with the new logo, which is massive and obscures the picture far too much. Some of the WrestleMania logos are blurred as well, as they utilized the old logo, and some entire ringposts are now blurred like Japanese porn. Hell, they even blur Triple H flipping off the camera, while one of two moments featuring Michaels' bare ass is blurred, as well.
Disc 1 matches
Hulk Hogan & Mr T vs "Rowdy" Roddy Piper & Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff (WrestleMania) - The main event to the first ever WrestleMania, at the MSG, with guest appearances by Billy Martin, Liberace, the Rockettes, Cowboy Bob Orton, the Superfly himself, Jimmy Snuka...and Mohammed Ali! This one can be a snooze, with introductions taking a full ten minutes...also known as half the time it takes Randy Orton to get to the ring. Mister T looks quite the part of a grappler, but the bout is very anticlimactic, a real snooze that has about as much excitement as drinking tea with your grandmother.
Intercontinental Championship match: Randy "Macho Man" Savage vs Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat (WrestleMania III) - A wonderful technical wrestling bout between two of the era's legends. Back and forth, with minimal interference, plenty of interesting maneuvers, and great storytelling, this one is well worth the watch, as one of the greatest bouts in WrestleMania history.
WWE Championship match: Hulk Hogan vs Andre the Giant (WrestleMania III) - Man, watch some debris go flying in this one! The match itself is less than great, but that one moment, that bodyslam, is like the wrestling shot heard round the world. Lex Luger and Yokozuna would try to recreate this moment, but the original is still more memorable, more iconic.
Retirement match: Ultimate Warrior vs Randy "Macho Man" Savage (WrestleMania VII) - The first ever retirement match in WWE history. Fashion alert! Horrible fashion alert! It's funny, hearing Bobby "the Brain" Heenan call Warrior an insane fool, long before Warrior truly went insane. Watch as the camera zooms in on Warrior's ass (really!), watch the constant interference by Queen Sherri, and witness the extreme ham that was 1991's wrestling scene.
Intercontinental Championship ladder match: Razor Ramon vs Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania X) - One of the greatest ladder matches in WWE history, regardless of event, with backstage "Kliq" members facing off, with fellow Kliqer Diesel (Kevin Nash) making an appearance, in only the second ladder match in WWE history. Michaels and his mullet were the "heels" in the bout, and it was such a funny feeling seeing fans cheer Hall. How times have changed. This match was innovative for its time, even if it's somewhat archaic by today's standards. The memories it made, my goodness.
Disc 2 matches
WWE Championship match: Shawn Michaels vs Stone Cold Steve Austin (WrestleMania XIV) - Yeah, the match that featured Mike Tyson as a special guest "enforcer." It's great to see Stone Cold in his prime, even if this wasn't one of his career defining bouts, but the highlight here is this was Shawn Michaels last match before his first retirement, and the last time D-Generation X consisted of Michaels, Triple-H, and Chyna, almost the entire original lineup. It's also the last time Michaels entire hairline was in a match. The story being told is pretty solid, though the wrestlers here telegraph their moves far too early, and aren't even running at full speed, due to the real life back injury that Michaels was working through. This isn't the best match, but it signified a major turning point in the WWE, so it's great that it is included.
Triangle ladder match for the WWE Tag Team Championship: The Hardy Boyz vs The Dudley Boyz vs Edge & Christian (WrestleMania 2000) - With four wrestlers working for the other wrestling company, and the other two looking nothing like they do now and/or medically retired, this match is definitely a funny looking relic. It's also a great look back at the days when tag team wrestling actually mattered, to the WWE, even if this is not a tag match. Three teams, three ladders, and more than three innovative ladder match moments. Far, far more than three, and there are some horrible bumps, including a top of the ladder to the outside of the ring fall that is impossible to do and not hurt like hell afterwards. The predecessor to the far more spectacular tables, ladders, and chairs match, it's impossible to not like this ridiculously over-the-top proof of mass masochism.
Shane McMahon vs Mr. McMahon (WrestleMania X-Seven) - Remember when Shane actually stepped into the ring, often alongside his Mean Street Posse? I sure do, and I miss his talents. The son of the owner doesn't have a massive build, or great mic talents, but the kid has hops, there is no mistaking that. This match is a part of the "WCW invasion" after the family bought out their competitor, where story aspects featured the family helming each faction. All of the McMahon family story arcs on display are very trashy and soap opera-ish, but even they are overshadowed by the talent on display from Shane. And remember, with trash comes trash cans, and Shane's signature in-ring moment!
The Rock vs Hollywood Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania X8) - Ugh. The recently announced main event for the next WrestleMania reminds me too damn much of this battle, where icons from two eras clash. The entire bout feels at half speed and poorly constructed, although seeing good ol' Dwayne taking a Rock Bottom was pretty damn great. Witness modern-age "hulking up," the battle of elbows and leg drops, and listen to all the boos for The Rock, a man who can play either the greatest fan favorite or the biggest villain perfectly.
WWE Championship match: Kurt Angle vs Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania XIX) - When current UFC superstar Lesnar faces off against Olympic gold medal winner Angle, there's no arguing there's talent in the ring. Sure, it's odd that after a hair vs hair match so long ago that Angle apparently was unable to ever grow hair again, but the man has/had talent. This bout features two great performances, plenty of athleticism, and a great back-and-forth pace.
WWE Championship match: John Cena vs Triple H (WrestleMania 22) - After some of the most ridiculous entrances in WWE history, we get a very polarizing match: the defending champ, who hears non-stop boos and chants of "you can't wrestle!" facing off against the face of the company, who the fans are behind by attrition. The battle, well, it's pretty damn good, if you can stand either wrestler. If you can't, you're in for a world of repetitive pain.
'The True Story of Wrestlemania' takes aim at the wrong areas at times, and is definitely too short to be a conclusive, in depth feature that WWE fans would expect, considering this is the show of all shows. It's a nice retrospective, and an educational tool for those who didn't grow up around these events, but it falls short of being epic, which it should have been. This Blu-ray release has video and audio that are trapped in the eras they're from, which is both good and bad, and a massive, massive load of extras, some exclusive to this release. The price tag is big, but so is the reward with this WWE documentary.