First things first: I'm a fan of pro wrestling, for the most part. I don't think that all wrestling fans live in trailer parks, and I know it's "fake". To me, wrestling---at least that which WWE produces---is still as much a sport as anything else these days, regardless of the "sports entertainment" moniker or placing theatrics over great storylines. Although I much prefer the Japanese style of wrestling (or even the gritty, hardcore nature of Ring of Honor or vintage ECW stuff), I've gotta admit: WWE is the reigning champion of pro wrestling. For every bad move they've made over the years, they've still managed to put out some great material. WWE fans know that there's nothing like a four or five-star main event, or the excitement that builds before a big pay-per-view event like Wrestlemania.
Sadly, WWE has managed to water down their product over the past few years. The primary cause of this is the increasing number of pay-per-views held per year (which, by my last count, was at least 12). There used to be less than half that number, which allowed the storylines to gain far more momentum and believability (so to speak). With one being held roughly every four weeks, it's a little like having Christmas every month: sure, it might sound good, but it gets boring after awhile. Additionally, there's been a real lack of solid matchups as of late, despite the fact that WWE has one of the most talented rosters in the world.
Although their current product isn't the worst it's ever been, it's barely even average at best. Long story short: while I used to look forward to the weekly shows, I hardly feel inclined to tune in anymore. Heck, I can't even remember the last pay-per-view I ordered. Although I've followed the news over the past few months, I'm not nearly as familiar with the WWE product as I was a few years ago. When the chance to review the August 2004 pay-per-view, Summerslam, came up, I figured I'd give it a chance. At the very least, I could become more familiar with what's been going on lately.
Unfortunately, that's all that happened (shock and awe, below left). Although I can't say that Summerslam was a complete waste of time, there's not much that makes this one a great buy for wrestling fans. True, some of the matches looked good on paper, but that doesn't always make for an excellent show. Dont get me wrong: there were a few bright spots to be found here, but I doubt anyone could make it through this show without fast-forwarding at least a half-dozen times. There's entirely too much filler---even for your average PPV event---but the most disappointing thing about this event was how good it could have been. Smaller companies (like the previously mentioned Ring of Honor) manage to put on top-notch shows month after month, and their entire production budget is likely that of WWE's costume department. In any case, let's see what the lineup looks like:
WWE SUMMERSLAM - AUGUST 15, 2004
TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA
1 - SPIKE, D-VON & BUBBA RAY DUDLEY vs. REY MYSTERIO, PAUL LONDON & BILLY KIDMAN
2 - MATT HARDY vs. KANE
3 - BOOKER T vs. JOHN CENA (Best of Five, First Match)
4 - EDGE vs. CHRIS JERICHO vs. BATISTA - IC Title Match
5 - KURT ANGLE vs. EDDIE GUERRERO
6 - TRIPLE H vs. EUGENE
7 - DIVA DODGEBALL "Competition"
8 - JOHN BRADSHAW LAYFIELD vs. THE UNDERTAKER - WWE Heavyweight Title Match
9 - CHRIS BENOIT vs. RANDY ORTON - World Heavyweight Title Match
Again, most of these matches looked good on paper. The main reason most of them didn't quite work? They were rushed. I don't know how any promotion could rush 8 matches in a three-hour time period, but WWE managed to. Several matches were barely given 10 minutes to play out, when several performers involved have put on excellent matches that lasted much longer (for example, almost everyone involved in the first match). What's worse is that some of the worst filler, like the Diva Dodgeball Competition (above right, you're welcome) could have easily been cut out to make room for better material. While a handful of the above matches were effective (like the main event itself, match #9), there were way too many dull spots to consider this a great show. Based on the strength of Summerslam, it looks like I'll still be spending my Monday and Thursday nights elsewhere.
Hey, I'm not a total cynic: if WWE puts on a great show, I'll praise it up and down. I love wrestling as a sport, but I know a lackluster event when I see it. If you're relatively new to wrestling, it's obvious that this show isn't a good starting point (heck, the WWE in general might not be a good starting point, but that's another story). Even with a few bright spots, even the die-hard WWE fan would be better off looking elsewhere for top-notch entertainment. Even so, WWE's trend of releasing pay-per-view events on DVD continues with Summerslam 2004, and it looks to continue to follow a similar pattern to past "minor" PPV releases: a decent technical treatment combined with a few not-so-decent extras. In any case, let's see how this one stacks up, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
WWE usually does a good job in the technical department, and Summerslam 2004 is no exception. While I'm extremely surprised that they've made no effort to step into the wonderful world of widescreen, the 1.33:1 transfer looks good. Colors are bright (although the overall palette is fairly muted), and image detail is high. Sharpness and contrast are also good, and only the most difficult of elements (fog and smoke) pose a slight problem. The only other issue seems to be a mild amount of compression artifacts, though the 3+ hours of content are likely the culprit here. Overall, though, this is a great effort and stands up to most other WWE releases.
Likewise, the sound quality is good, though I'm equally surprised that a more immersive mix hasn't been used yet. Still, the Dolby Surround presentation offers a lively atmosphere filled with clear dialogue, sound, and music. Just for the record: this was a live event, so it can't be rated on the same scale as typical releases. In any case, it's an excellent presentation that gets the job done.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
Once again, pretty standard for WWE DVDs: nicely animated menus, smooth navigation, and a boring "flavor of the month" generic rock song in the background. Each match (and notable behind-the-scenes filler event) has been given its own chapter, and no layer change was detected during playback. This one-disc release was housed in a standard black keepcase, and a chapter insert was also included (what, no shameless merchandising?).
Not much that stands out as far as extras go, but WWE has thrown us a few scraps. First off, we're given a series of TV Spots for the event (presented in the form of mock Olympic commercials) as well as a brief Behind-the-Scenes look at said spots. Some are good, some are bad, but they're all here for your viewing pleasure. There's also a Bonus Match (Rob van Dam vs. Rene Dupree) that took place on Sunday Night Heat (the pre-game show, if you will). Next up are a few Bonus Segments (locker room jabber, more or less), a few of which are exlusive to the DVD. Lastly, there's a Preview for the "WWE: Day of Reckoning" video game (ah, so that's where the merchandising got to!). All in all, what's here is only worth a look once, at best.
Hey, I'll admit it: I'm a fan of wrestling, but I'm not a big fan of Summerslam 2004. I've seen much better stuff from the WWE and beyond, but there are a few matches here that might make this release worth a weekend look. The WWE thankfully continues to provide great technical presentations, but the bonus features aren't anything to write home about. Overall, it's half of a decent show dressed up like Wrestlemania, so consider yourself warned. Casual fans are better off looking elsewhere, and only the most die-hard fans of WWE should give this one a shot. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is mild-mannered art instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.