Notice: Due to technical difficulties, your regularly scheduled screen captures will not be available for this review. Sorry about that.
First things first: I'm a fan of pro wrestling, or at least I used to be. To me, wrestling---at least the kind that WWE produces---is still as much a sport as anything else these days, regardless of the "sports entertainment" moniker or employing style over substance. Although I much prefer the Japanese style of wrestling (or even the gritty, hardcore nature of Ring of Honor or vintage ECW stuff), WWE is still the reigning champion of pro wrestling in the public's eye. 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 quite like a five-star main event or the excitement that builds before a major pay-per-view extravaganza like Wrestlemania. It's cheesy, it's over-the-top and most of us know it's fake, but it can still be pretty darn entertaining.
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, allowing storylines to gain more momentum and believability (so to speak). With a new PPV being held roughly every four weeks, it's a little like having Christmas every month: sure, it might sound good on paper, but it gets boring after awhile. There's also been a lack of interesting material as of late, despite the fact that WWE has one of the most talented rosters in the industry.
Although their current product isn't the worst it's ever been, it's often barely average at best. Case in point: while I used to look forward to the weekly-televised shows, it's incredibly rare that I feel inclined to tune in anymore. Heck, I can't even remember the last pay-per-view I bothered to order. Although I've continued to enjoy a few daily e-mail newsletters, I'm not nearly as familiar with the WWE product as I was just a few short years ago. When the chance to review the August 2005 PPV, Summerslam, came up, I figured I'd give it a shot (after all, it had to be better than last year's dismal event). At the very least, I could become more familiar with what's been going on lately.
Here's some good news: after reading the lineup of matches for Summerslam 2205, I was very familiar with the participants. There aren't any "new faces" here---at least anyone who's started less than a year or two ago---so I already felt somewhat involved with the roster. Thankfully, the card also looked pretty good: it's not exactly a collection of dream matches, but there looked to be quite a few entertaining bouts in the mix. Often times, though, matches can look great on paper, but can't quite measure up in execution. I breathed a sigh of relief by the show's end, however: this wasn't a perfect event, but it was better than I expected---especially based on what little I'd seen during the past 12 months. For those keeping score at home, Summerslam 2005 took place on August 21st at the MCI Center in Washington D.C. and includes the following brawls:
Table of Contents
(8 Matches on one single-sided DVD)
1 – Chris Benoit vs. Orlando Jordan [c] (for the U.S. Title)*
2 – Edge [with Lita] vs. Matt Hardy**
3 – Rey Mysterio vs. Eddie Guerrero (Custody Match)****
4 – Kurt Angle vs. Eugene [with Christy Hemme]**
5 – The Undertaker vs. Randy Orton*
6 – John Cena [c] vs. Chris Jericho (for the WWE Title)*
7 – Batista [c] vs. Bradshaw (for the World Heavyweight Title)*
8 – Shawn Michaels vs. Hulk Hogan**(Main Event)
* - Indicates cheesiness level of storyline, not actual match quality (1 to 5)
For the most part, these matches were entertaining and involving. Don't get me started on some of the background stories, though: they're not all bad, but the history of Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero's rivalry for the Custody Match is pretty darn laughable (though it didn't receive the full Five Star Cheesiness™ rating, since I clearly remember legends like Doink the Clown and the Gobbledy Gooker). Even so, their match is full of great spots and solid mat wrestling---and we can't expect anything less from such talented athletes. Other highlights include Edge & Matt Hardy's match (a bloody brawl with some real-life tension between the two) and a pair of championship matches (#6 and 7), which include some nasty bumps and great crowd participation. For most fans, though, the real highlight of the evening will be the main event: Shawn Michaels vs. Hulk Hogan (dubbed as "The Icon vs. The Legend"), a fantastic bout with a predictable but entertaining finish. Shawn Michaels really shows his stuff here, carrying the match with tremendous ability and charisma.
Of course, they can't all be winners. Some of the matches are incredibly short, such as the opening match (less than a minute) and Kurt Angle's brawl with Eugene (less than five). Both ended the right way, but it's a shame to waste such talent when the winners have proven themselves in much longer bouts. Match #5---featuring the aging Undertaker and the up-and-coming Randy Orton---will appeal to fans of old-school wrestling, but the slower pace of the match sticks out like a sore thumb.
Even so, WWE Summerslam 2005 is a solid show that fans of the sport should enjoy. The fact that it's one of the "major" PPVs of the year means there's a greater diversity of performers; since the Raw and Smackdown brands separated awhile back, they only "clash" at these events. There's also a refreshing lack of women's matches---though I'm not saying that out of blatant sexism, only due to WWE's annoying habit of spotlighting surgically enhanced ladies that can't wrestle (NOTE: There are a few genuinely talented women in the WWE, but they're rarely the center of attention). This lack of "eye candy"---and the lack of annoying comments by Jerry Lawler that usually accompany it---will disappoint some fans, but it's a welcome change in my book. The actual DVD is a bit on the dry side, but it's still a good package for the asking price. Let's look closer, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
WWE usually does a decent job in the technical department, and Summerslam 2005 is up to par in most areas. While I'm surprised that they still haven't made an effort to convert to widescreen---especially since this would give them a visual edge over the competition---the 1.33:1 transfer looks as good as most other WWE releases. Colors are bold and clear (although the overall palette is fairly muted) and the image detail is relatively sharp and well defined. The only notable problems---and these are quite common for the company---are moderate amounts of pixellation and compression artifacts, but these digital imperfections don't seem to be overly distracting.
Likewise, the sound quality is good, though I'm equally surprised that a more immersive mix hasn't been implemented yet. Still, the Dolby Digital Surround presentation offers a lively atmosphere filled with clear dialogue, sound and music. For the record, this was obviously a live event and can't be rated on the same scale as typical releases. Overall, it's a fine presentation that gets the job done. NOTE: There's also a option to hear the event in Spanish, including play-by-play commentary.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
Once again, the presentation is fairly standard for WWE DVDs: nicely animated menus, smooth navigation, and a boring "flavor of the month" Top 40 rock song in the background. Each match (and notable behind-the-scenes segment) has been given its own chapter, while no layer change was detected during playback. This one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase and a chapter insert was also included (what, no shameless merchandising?). Unfortunately, no Closed Captioning or subtitle options have been provided for the deaf and hearing impaired.
There are practically no extras included, which is disappointing since WWE usually tries to throw a few scraps our way. First up is a short segment called Hulk Hogan on "The Larry Bling Show", a cheesy but entertaining faux interview featuring Shawn Michaels as the Hulkster himself. Also on board is a John Cena Music Video and a brief segment called The Night After, highlighting exactly what went down on the following night's edition of Raw. All three bonus features are moderately interesting, yet there's much less to dig through here than most traditional WWE releases.
The main event is always the selling point for this or any other DVD release, so it's good to know that WWE Summerslam 2005 delivers an entertaining show that most fans of the sport should really enjoy. Sure, there's a clunker or two and several of the matches could have run longer, but the highlights are strong enough to support everything nicely. The DVD's technical presentation is just about up to par, though the bonus features are a bit disappointing on the whole. Overall, Summerslam 2005 is still a solid package that WWE fans will want to add to their collection. Recommended.
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.