Upon hearing of Eddie Guerrero's death last week, it's really tough to think of all the wrestlers that the industry has lost over the years: Owen Hart, Brian Pillman, Rick Rude, Chris Candido and countless others. Yet Jake "The Snake" Roberts is still alive and kicking, despite having battled countless setbacks and personal demons during his successful WWE career. Having just turned 50, the company that made him famous has highlighted this career in Pick Your Poison, part of an ongoing series of DVD releases enshrining the company talent from decades past. To the credit of the WWE production company, athletes are typically shown "warts and all", but in a way that doesn't discredit their career (with the exception of The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior, for obvious reasons).
Pick Your Poison continues the usual trend, serving up a dark but captivating portrait of a truly underrated athlete who we almost lost on numerous occasions. His interviews are often disturbing and bleak but never dishonest, painting a more thorough portrait than the one seen in Barry Blaustein's Beyond the Mat (though it doesn't seem as if Blaustein was entirely fair in his approach). Roberts is very well spoken during the biopic, though he doesn't bring up his troubled childhood and failed relationships for shock value or pity. His onscreen confessions show a man truly looking to redeem himself and work through life's problems, even though he's struggled every step of the way. Dark memories only hinted at in Beyond the Mat are expanded upon, so it's safe to say that there's some fairly rough subject matter discussed here. Even so, it's handled in a mature and honest fashion---and even better, it's straight from the source.
Those familiar with past volumes in the Legends series---or even related discs, such as Hard Knocks: The Chris Benoit Story or Rob Van Dam: One Of A Kind---should be familiar with the general format of this release. Disc One includes a lengthy documentary-style piece---including interviews with and narration by the wrestler in question---while a hefty set of bonus material is started on Disc One and spills over into the second. It's a satisfying trend that I'm glad WWE has continued, allowing for a broad portrait backed by tons of footage---there's words and action, both strong enough to balance each other out quite nicely. I'd go into more detail, but they've already saved me the trouble.
Pick Your Poison is one of the better examples of the Legends banner, since the man in question has a story both interesting and provocative. It's certainly not for younger audiences, but those who grew up watching the WWE Superstars of the 80s and early 90s should really enjoy this fascinating trip "behind the curtain". The production company has done a great job covering all the bases, providing a decent technical presentation and the aforementioned assortment of biting bonus features. Though many WWE fans have already picked this release up weeks ago (curse these late screeners!), those still on the fence should read on for more. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
WWE usually does a decent job in the technical department, and Pick Your Poison is up to par in most areas. Colors are bold and clear, while the image is relatively sharp and well defined (although the 1980s footage has obviously seen better days). The only problems not related to the source material---and these are quite common for the company---are mild amounts of pixellation and compression artifacts, but these digital imperfections don't seem to be overly distracting.
The audio presentation also gets the job done, as this Dolby Digital Surround presentation offers a lively atmosphere filled with clear dialogue, sound and music. Just for the record, many of the clips and interviews presented during the main feature were recorded live and can't be rated on the same scale as typical releases. Unfortunately, no Closed Captioning or subtitles have been included.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
Once again, the presentation is fairly standard for WWE productions, featuring basic animated menus and very smooth navigation. The 106 minute main feature has been divided into a very generous 33 chapters, while no apparent layer change was detected during playback. This two-disc release is housed in a single-width keepcase with a chapter insert, with the case and an extra book (covered in the "Bonus Features" section below) tucked snugly inside a nice slipcover.
There's a wealth of assorted bonus features that support the main feature perfectly, including rarely seen early matches, vintage interviews and promo spots. Most of these supplements seem to be presented in chronological order, though there's some commentary from now-Governor Jesse Ventura that's been removed from a match or two. Even so, there's some terrific vintage content on board here, the bulk of which is brand new to DVD---and in many cases, it's new to any home format. From the top, here's what included, starting with the matches themselves:
Complete Wrestling Matches:
vs. Ricky Steamboat (Snake Pit Match - "The Big Event", 8/28/86, below left)
vs. The Honky Tonk Man (WWF Wrestlemania III, 3/29/87)*
vs. Ravishing Rick Rude (Rude Awakening vs. DDT Match - MSG, 10/24/88)
vs. Jim Nelson & Mike Miller (with Ricky Steamboat - Mid-Atlantic, 9/9/81)
vs. Ronnie Garvin (World TV Championship Match - GA Championship, 3/12/83)
vs. "Leaping" Lanny Poffo (MSG, 3/16/86)
vs. Earthquake ("WWF Superstars", 4/27/91)
vs. Sting (Coal Miner's Glove Match – WCW Halloween Havoc, 10/25/92)
vs. Dirty White Boy (Smoky Mountain Heavyweight Title Match, 5/7/94)
vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (WWF King of the Ring Final, 6/23/96)
vs. Jerry "The King" Lawler (WWF SummerSlam, 8/18/96)
vs. Justin Credible & Jack Victory (w/ Tommy Dreamer – ECW, 11/1/98)
* - Includes Alternate Audio Commentary with Jake Roberts and Jim Ross
Spread out over both discs (the first three are on Disc One, while the rest are on Disc Two), this set of vintage matches is a great way to see Jake's career in abbreviated form. The early 1980s footage from Mid-Atlantic and elsewhere is interesting---the matches aren't spectacular, but they really help to establish a sense of history. Also included on Disc Two are a series of Snake Bites (Deleted Scenes), nine in all, which include stories about Jake's relationship with children, how he earned his nickname and even a life-or-death story involving snakes and Ricky Steamboat. There's also a series of eleven Interviews and Promos, most from the mid 1980s, including spots with Mean Gene, Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake (above right), Vince McMahon, Brother Love and three cheesy segments with The Ulllltimate Warrior. Rounding out the extra footage are three 1986-era episodes of The Snake Pit, where Jake's guests include Kamala, The Wizard, Kimchee, The Junkyard Dog and Hulk Hogan. Last but not least is an included WWE Legends Book (packaged together with the 2-disc set) that features excerpts from "Superstar" Billy Graham, Jerry "The King" Lawler and "Classy" Freddie Blassie. Overall, there's a great amount of extras here that wrestling fans should really enjoy.
NOTE: There's also at least six Easter Eggs scattered around. The impatient may click here for more details.
Say what you will about their current in-ring product, but WWE continues to produce some of the best biographies in the business. Pick Your Poison is every bit as good as past volumes under the "WWE Legends" banner---it's a striking portrait of an underrated athlete in his own words, tightly organized and bursting at the seams with classic matches and interviews. Fans of the promotion during the last two decades will certainly want to pick this up right away (if you haven't already, of course)---it's a solid release from top to bottom and one that all wrestling enthusiasts should have in their DVD collection. Needless to say, this one comes Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is a moderately affable desk jockey and art instructor based in Harrisburg, PA (how's that for diversity?). In his free time, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.