In 10 Words or Less
Fan-favorite matches for the second-biggest belt in wrestling
Loves: (As a child) pro wrestling
Likes: Olympic wrestling
Dislikes: (As an adult) pro wrestling
Hates: The WWF's Attitude Era
Before I dig into this set, let me say up front that I don't like wrestling, and I couldn't tell you who the champion is or who wrestles where. So, to repeat a question I've asked myself several times, why am I reviewing a wrestling DVD? The answer is a simple one: nostalgia.
Once upon a time, a young Francis Rizzo III was a huge wrestling fan, and the walls of his room were covered with pictures pulled from Pro Wrestling Illustrated. But unlike his friends, Young Francis was an NWA fan, watching megacards like Starrcade and WarGames. But despite his allegiance, he still watched WWF, and was enthralled by many of their wrestlers, staying up late to watch Saturday Night's Main Event (and more often being disappointed to see Saturday Night Live (apparently he was too young for TV Guide).) Then, one day, it all went away. When he lost interest in the squared circle isn't clear, but the posters of guys in tight spandex were replaced by girls in bikinis, so draw your own conclusions.
I've never looked back since that time, never revisiting that "sport," which I hold in the same regard as soap opera, NASCAR and reality TV. It all made sense when I was a kid, watching these cartoony musclemen battle and doublecross each other, as the high theater was like watching comic books come to life. But at some point it all changed, becoming darker, more aggressive and less fun.
But, with this title, I get the chance to look at my childhood favorites with adult eyes, and give the era that defined my negative view of pro wrestling a legitimate shot. The set, which is hosted by WWE commentator Todd Grisham (who introduces and bridges the gaps between each match in a smartass, WWE-appropriate style,) covers the history of the Intercontinental Championship, from its beginning in 1979, to March of 2008, via 27 matches selected by the WWE's fans via their web site. It's neatly divided into three discs, one for the '80s (and one match from 1979), one for the '90s and one for the '00s, so you've got the classic, the contemporary and the in-between.
The first disc I dug into was the '80s, representing the wrestling I grew up on. It's got some classic matches, including what is probably the single best match ever, when Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat took on Randy "Macho Man" Savage at WrestleMania III. Perhaps the setting was part of it, with the largest crowd ever to watch a wrestling match, but when two incredibly agile, athletic grapplers meet up like this, the fact that the ending was predetermined goes out the window. This was a beautiful athletic performance that would have been great no matter who won.
After getting started with a very old-school Pat Patterson match (against a very young Ted Dibiase), the early belt holders get some spotlight, including a ridiculously macho Don Muraco, underrated early WWF star Tito Santana, and lesser-known champions like Pedro Morales. The remainder of the disc focuses on some of the most memorable cartoonish characters of '80s wrestling, like the Honky Tonk Man (surprisingly the longest-reigning Intercontinental champion), the kinetic madness that was the Ultimate Warrior and the questionable gimmick of Ravishing Rick Rude. When the vast majority of those watching at the time were children, what was the goal of having this guy whose gimmick was being sexy? These later matches are actually pretty good, but they are more about the personalities than the action, while some of them illustrate just how bad the acting was back then. When one wrestler is supposedly down and prone, yet turns himself to be better position for the next move, it just makes you laugh.
Pat Patterson vs. Ted DiBiase - October 22, 1979
Ken Patera vs. Pedro Morales - October 20, 1980
Pedro Morales vs. The Magnificent Muraco - December 28, 1982
The Magnificent Muraco vs. Jimmy 'Superfly' Snuka (Steel Cage) - October 17, 1983
Greg Valentine vs. Tito Santana (Lumberjack) - March 17, 1985
Tito Santana vs. Randy 'Macho Man' Savage - February 8, 1986
Randy 'Macho Man' Savage vs. Ricky 'the Dragon' Steamboat - March 29, 1987
Ricky 'the Dragon' Steamboat vs. Honky Tonk Man - June 2, 1987
Honky Tonk Man vs. Ultimate Warrior - August 29, 1988
Ravishing Rick Rude vs. Ultimate Warrior - August 28, 1989
After the glory days of Hulk Hogan and company, things slid downhill for the WWF, and this disc captures the waning days of the old-school federation and the birth of the Attitude Era, through the prism of the Intercontinental title. Things kick off with a pair of impressive bouts with Bret "Hitman" Hart, first against long-time veteran Mr. Perfect and then against his in-law, the British Bulldog, a bout that played like a brawnier version of the Steamboat/Savage classic, with the added, though unconvincing family drama of a familial link, Davey Boy Smith's wife Diana, at ringside. Things were less impressive with Razor Ramon getting a pair of matches that just don't stack up.
The new WWF gets going in a big way as the popular Stone Cold Steve Austin takes on soon-to-be star Rocky Maivia in a brutal match that includes a pick-up truck as part of the action. It also marks the start of some true ridiculousness, courtesy of the Attitude Era. The match between Triple H (of the anti-social team known as D-generation X) and The Rock (of the barely-veiled black-separatist group The Nation) is just awful, thanks to the interjection of each wrestler's posse and a time stipulation that makes the whole affair a let-down. It's just step up over the terrible Good Housekeeping Match that introduces the first female Intercontinental Champion. The whole time period comes off as a pandering, pathetic example of marketing to the lowest-common denominator. It's worth noting that the fans chose far fewer matches from this era than any other.
Mr. Perfect vs. Bret "Hitman" Hart - August 26, 1991
Bret "Hitman" Hart vs. British Bulldog - August 29, 1992
Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels (Ladder) - March 20, 1994
Razor Ramon vs. Jeff Jarrett - January 22, 1995
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Rocky Maivia - December 7, 1997
Triple H vs. The Rock (2 of 3 falls) - July 26, 1998
Jeff Jarrett vs. Chyna (Good Housekeeping) - October 17, 1999
The final DVD delivers the WWE most people today recognize as pro wrestling, full of bombast and hypermuscular stuntmen playing out soap-opera worthy storylines, while trying to maintain a foothold with fans in the face of true hardcore violence courtesy of mixed martial arts. While the sexuality of the Attitude Era has been toned down and the in-your-face punk aspects of the shows are somewhat less apparent, it's still got that smug feel that just annoys you if you don't buy into the action.
In some ways, it's a slightly less cartoonish version of the '80s WWF, but with a much higher overall level of athleticism and far better choreographed battles. The Rob Van Dam/Jeff Hardy ladder match is actually pretty amazing in terms of the stunts, including a dive from the top of a ladder that looks incredibly dangerous. Hardy, who is part of four matches on this disc, might be my "favorite" of the bunch, despite his ridiculous goth/club kid look, simply because he sells everything he does with his tremendous skills. Meanwhile, for the bloodthirsty, this disc features a steel cage battle between the legendary (and quite old) Ric Flair and Triple H. With the amount of (fake) brutality displayed and (real) blood spilt, this is a tough one to watch, and is honestly anti-climactic.
Though the matches have improved over time in terms of their believability and athleticism, the fans, possibly attracted by the Attitude Era, have gotten worse. When they aren't chanting "Boring" when matches reach a stalemate, they are busy with their stupid signs, most of which simply have their name and an arrow pointing to themselves. You watch them, and they aren't even paying attention to the match, instead watching the big screens showing the TV feed, waiting to be shown so they can hold up their sign again. I can't imagine what it's like to sit behind one of these geniuses. Also awful are the referees, who are the worst actors in the world, emoting physically with the subtlety of amateur mimes. If you can get away with cheating as long as you stop before they count to five, why bother having referees at all? I know it's fake, but it's still dumb.
Chris Jericho vs. Kurt Angle - February 27, 2000
Eddie Guerrero vs. Chris Jericho vs. X-Pac (Triple Threat) - October 12, 2000
Triple H vs. Jeff Hardy - April 12, 2001
Rob Van Dam vs. Jeff Hardy (Ladder) - July 22, 2002
Randy Orton vs. Edge - July 11, 2004
Ric Flair vs. Triple H (Steel Cage) - November 1, 2005
Rob Van Dam vs. Shelton Benjamin (Winner Takes All) - April 30, 2006
Shelton Benjamin vs. Carlito vs. Johnny Nitro (Triple Threat) - June 25, 2006
Umaga vs. Jeff Hardy - July 22, 2007
Jeff Hardy vs. Chris Jericho - March 10, 2008
The three DVDs are packaged in an attractive, open book-style, foil-embossed case with three clear trays for the discs, match lists opposite the DVDs and a four-page photo pamphlet lightly glued to the back of the set. It's really quite nice, though the fact that it doesn't close shut might annoy some. The DVDs have animated full-frame menus offering a play all option and match selections (with trailers also available on the first disc.) There are no audio options, no subtitles and no closed captioning.
The quality of the full-frame video on these matches varies with age, as the set touches four different decades, with the early matches looking soft, dark and earthy, while the most recent entries are razor-sharp, with bright, vivid color. The only footage that looks off is the linking segments with Grisham, as the green-screen effect looks cheap and puts a halo around him. There are no issues with dirt or damage and no obvious problems with digital artifacts. What's annoying about many of the matches in the middle of the set is the sheer amount of digital blurs, which cover up the legally-outlawed WWF logos. According to that fountain of truth, Wikipedia, all WWE shows after January 2008 were broadcast in high definition, but the one match included here from after that time is in standard television format.
The audio is a rather standard television presentation delivered via Dolby Digital 5.0 tracks that are center-balanced, and don't offer much in terms of dynamic sound. Everything sounds pretty nice, including the often ridiculous ringside commentary and the signature entrance music from the modern era matches.
Unless you consider a link to a marketing survey an extra, this set has nothing to offer for bonus material.
The Bottom Line
I didn't think I'd rediscover my love of wrestling by watching this set, and I certainly haven't, but my appreciation for some of the more recent wrestlers has definitely increased. That said, sitting through many of these matches is a test of one's patience, and not just because of the repetitive action in the ring, but because of the aggravating people around it. The quality of the discs is solid (though marred by the legally-required blurs) but there are no extras to enjoy. Wrestling fans should be ecstatic to have these classic matches to enjoy, but it's probably overkill for the casual viewer or nostalgia hunter.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.