Generic Pre-Review Wrestling Disclaimer: Long before my affinity for globetrotting documentaries, Martin Scorsese films and The Criterion Collection, I found a soft spot for professional wrestling. Don't ask me how this happened; it just did. Despite this declaration, I shower daily, all my teeth are accounted for, I have a college degree...and, most importantly, I have a wife with the same merits. I'm not alone, of course. The wrestling fans I know aren't slack-jawed yokels; they simply appreciate the spectacle and illusion that this genuine sport creates, in the same way movie lovers enjoy fast-paced fights and thrilling chase sequences. Long story short: we know this stuff is "fake", but we like it anyway. Give us a break.
Sometime during the last 15 years or so (beginning mostly with a series of low-tier events titled "In Your House"), WWE has managed to dilute their pay-per-views by offering them on a monthly basis. This isn't quite at the level of having Christmas every day, but you know what I'm trying to get at: special events just aren't as exciting when they're more frequent. Such is the case with Armageddon and its ilk. Unlike, say, The Royal Rumble or Wrestlemania, these newer PPV excursions rarely have the pomp and circumstance of their "older brothers". At the very most, these events can be surprising: when a particularly memorable match or moment occurs, it helps to alleviate the $40 PPV fee (or ticket price, if you're part of the crowd)...but in most cases, these events represent a slightly longer hybrid episode of Monday Night Raw, Smackdown and whatever passes for ECW these days. Such is the case when pay-per-views are planned so frequently.
Luckily, the most recent installment of Armageddon, the company's December PPV, isn't a bad effort...but even at roughly three hours in length, there's only about an hour's worth of above-average action. Recorded live at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, NY on December 14th, Armageddon 2008 includes seven matches in all...but only two of them are title defenses, so the stakes doesn't always run very high. Play-by-play commentary duties are sporadically handled by Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler, Tazz, Michael Cole, Matt Striker and more. Without further delay, the card for Armageddon 2008 reads as follows:
Complete Match Listing
(7 matches on 1 single-sided DVD)
Matt Hardy vs. Vladmir Kozlov
Rey Mysterio vs. CM Punk [IC Title #1 Contender Match]
Finlay vs. Mark Henry [Belfast Brawl]
Batista vs. Randy Orton
Michelle McCool, Mickie James, Kelly Kelly & Maria vs. Maryse, Natalya, Jillian & Victoria
John Cena vs. Chris Jericho [World Heavyweight Championship Match]
Edge vs. HHH vs. Jeff Hardy [Triple Threat WWE Championship Match]
Like it or not, the drastic title change during the final match was a gutsy move on WWE's part, and it easily makes for Armageddon's most memorable moment. The entire Edge-HHH-Hardy match earns high marks for action, suspense and crowd response, capping off a somewhat uneven year with plenty of style. John Cena and Chris Jericho's match runs a close second, thanks to solid ring chemistry and Cena's undeniable draw as a main event competitor. Jericho's words and actions in the weeks prior to this event draw the suspense to a fever pitch, which almost manages to steal the show from Hardy and company. Rey Mysterio and CM Punk's #1 Contender match is also enjoyable, though not without a few slow stretches along the way.
As mentioned earlier, however, there's quite a bit of filler between these highlights. Aside from the usual package of recap "trailers" (which are typically well-done and offer enough context for first-time viewers to understand), a number of behind-the-scenes interviews and other "skits" are also on board---and for the most part, they simply slow things down. Of course, a few of the matches aren't overly impressive either: the 8-Diva tag team match is the chief offender here, though it's hardly surprising. Matt Hardy's opener against Vladmir Kozlov is also somewhat dull, thanks to their non-complimentary styles...and, of course, the fact that Hardy's title isn't even on the line. Finlay vs. Mark Henry is probably the best of the worst: there's barely a wrestling move to be seen, but this over-the-top slugfest offers a nice contrast to what comes before and after it. Overall, Armageddon 2008 is a decent enough effort on WWE's part, but it's hardly the most well-rounded pay-per-view in recent memory.
On the technical side of things, this DVD is on par with recent WWE releases: production values are decent enough and matches are presented in their entirety, for better or for worse. Unfortunately, only one bonus feature has been included, and it's not exactly a major one. This is bad news for those who already spent $40 on the PPV the first time around, though new viewers probably won't mind as much. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, Armageddon 2008 looks to be on par with most current WWE releases...but that's not necessarily a good thing. Notable amounts of pixellation, edge enhancement and compression artifacts can be seen during many entrances and fast-moving sequences, which has been a long-standing problem we've undoubtedly become accustomed to. Colors are generally bold and bright, though reds pop out almost unnaturally at times. Certainly not a five-star presentation overall, but this is probably about as good as we'll get from WWE.
The audio is presented in a robust Dolby 5.1 Surround mix, which does a fine job of recreating the WWE live experience. Crowd noise and play-by-play commentary come through loud and clear, creating a satisfying soundstage overall. A Spanish 2.0 play-by-play track is also available, though it's obviously not as dynamic overall. As expected, optional subtitles and Closed Captions have not been provided.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the plain-wrap menu designs are basic and easy to navigate. The three-hour main feature has been divided into just over a dozen chapters (one per match and "filler" segment), while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. This one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase; though no chapter insert has been included, a complete match list is printed on the back cover.
Only one extra has been included here: "The Miz and John Morrison's Critique of Armageddon" (4:35), in which the tag champs offer their thoughts on the evening's events. It's good for a laugh or two, but this won't be one that you'll watch more than once. Speaking of the tag champs, they competed in a dark match before the PPV began...so why hasn't that been included as well?
Like the main feature, this lone extra is presented in 16x9 widescreen and includes no Closed Captions or subtitles.
It's hardly the most memorable WWE event in recent history, but Armageddon 2008 offers a handful of memorable moments and some decent action. Both title defenses carry their own weight, while a few of the mid-card matches keep the momentum rolling along nicely. Even so, there's a modest amount of filler here; in fact, the total package is hardly more exciting than an above-average installment of Raw or Smackdown---and at $40 for the PPV itself (and $30 for the DVD, of course), it's a tough sell to all but the most rabid disciples of WWE. On the technical side, this release maintains par with a passable technical presentation, though one measly bonus feature doesn't exactly add much value. Mildly recommended for those who saw and enjoyed the event live, but most WWE fans will want to try Armageddon 2008 before they buy. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.