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 believe it or not, 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.
Summerslam is WWE's regular August pay-per-view; it's been a yearly tradition since 1988, when the first installment was held at Madison Square Garden. As the fourth of the "Big Five" PPVs (the others being Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania, Survivor Series and King of the Ring), this annual event has enjoyed a great amount of success over the years. Though it has no regular "gimmick matches" like most of its Big Five brethren, Summerslam typically mixes a handful of title defenses with several mid-card matches. 1988 kicked things off with a bang, thanks to the steamrolling popularity of stars like Hulk Hogan, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, Jake "The Snake" Roberts and The Ultimate Warrior. Even the "heels"---or bad guys, if you're new to the sport---like Andre the Giant and "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase proved to be an essential part of the picture. After all, what action movie is complete without a suitable villain?
My first real exposure to WWE, aside from the occasional match while channel-surfing, didn't occur until around 1993. So while I missed the first five installments of Summerslam the first time around, the bulk of what's here is completely approachable by fans of any wrestling era. Long-time WWE fans are obviously the target market here; they'll obviously enjoy revisiting memorable and classic moments. Newer fans, though, shouldn't be intimidated: aside from a few genuinely solid matches, we're also treated to plenty of unintentionally hilarious interview segments. As a snapshot of WWE circa 1988-92, this five-disc set proves to be as nostalgic, fun and corny as an old school yearbook. On a match-by-match basis, here's what's included on Summerslam Anthology, Volume 1:
Complete Match Listing
(44 matches on 5 single-sided DVDs)
Disc One: Summerslam 1988
(Held at Madison Square Garden in NYC, NY - August 29, 1988)
The Rogeau Brothers vs. The British Bulldogs
Bad News Brown vs. Ken Patera
"Ravishing" Rick Rude vs. The Junkyard Dog
The Bolsheviks vs. The Powers of Pain
Honky Tonk Man vs. The Ultimate Warrior [Shortest IC Title Match ever]
Don Muraco vs. Dino Bravo
The Hart Foundation vs. Demolition [Tag Team Championship Match]
The Big Boss Man vs. Koko B. Ware
Hercules vs. Jake "The Snake" Roberts
Ted DiBiase & Andre The Giant vs. Hulk Hogan & Randy Savage
Disc Two: Summerslam 1989
(Held at Meadowlands Arena in E. Rutherford, NJ - August 28, 1989)
The Hart Foundation vs. The Brain Busters
Dusty Rhodes vs. Honky Tonk Man
Mr. Perfect vs. The Red Rooster
The Rockers & Tito Santana vs. The Rogeau Brothers & Rick Martel [Six-Man Tag Match]
"Ravishing" Rick Rude vs. The Ultimate Warrior [IC Title Match]
Andre The Giant & Twin Towers vs. "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan & Demolition [Six-Man Tag Match]
Hercules vs. Greg "The Hammer" Valentine
"Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase vs. Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka
Randy Savage & Zeus vs. Hulk Hogan & Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake
Disc Three: Summerslam 1990
(Held at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, PA - August 27, 1990)
The Rockers vs. Power & Glory
Mr. Perfect vs. The Texas Tornado [IC Title Match]
Sensational Queen Sherri vs. Sapphire [...or not]
Tito Santana vs. Warlord
Demolition vs. The Hart Foundation [Tag Team Championship Match]
Jake "The Snake" Roberts vs. Bad News Brown
Nikolai Volkoff & "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan vs. The Orient Express
Dusty Rhodes vs. "Macho King" Randy Savage
Hulk Hogan vs. Earthquake
The Ultimate Warrior vs. "Ravishing" Rick Rude [WWF Championship Steel Cage Match]
Disc Four: Summerslam 1991
(Held at Madison Square Garden in NYC, NY - August 26, 1991)
Ricky Steamboat, British Bulldog & Texas Tornado vs. Power and Glory & Warlord [Six-Man Tag Match]
Bret "Hit Man" Hart vs. Mr. Perfect [IC Title Match]
Natural Disasters vs. The Bushwhackers
Ted DiBiase vs. Virgil [Million Dollar Title Match]
Big Boss Man vs. The Mountie [Jailhouse Match]
The Nasty Boys vs. Legion of Doom [Tag Team Championship Match]
Irwin R. Schyster vs. Greg "The Hammer" Valentine
Hulk Hogan & Ultimate Warrior vs. Sgt. Slaughter, Col. Mustafa & Gen. Adnan ["Match Made In Hell"]
Disc Five: Summerslam 1992
(Held at Wembley Stadium in London, England - August 29, 1992)
Money Inc. vs. The Legion of Doom
Nailz vs. Virgil
"The Model" Rick Martel vs. Shawn Michaels
Natural Disasters vs. The Beverly Brothers [Tag Team Championship Match]
The Repo Man vs. Crush
The Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage [WWF Championship Match]
Kamala vs. The Undertaker
Bret Hart vs. The British Bulldog [IC Title Match]
On paper, this lineup mirrors the typical WWF/E pay-per-view formula: plenty of entertaining matches, along with plenty of not-so-great ones. First, the good news: many of the more technically gifted athletes (read: Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and Mr. Perfect, just to name a few) rarely disappoint during these years, just as they were beginning to come into their own as singles wrestlers in the WWF. Bret Hart participates in two of the best matches on this collection: vs. Mr. Perfect (1991) and The British Bulldog (1992), while Michaels holds his own during singles bouts and while teaming with Marty Jannetty as The Rockers. Other tag teams, such as The Brain Busters and The Hart Foundation (again, featuring Bret), also contribute quality material. Still, it's hard to deny the sheer spectacle of several less technically-based matches, whether they feature Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior or Hulk Hogan himself. WWE---or wrestling as a sport, while we're at it---typically employs a balance of "mainstream", marketable performers and truly gifted athletes, so it's no surprise to say that a predictable Hogan match still can be satisfying in its own right.
Unfortunately, the not-so-great matches tend to slow things down on occasion, making several of these three-hour shows feel even longer. The main problem is an ample amount of mid-card matches with little at stake---not to mention the occasional cheap finish (such as a count-out or disqualification), which really have no place during a pay-per-view event. Most seasoned WWE fans should be able to pick out these less-impressive bouts on name value alone, such as Volkoff / Duggan vs. The Orient Express (1990), Nailz vs. Virgil (1992) or most anything involving Earthquake. Additionally, there's plenty of filler between matches, especially the 1990 and 1991 installments. In the case of the latter, roughly a dozen backstage segments take place in a row at one point, which all but kills the show's momentum. It's good to know that WWE has presented these events in their entirety (aside from a handful of dark matches, unfortunately), but one wishes they'd have kept things moving quicker in the first place. Not all of the backstage segments are bad; in some cases, they provide a much-needed dose of comedy relief...but tend to overstay their welcome, more often than not.
But let's not focus too much on what this release could or could have been, let's take it for what it is: a fifteen-hour collection of vintage Summerslam events that most fans will appreciate...from a purely historical standpoint, at the very least. On the technical side of things, this five-disc set is generally on par: production values are decent, entrance music is intact and full matches are included. As with several other vintage WWE releases, the company's former initials are audibly edited...though pre-Attitude Era "block" logos (and audible mentions of the company's complete former name) are left intact. Glaring edits aside, most wrestling fans should find this collection worth the price of admission; it's a bargain when compared to most other stand-alone PPV releases. If you've got a soft spot for this era of wrestling and several evenings to spare, Summerslam Anthology, Volume 1 is worth browsing through.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Summerslam Anthology, Volume 1 is easily on par with the most recent crop of WWE DVD releases...taking its age into account, of course. The 1988 installment looks particularly soft, but I doubt a cleaner copy exists in the WWE vaults. Colors are generally bold and bright, on-screen graphics are crisp and black levels are typically solid. Several digital issues arrive in the form of pixellation and artifacting---especially during pyrotechnic sequences and crowd shots---but these are generally kept under control, considering the source. Overall, WWE fans should know what to expect by now.
The audio is presented in a fairly standard Dolby Surround mix; likewise, it's roughly on par with recent WWE releases. Crowd noise and play-by-play commentary come through loud and clear, creating a satisfying soundstage overall. Optional subtitles, Spanish commentary or Closed Captions are not offered during these events, unfortunately.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the plain-wrap menu designs are basic and easy to navigate. Each three-hour event has been divided into a handful of chapters---one per match, interview and other "filler" event---while no obvious layer changes were detected during playback. This five-disc release is housed in a foldout plastic-free case (with matching slipcover) that takes up less space than two standard DVD boxes; it's a compact and straightforward design, but some discs may arrive with a slight scratch or two. A separate booklet has not been included, though complete match listings are printed on the interior.
Due to the presentation style of this five-disc release, no proper bonus features have been included. A handful of dark matches were recorded before each event (including three during the 1992 installment), and it's unfortunate that they weren't included on each disc. With that said, the extensive amount of content ensures that there's plenty to dig through...so it's no big loss, really.
WWE has wisely divided the massive Summerslam Anthology into more digestible five-disc sets, and Volume 1 stands tall as a fairly satisfying release in its own right. Moreso than the slightly lackluster second volume, this five-disc set seems more well-rounded---and, of course, it's still peppered with plenty of classic moments. This is perhaps the second best of the four total Summerslam anthologies, which should place it high on the list of wrestling fans looking to bulk up their DVD collections. The technical presentation is strictly on par with other vintage WWE releases (especially considering the source material), while the lack of bonus content is offset by the running time and retail price. Overall, Summerslam Anthology, Volume 1 is a solid buy for those seeking a nostalgia fix...or simply a great introduction to the WWF, circa 1988-93. Firmly Recommended...if you haven't picked it up already.
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.