If you've ever seen one of my wrestling DVD reviews before, you probably already have an idea, I'm somewhat of an old school wrestling fan. I grew up on watching wrestling from the late 80s and followed it religiously up until the what I consider the last gasp of classic wrestling, the death of WCW and Vince McMahon's public burial of his competition through the pathetic "Invasion" storyline.
Over the past decade, wrestling fans have been able to enjoy a lot of classic WWF/WWE product through DVD, and every so often a bone is thrown that satisfies our hunger for promotions long dead, who have had their tape libraries purchased by McMahon. Finally, what some what consider the Holy Grail of documentaries has been unleashed upon an eager audience. "The Rise and Fall of WCW" is the first ever documentary chronicling the one serious threat to the WWF. WCW is not new grounds for WWE DVDs; a biased look at the
Monday Night Wars" was given its own titular DVD and in the past year, the WCW equivalent of Wrestlemania, Starcade had solid release, but for the first time, the story of WCW's beginnings and final days is told.
A reasonable fan will approach any WWE DVD with caution, knowing full well that things will have some level of bias. Vince McMahon won the pro-wrestling war, and as Winston Churchill once said, "History will be written by the victors." However, before one word was uttered on this documentary, a the odor of a rat lingered close by, as the runtime was just a hair over a paltry 90 minutes. For perspective, the WWE produced documentary on ECW, was at least an hour longer than this, and it was never a threat to either WCW or WWF in its heyday, which lasted under a decade. WCW was a name brand for over a decade, and its history prior to this spans many more decades. It's a franchise that for many years was synonymous with tradition as opposed to the spectacle of the WWF.
The documentary does open strong, getting the sons of Jim Crockett on camera to talk about the early days and events leading to the 1988 purchase by Ted Turner. The honesty does paint a hopeful picture for what will follow, as both men talk about mistakes made, the mismanagement by "outsiders" (i.e. corporate men who didn't know anything about tradition or the wrestling business). It's not 100% brutally honest, as Dusty Rhodes is touted as one a step down from a messiah when it comes to the behind-the-scenes aspect of things. No slight against Dusty, but while he has had some brilliant ideas, mention the phrase "Dusty finish" to any fan in the know, and they'll have to fight back laughter.
The subject of WCW booking, is really the first step into a whitewashing of WCW history, far beyond anything expected. Ole Anderson is briefly mentioned, as is Bill Watts, whose entire career as WCW booker is smothered in controversy (accusations of racism are never mentioned, except in a deleted scene where Watts himself addresses them), most apparent to fans in the form of nepotism.
When the program catches up with the rise of WCW as a major threat to the WWF, there's around an hour left, nine years to be covered, and the end result is not pretty. The Monday Night Wars are glossed over (perhaps the WWE assumes fans should just buy that DVD to get the story, but I digress), interview pieces begin to rehash old interviews from six or seven years prior, and Sting is never mentioned once.
To any wrestling fan, the name Sting is synonymous with WCW. He is the heart and soul of the company, he was with them before WCW and wrestled on their final program with Ric Flair. He's also the biggest name in modern wrestling to never work for the WWF/WWE. His complete omission is likely reason enough for any wrestling fan to stop reading right now and give this disc a pass, but I implore them, to at least give the 'Extras' section a glance, as it does justify this set's existence.
I could write pages and pages of my complaints with this documentary, but it's ultimately a futile gesture. The WWE won the war and unfortunately, they've chosen to tell the history of their biggest rival with a "Wikipedia" documentary. It's a sub par overview to say the least that ends with two of the pettiest character assassinations I've ever seen. Firstly, Vince Russo bears the brunt of the blame for the nails in WCW's coffin, and while Russo deserves a lot of blame, he wasn't the only one in charge. Lastly, the most heinous cheap shots get directed to Jeff Jarrett, a perennial WWF mid-carder, turned WCW main-eventer in the promotion's final years. While Jarrett may have hogged too much of the spotlight, to call him the equivalent of a no talent nobody, is childish, but not surprising given, Jarrett's ownership in TNA, a very minor rival to the current WWE product.
As expected with most WWE DVDs, the video quality runs the gamut from haggard (only in very old footage), to average. Some noticeable edge enhancement springs up during interview footage, and a lot of the television footage sports minor compression artifacts. It's still likely a bit better than the original broadcast quality though.
The English Dolby Digital audio track is solid for a documentary, although some of the archival footage does sound a little tinny. It's par for the course for pre-HD WWE releases.
The package boasts a nine-hour plus runtime, and fortunately, what is left after the paltry showcase documentary is solid gold. Disc One features some outtake footage from the main documentary, including the previously mentioned Bill Watts defense interview. The most interesting anecdote is the origin of the Goldberg character, from the man himself, Bill Goldberg (who deserves special mention for his few appearances in the main feature; it's new interview footage and the man is very honest and humble).
Disc Two and Three are loaded with the expected collection of matches that have graced previous documentary releases. Old WCW fans will love nearly every match on this set, with the exception of the Hogan/Dennis Rodman vs. DDP/Karl Malone match, although it's a fine example of just what was going wrong in the years leading up to the ultimate demise.
It's highly interesting that Sting shows up in quite a few of the matches here, a testament to his importance to the company history, whether the WWE wants to acknowledge it or not.
Coming to a final conclusion for this set is no easy task. The documentary that is really intended to be the "draw" for this release is abysmally apathetic, however, the collection of matches on the remaining two discs still justifies a purchase for dedicated WCW fans. Ultimately, fans in the know should pick this up for the matches, while newer fans, wanting to learn about WCW would better be served by doing their own online research and reading the book, "The Death of WCW" by RD Reynolds and Bryan Alvarez. It's not a perfect history, but a far less biased look at the end days of the company. Rent It.