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.
Hell in a Cell 2009 is the first annual pay-per-view dedicated to the match of the same name, a WWE original that's been in existence for over a decade. Many of these "Hell in a Cell" contests have become the most popular and memorable spectacles from the company's infamous "Attitude Era", especially The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels (the first HIAC match, October 1997) and The Undertaker vs. Mankind (June 1998). Some have been less than impressive, but they're typically fun to watch. In any case, the rules of the game are simple: two or more WWE superstars are locked inside a large, fenced-in structure roughly 16 feet high...and other than that, just about anything goes. The increased level of danger and brutality often paves the way for heated brawls, thrilling moments and close calls---but like all good things, these type of matches are the most memorable when they don't happen all the time.
For this reason, Hell in a Cell 2009 feels a bit watered-down at times. Like the company's policy of having a dozen or more pay-per-views every year, the higher frequency of these matches ensures that they're not quite as special as past installments. This three-hour event features no less than three "Hell in a Cell" matches---and though they're hardly dull by any account, they're not exactly match of the year candidates either. To this pay-per-view's credit, six of the seven matches are WWE championship defenses, which elevates the intensity somewhat...but more often than not, the majority of these matches are hardly better than what WWE fans can see on a semi-weekly basis. Let's take a look at the card, shall we?
Complete Match Listing
(7 matches on 1 single-sided DVD)
CM Punk vs. The Undertaker ["Hell in a Cell" Match for the World Heavyweight Championship]
Dolph Ziggler vs. John Morrison [Intercontinental Championship Match]
Alicia Fox vs. Mickie James [Divas Championship Match]
Chris Jericho & Big Show vs. Batista & Rey Mysterio [Unified Tag Team Championship Match]
John Cena vs. Randy Orton ["Hell in a Cell" Match for the WWE Championship]
Jack Swagger vs. The Miz vs. Kofi Kingston [Triple Threat Match for the U.S. Championship]
Degeneration X vs. Legacy ["Hell in a Cell" Match]
Oddly enough, this pay-per-view's most notable fault is the awkward order in which the matches are presented. This may be the first time in recent memory that a World Heavyweight Championship match is placed first on the card, especially under Hell in a Cell rules. The Undetaker's match with CM Punk is fairly good on its own terms, but it's too early for the crowd to really get in a "Championship" state of mind. On the other hand, the closing match between Degeneration X and Legacy) feels like it's in the wrong place, too: not only is it the only non-title match on the card, but there's little at stake other than storyline-driven revenge. Again, this is a decent enough match, but it just feels a little out of order and suffers for it.
Everything that comes between is equally hit-or-miss. Dolph Ziggler and John Morrison are two of WWE's better athletes, but their IC Championship match pales in comparison to most of what Raw or Smackdown usually offer. John Cena vs. Randy Orton is another middle-of-the-road encounter: it's decent and gets plenty of time to unfold, but it's simply been done too many times before. The Unified Tag Team match is interesting for its mixture of sizes and styles, but it also sticks out like a sore thumb for the same reason. The Triple Threat match and Drew McIntyre vs. R-Truth are simply too short for their own good (barely 12 minutes combined!), while the Divas Championship match is as lackluster as you'd expect. Overall, Hell in a Cell 2009 was fairly disappointing the first time around, and it doesn't fare much better as a stand-alone release.
On the technical side of things, this DVD is on par with recent WWE releases: production values are decent enough and all matches are free from edits. Unfortunately, only one minor bonus feature has been included. 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.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, Hell in a Cell 2009 looks to be on par with most current WWE releases...but that's not necessarily a free pass. 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 not quite 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 158-minute event has been divided into 11 chapters (one per match and significant "filler" event), while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. Several WWE-related trailers and promos play before the main menu can be accessed. This one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase and includes a promotional insert for WWE Magazine.
Only one short extra has been included here, and it's exclusive to this release. "DX vs. Legacy" (3:16) is a dull segment that simply shows the aftermath of their main event match; basically, it's a drawn out clip of Cody Rhodes being carted off in a stretcher and nothing more. Like the event itself, this segment is presented in 16x9 format and does not include captions or subtitles. Unfortunately, the pre-show dark match between Matt Hardy and Mike Knox is not included here...and since when does Hardy wrestle dark matches?
Though it certainly looks good on paper, Hell in a Cell isn't one of 2009's most impressive WWE pay-per-views. The matches are below-average considering the number of title defenses on the card, while the somewhat awkward order in which they're presented doesn't help matters, either. Overall, it's no surprise that most fans regretted the $40 price tag the first time around---and while this DVD is bargain-priced in comparison, there's still not much to get excited about. The technical presentation is up to WWE's shaky standards, while the relative lack of bonus features is equally unsurprising. In other words, this one's only worth it for rabid WWE fanatics; every else should give it a weekend spin at the very most. 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.