Even the most ardent of wrestling fans would be hard pressed to think of a family that has made a larger contribution to the sport than the Hart Family, a fact that the WWE has finally decided to acknowledge with this feature length documentary, Hart And Soul: The Hart Family Anthology.
The story of the Hart family begins with Stu Hart, a self made man who grew up poor and wound up making a name for himself as a wrestler when the Second World War wound up cancelling the Olympic Games encouraging him to try pro-wrestling instead. Stu moved to New York City and quickly rose to the top of the ranks and after awhile returned home to his native Canada and settled down in Calgary, Alberta. After he married his wife, Helen, they started a family and twelve kids later, the Hart Family as WWE fans know it was beginning to take shape. Stu would eventually start Stampede Wrestling, a televised league that proved to be quite popular in western Canada, and this eventually lead to his home, a massive mansion on the outskirts of Calgary, becoming a wrestling training ground of sorts. He turned the basement into 'The Dungeon' - essentially a homemade gym in which some of the best wrestlers in the business would train - and as the kids grew up around this type of environment, many of them too would become involved in the business.
The feature traces the family's journey through the industry, from Stu's early days with Stampede Wrestling through to his selling of the league to Vince McMahon which resulted in Bret 'The Hit Man' Hart and his brother-in-law, Jim 'The Anvil' Neidhart becoming The Hart Foundation in the WWF. It wasn't long before Davey Boy Smith, one of Bret's other brother-in-law's, followed suit as The British Bulldog and eventually Brett's younger brother, Owen, would also make the transition to wrestling superstar and these years would prove to be the best that the family would know. Sadly, they were too short lived and tragedy would strike, but not before Bret would have a run-in with Vince McMahon during the infamous 'Montreal Screw Job' where Vince McMahon basically forced him to lose to Shawn Michaels. This lead to a brief stint in the WCW league for the Hart Foundation, but it wouldn't be long before they'd return. Bouts between Bret and brother Owen and between other members such as Davey Boy Smith would be highlights of the era's wrestling but when Hart family friend and pro-wrestler Brian Pillman died, it signaled the beginning of a downward spiral which would culminate in the death of patriarch Stu Hart, his wife Helen, Davey Boy Smith and Owen Hart all within a quick five year period. While Stu and Helen died under normal circumstances, Owen's death was the subject of a huge controversy when he fell five stories from the roof of an arena where he was supposed to make an entrance to the ring from above, while Smith would die from a heart attack that many believe was caused by pain pill addiction and steroid use. Throughout all of this, however, the Hart family soldiered on. Bret recently returned to the WWE while the Hart Legacy team, made up of Jim Neidhart's daughter Natalya, Davey Boy Smith's son David Hart Smith and long time Hart family friend Tyson Kidd.
There are some interesting interviews in here with not only the expected participants like Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart but also other members of the Hart family such as Davey Boy Smith's former wife, lesser known Hart brothers such as oldest brother Smith Hart (a dead ringer for his father), and some of the people who trained with them, such as Chris Jericho. The documentary doesn't cover everything - it simply can't, there's just too much to go through to fit into an hour and a half long time slot - but it does provide an interesting top level view of the Hart's contributions to wrestling throughout the generations that the family has had involvement in it. As the documentary plays out you will probably find yourself wishing that it had spent more time on whatever particular aspect might catch your attention (Personally I think that the segments on Stampede Wrestling were far too short) and this keeps it from being as good as it could have been. What the documentary does do a good job of providing, however, is a look into the family dynamic that has held the Hart's together over the years. You really get the sense that this is a close knit group of people who love and care about one another and who really enjoyed growing up together. In many ways, they're just like any other large family, albeit one that had a wrestling bear living in their basement, which makes it easier to relate to them during the high's and the low's that they've experienced over the years.
The documentary's biggest flaw is that it's simply just too short for the amount of material it wants to cover. While it's understandable that the WWE would want to keep the running time to the standard ninety minute feature length, this set could have easily have been twice as long and remained just as interesting. This makes a great companion piece to the Bret "Hit Man" Hart: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be documentary that the WWE produced for Bret's DVD collection.
Aside from the documentary, on disc one, this set includes the following matches spread out in this order:
6-Man Tag Team Match - Keith Hart, Bruce Hart & Bret Hart Versus The Kiwis & Dynamite Kid, Stampede Wrestling - May 1979
World Tag Team Championship Match - Hart Foundation Versus British Bulldogs, Boston Garden - November 1, 1986
Intercontinental Championship Match - Bret "Hit Man" Hart Versus British Bulldog, SummerSlam - August 29, 1992
Family Feud Match - Bret "Hit Man" Hart, Owen Hart, Bruce Hart & Keith Hart Versus Shawn Michaels & His Knights, Survivor Series - November 24, 1993
Bret "Hit Man" Hart & Owen Hart Versus Rick Steiner & Scott Steiner - Florence, SC - January 11, 1994, Ripped Apart at the Seams
World Tag Team Championship Match - Bret "Hit Man" Hart & Owen Hart Versus The Quebecers - Royal Rumble - January 22, 1994
Steel Cage Match for the WWE Championship - Bret "Hit Man" Hart Versus Owen Hart, SummerSlam - August 29, 1994
Bret "Hit Man" Hart & British Bulldog Versus Owen Hart & Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart - Raw - November 7, 1994
European Championship Match - Owen Hart Versus British Bulldog, Raw - March 3, 1997
10-Man Tag Team Match - Bret "Hit Man" Hart, Owen Hart, British Bulldog, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart & Brian Pillman Versus Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ken Shamrock, Goldust & Legion of Doom, In Your House: Canadian Stampede July 6, 1997
6-Man Tag Team Flag Match - Bret "Hit Man" Hart, Owen Hart & British Bulldog Versus Stone Cold Steve Austin, Undertaker & Dude Love, Raw - July 21, 1997
WWE Unified Tag Team Championship Match - The Hart Dynasty Versus D-Generation X, SmackDown - December 25, 2009
There's a little bit of repetition here between the matches included here and those included on a few other WWE DVD releases and it sure would have been nice had the WWE opted to include all new material rather than recycle bouts, but at the same time, this is a pretty solid 'greatest hits' package. A bit more emphasis on the early years and more archival material would have been very welcome but you really can't complain about the quality of the matches that have been collected here even if it would have been nice to see a few more included to round things out more.
Highlights include the Hart Foundation against the British Bulldogs and Bret's match against Davey Boy Smith - both of these bouts, included on the second disc, really go to show how talented this crew was. Bret says in the documentary that he really likes it when you get two wrestlers in a ring and the audience really doesn't know ahead of time who is going to win, and these matches give us exactly that. As such, they're exciting, suspenseful, and just really well played. So too are the matches where Bret goes up against Owen Hart, whether as a tag team or in a one on one match. These are just really rock solid examples of wrestling at its finest, a trait that Bret and the rest of the Hart family have become synonymous over the last few decades in the sport.
The fullframe presentation, though interlaced, looks pretty decent. Some of the earlier matches are on the soft side and aren't quite as clean and colorful looking as the later day content is but this is generally quite a respectable looking presentation. There are times where the lights over the ring make skin tones look a bit off but this isn't a fault of the transfer or the authoring, it's simply the way the material has always looked. Nothing here really looks worse than when it was broadcast on television, and to some eyes it might even look a little bit better.
The same comments apply to the audio on this release - some of the earlier stuff sounds a bit flat, but most of the newer stuff sounds just fine. Everything comes at you by way of a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track and aside from one or two instances where some of the archival clips have a small amount of audible distortion, there aren't any issues worth complaining about here. There are no subtitles or alternate language options provided.
Outside of the two discs' worth of matches and the requisite menus and chapter stops on each of the three discs, the set includes a collection of deleted scenes that were shot for the Hart & Soul documentary - Stu The Athlete, Helen's Car Accident, Terrible Ted The Wrestling Bear, A Letter From Dean, Stu Versus The Tiger, A Hart Family Thanksgiving - 1987, Helen Throws In the Towel, Owen The Prankster, Chris Jericho's Flight With Owen, The Uninvited Guest, Bret "The Hit Man" Hart Returns To WWE and Post-Raw Celebration (Raw - January 4, 2010). The deleted scenes elaborate a bit on what was covered in the documentary and provide a bit more information on different aspects of the Hart family's legacy and while none of this material is really essential, all of it is interesting enough that those who enjoyed the feature documentary will want to check these scenes out as well.
Hart And Soul: The Hart Family Anthology isn't perfect but it is very good. Fans are bound to be irked that the documentary isn't quite as in-depth as it could have been but for covering such a huge topic as the Hart's involvement in wrestling, it does do a pretty good job of at least touching on all the bases. The match selection repeats a bit when compared to other WWE releases but it too does a good job of offering up the highlights and the inclusion of the deleted scenes on the first disc is a nice touch. Highly recommended for wrestling fans.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.