Known worldwide as the longest running and most watched annual wrestling event of all time, WrestleMania has basically come to be known as 'the Super Bowl of wrestling' and for good reason - it tends to make or break records for venue attendance and pay-per-view purchases and not only that but it seems that these days, the scripted storylines that run in WWE's RAW and SMACK DOWN lines all lead up to it in some way or another. With all the importance placed on this event, it makes sense that the WWE would focus their sites on documenting the history of the event, and to a very large degree they've succeeded in doing just that with WWE The True Story Of WrestleMania, a two hour documentary that covers the event from its inception through to the modern day.
Moving in chronological order, the feature begins with a look at what the event has become before taking us back to the early eighties where we learn how Vince McMahon took wrestling from a territorial deal to a national and then international phenomena. Some great archival clips remind us how fun the WWE was when it was the WWF and we then learn how Vince basically risked it all to make the most of the WWF's increasing popularity with the first WrestleMania.
With McMahon's risk having paid off in spades, a second WrestleMania was soon to follow and as the years go by, the documentary basically shows off the highlights as well as some behind the scenes pictures and footage to give us a feel for what goes into launching an event as big as the WrestleMania's have all become. Interviews with wrestlers and commentators past and present give us lots of insight into the kind of pressure that can come from performing in such a huge event. As the documentary progresses we learn about different aspects of the concept, from guest celebrities to musical acts to complications arising from different venues to what goes into building the sets that all of the action plays out on.
All in all, this is a pretty interesting look at what WrestleMania was and what it has turned into over the years. Plenty of credit where credit is due is handed out to the big stars of WrestleMania: Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho and of course, The Undertaker. Interviews recorded specifically for this documentary from the likes of Chris Jericho, Big Show, John Cena, Edge, Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio Jr., Sgt. Slaughter, Gerald Briscoe, 'Mean' Gene Okerlund, Jerry 'The King'Lawler, Ted DiBiase and Vince McMahon himself are both interesting and entertaining and the loads of clips and archived bits from Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin and The Rock are also quite welcome and help to round things out.
With such a long and storied history, it would be impossible for one single two hour documentary to focus on every aspect that every fan would want it to - there's just too much material. Yes, The Undertaker should have been given more time here and if you're going to go to the trouble of interviewing Lemmy from Motorhead you should give him more than thirty seconds of air time but overall this is a good top level look at how WrestleMania came to be the phenomena that it is and not just how it got there but also who got it there.
The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen 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. The material that was shot fullframe is presented that way, with mattes on the sides, so there are no issues with stretching the footage, thankfully. 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.
Discs two and three in this three disc set include eleven bonus matching from different WrestleMania events. These are a nice inclusion in the set, but diehard fans will realize fairly quickly that all of these matches have been released on other DVD sets over the last few years by the WWE, so realy, none of them are 'new' to this release. Regardless, here's what you'll find:
WrestleMania: Hulk Hogan And Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper And Paul Orndorff: This is a classic match and we've all seen it before but it's certainly one worth revisiting. Muhammed Ali is on hand to make sure things don't get too out of hand.
WrestleMania III: WWE Intercontinental Champion Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat: This is widely considered to be one of, if not the, best WrestleMania match of all time and it's hard to think of one that can top it. Both men are in the prime years of their career and deliver 100% - the crowd loves it and this one still holds up amazingly well.
WrestleMania III: WWE Champion Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant: This was the main draw at the event and it's a good, one, just not as good as the match before it on this list. We've all seen this one before - Hogan is brave enough to go up against the unbeatable Andre, and no one at the time was sure he could do it. Obviously he did and Hulkamania reigned supreme.
WrestleMania VII: Retirement Match With The Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage: This is an excellent match that does a great job of showcasing the rivalry between these two top tier wrestlers. There's some great action here and plenty of spectacle to go along with it. The crowd goes nuts for this one and revisiting it again all these years later, it's not hard to see why. Great stuff.
WrestleMania X: Ladder Match With WWE Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels For The Intercontinental Championship: Another classic, here we see Michaels really coming into his own and working his way up the WrestleMania ladder. Ramone is great here too, delivering his all, while the commentary from Lawler is classic stuff.
WrestleMania XIV: Shawn Michaels vs. Steve Austin For The WWE Championship: Mike Tyson shows up here but turns out to be in cahoots with D-Generation X, so of course, Triple H and Chyna have to show up too. Austin is coming into his antihero persona well at this point and the crowd loves him. Michaels was said to be in a lot of pain during this match and there are moments where that definitely seems to be the case, even if he doesn't let it affect his work in the ring.
WrestleMania 2000: Ladder Match With The Dudley Boyz vs. Hardy Boyz vs. Edge And Christian For The WWE Tag Team Championship: A fun match through and through, the ladders are a nice touch here and the triple threat aspect lends some interesting twists to the whole thing. This isn't the best from a wrestling standpoint but it certainly has enough going on to stand the test of time as some pretty great entertainment.
WrestleMania XVII: Street Fight With Shane McMahon vs. Vince McMahon: You know things are going to get nuts when Mick Foley shows up as the guest referee. Shane does some trash talking before things get moving and some interesting guest stars pop up before Vince starts wailing on Shane with foreign objects and things just get crazier from there on out. Definitely a fun one for the record books.
WrestleMania XVIII: The Rock vs. Hollywood Hulk Hogan: One of the last truly classic matches Hogan would deliver in the WWE, this is one that EVERYONE was waiting for. Thankfully, it doesn't disappoint. The Rock was 'the most electrifying man in sports entertainment' for a reason and this match is a perfect example of why he's earned that title. Hogan is Hogan, he works the crowd as only he can and the audience goes insane (as does Jim Ross, whose enthusiasm is infectious).
WrestleMania XIX: Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar For The WWE Championship: This is a strong match on a technical level and it features a lot of great moves and solid wrestling through and through. There isn't as much flash and insanity as a lot of the other WrestleMania matches in this set display, but it's hard to beat these guys for technique.
WrestleMania XXII: John Cena vs. Triple H For The WWE Championship: The most recent match in the collection is another strong one and you just knew they'd have to cram one Cena match in here (though the omission of an Undertaker match is mysterious). At any rate, it's a good one. Triple H seems to be taking it easy at first but this comes back to get him as the match progresses and while it takes a little while to pick up steam, once it does it proves to be a solid bout.
WWE The True Story Of WrestleMania is a pretty solid release. The feature documentary itself is both interesting and entertaining and it manages to cram a lot of input from a lot of different wrestling personalities into its two hour running time. It's not perfect and it intentionally avoids controversy and omits a few bits and pieces along the way, but overall it's pretty good. The two discs of bonus matches and highlights is also a nice touch and this set comes recommended.
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.