The Main Event:
Anyone who knows anything about wrestling knows that Bret 'Hitman' Hart has got a legacy to be proud of. Though there was a time when he had written off the WWE over various issues, those days are behind him now and since burying the hatchet he's had some participation in a few interesting projects, the most recent of which is the new three disc DVD collection Bret 'Hitman' Hart: The Dungeon Collection. Comprised entirely of matches new to DVD (no repacked previously available material here, which is a nice change of pace for the WWE), this is one of those releases that belongs in the collection of every Hart fan out there. Not only does it offer up some legitimately rare matches (though not always in the best of quality - but more on that later), it also features input from Hart himself, who provides video introductions and insight on each and everyone one of the clips included in this set.
The set starts off with a quick introduction from Hart, who comes across here as quite gracious and proud of the legacy he's about to present. His memory is quite sharp, even as the set starts out by exploring the early days of his career in the ring. Those expecting a biographical look back at how he got into wrestling and his rise to superstardom will be disappointed, this isn't that type of collection, but anyone interested in checking out some of the earliest recordings of his work will appreciate what we have here on the first disc. Speaking of which, here's what you'll find spread across the three discs in the set:
-A Real Privilege
-2-Out Of-3 Falls Match For The British Commonwealth Jr. Heavyweight Championship With Bret Hart Versus Dynamite Kid, Stampede Wrestling, December 1978
-Bret Hart Versus Buzz Sawyer, Georgia Championship Wrestling, September 1979
-A Lot of Promise
-North American Heavyweight Championship Match, Bret Hart Versus Leo Burke, Stampede Wrestling, January 1983
-The Best It Gets
-Bret Hart Versus Dynamite Kid, Capital Centre, September 14, 1985
-WWE Tag Team Championship Match, Hart Foundation Versus The Islanders, Philadelphia Spectrum, March 14, 1987
-A Sign of Respect
-Bret Hart Versus Andre the Giant, Milan, Italy, April 10, 1989
-The Right Formula
-Bret Hart Versus Mr. Perfect, Maple Leaf Gardens, April 23, 1989
The Calgary Stampede matches are great to see and presented here in reasonably good quality as well. Hart hasn't taken on his 'Hitman' persona yet but you can tell even by this early footage that he's taking what he does very seriously, and given his family and background, that makes total sense. He moves fast and his decisions are calculated. As we stroll down memory lane through these early years Hart explains how and why he wound up leaving the Calgary league to wind up in Georgia, then discusses his trip to Italy where he wrestled Andre The Giant. He notes his respect for The Dynamite Kid and discusses his influence on modern wrestling and he talks about his early tag-team match here with Jim Neidhart against The Islanders. Each one of the bouts on this disc is solid, and while some of the early stuff may not offer up the boasting and the showboating that a lot of fans more familiar with his WWF/WWE Superstar years would expect, this disc is a great way to chart his evolution as a wrestler.
-This Is For Us
-Hart Foundation Versus The Twin Towers, Duluth, Minnesota, May 17, 1989
-The Greatest Super-Card of All-Time
-Bret Hart Versus Tiger Mask II, WWE / New Japan / All Japan Wrestling Summit, April 13, 1990
-Change Of The Guard
-Intercontinental Championship Match, Bret Hart Versus Ric Flair, New Haven, Connecticut, November 13, 1991
-On the Threshold Of Greatness
-Bret Hart Versus Undertaker, Madison Square Garden, January 31, 1992
-The Best Big Man
-Bret Hart Versus Bam Bam Bigelow, Milan, Italy, April 25, 1993
As the second disc beings, Hart has been firmly established as a legitimate talent in the squared circle. The opening match with The Hart Foundation taking on The Twin Towers is a lot of fun with some great action not just from Bret but from his partner as well, while the fight in Japan against Tiger Mark II is nothing short of awesome - colorful, crazy, high flying and just ridiculously entertaining the way that good wrestling should be. Of course, when Hart takes on Ric Flair for the title there's a lot at stack so both parties give their all. Obviously with those two in the ring giving one hundred percent we wind up with a seriously classic match but once Hart gets in the ring with The Undertaker, all bets are off. Closing things out with a rough and tumble bout against Bam Bam is a nice way to finish off the second disc, and again, as all of this plays out Hart treats us to some interesting behind the scenes stories and expresses his admiration for many of the men that he went up against during this part of his career.
-Evolution at That Time
-WWE Championship Match, Bret Hart Versus Diesel, King Of The Ring, June 19, 1994
-No Holds Barred, Bret Hart Versus Owen Hart, RAW, March 27, 1995
-Bret Hart Versus Jean-Pierre Lafitte, In Your House, September 24, 1995
-Bret Hart Versus Stone Cold Steve Austin, Sun City Superbowl, September 14, 1996
-Simultaneously A Hero And A Rat
-WWE Championship Match, Bret Hart Versus The Patriot, In Your House: Ground Zero, September 7, 1997
-WCW United States Championship Match, Bret Hart Versus Booker T, WCW Monday Nitro, January 25, 1999
-Semi-Finals Match For The WCW Championship, Bret Hart Versus Sting, WCW Mayhem, November 21, 1999
-Trip Through Memory Lane
As far as this third disc goes, the opening bout with Diesel is solid but more interesting is the next match against the late Owen Hart an Bret's thoughts about it are more likely to grab you just because there's a bit more sensitivity shown here. The match against Austin is a highlight of the disc, with Hart's time in the ring having been substantially longer than Austin's at this point, but with Austin's star very much on the rise. The Patriot and Booker T both get respectable fights here and both men do fine work against Hart, and the disc (and the set in general) closes out with a really solid match against Sting with the WCW Championship title lingering closely. Once again, Hart's input and recollections of his time in the ring are just as important and sometimes even more interesting than the matches themselves and throughout all of this he has a very laid back, likeable attitude towards things that makes him very easy to listen to.
Now is this the definitive set? Probably not in all eyes - as it is with every set like this that the WWE puts out, someone out there somewhere is going to lament the absence of a particular match or two that didn't make it onto the discs. It's not surprising that there are no matches with Hart taking on Chris Benoit but overall, this is certainly a very respectable collection. The plus side is that there's enough quality material in Hart's legacy that hasn't been covered here and that could benefit having Hart's commentary that maybe, if we're lucky and this set does well, we'll get a second volume.
The 1.78.1 widescreen presentation looks pretty decent with two major exceptions - the match against Buzz Sawyer (which was sourced from a really rough tape source full of rolls and drops outs) and the match against Andre The Giant (which is compressed to Hell and back and looks like a youtube rip, it's pretty horrible quality). Some of the other 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 chapter selection and menu screens, there are no extras on this three disc DVD set at all.
Bret Hart's had a long and storied career in the ring and The Dungeon Collection lets him relive some of the highlights in his own words, something that his numerous fans will certainly enjoy. The WWE hasn't worked miracles with the quality here but having three discs worth of rarities and oddball matches alongside Hart's miniature history lessons is something worth owning for fans of wrestling 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.