Long before the Elimination Chamber or Hell in a Cell, professional wrestling fans had War Games. While all three were variations of the steel cage match, when two wrestlers would be put in a ring with 20 feet of chain link fencing surrounding and dwarfing the ring, War Games was the double mint gum of steel cage matches. Two rings, two cages, and a ceiling of mesh to cover it at the time of its 1987 debut was surprising and the match itself added an additional element of brutality, and served as a good blow off (or final) match for hotly contested rivalries. To sum up the rules of a War Games match, within the two cages, two teams of 4-5 wrestlers would fight, starting as one man from each team and then a new member would enter every 2 minutes. The blood spilled was ample, as was the broken bones suffered in the match as we find out later on. And while WCW and War Games is no more, thankfully this production remains.
When World Wrestling Entertainment acquired the World Championship Wrestling library, they acquired the War Games library as well, and this set of matches is another in a long line of WWE-produced releases of WCW/National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) content. The feature is "hosted" by Dusty Rhodes, who was the NWA booker and created the idea of War Games for the organization. He discusses his inspirations for the idea and some of the early days of the match creation and its impact on the NWA, and some of the anecdotes on the times it was taken on the road in various locales. In between the interview segments, the War Games matches are sprinkled throughout the interviews and recollections, and spans over three discs.
As is the case with similar retrospective looks at matches in other territories from previous eras, it appears to be formidable, and the list is as follows:
The Road Warriors, Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff & Paul Ellering vs. Ric Flair, Lex Luger, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard & J.J. Dillon (Great American Bash - July 4, 1987)
The Road Warriors, Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff & Paul Ellering vs. Ric Flair, Lex Luger, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard & The War Machine(Great American Bash - July 31, 1987)
The Road Warriors, "Dr. Death" Steve Williams, Ron Garvin & Jimmy Garvin vs. Kevin Sullivan, Mike Rotunda, Al Perez, Russian Assassin & Ivan Koloff (Great American Bash - July 10, 1988)
Dusty Rhodes, Lex Luger, Nikita Koloff, "Dr. Death" Steve Williams & Paul Ellering vs. Ric Flair, Barry Windham, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard & J.J. Dillon (Great American Bash - July 16, 1988)
The Road Warriors, The Midnight Express & "Dr. Death" Steve Williams vs. The Fabulous Freebirds & The Samoan Swat Team (Great American Bash - July 23, 1989)
Ric Flair, Sid Vicious, Barry Windham & Larry Zbysko vs. Sting, Brian Pillman & The Steiner Brothers (Wrestlewar - February 24, 1991)
Sting, Nikita Koloff, Dustin Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat & Barry Windham vs. Arn Anderson, Bobby Eaton, Steve Austin, Larry Zbysko & Rick Rude (Wrestlewar - May 17, 1992)
Sting, Davey Boy Smith, Dustin Rhodes & The Shockmaster vs. Sid Vicious, Vader & Harlem Heat (Fall Brawl - September 19, 1993)
Dusty Rhodes, Dustin Rhodes & The Nasty Boys vs. Terry Funk, Arn Anderson, Bunkhouse Buck & Colonel Robert Parker (Fall Brawl - September 18, 1994)
Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Lex Luger & Sting vs. Kamala, The Zodiac, The Shark & Meng (Fall Brawl - September 17, 1995)
"Hollywood" Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash & A Mystery Partner vs. Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Lex Luger & Sting (Fall Brawl - September 15, 1996)
Kevin Nash, Buff Bagwell, Syxx & Konnan vs. Ric Flair, Steve McMichael, Chris Benoit & Curt Hennig (Fall Brawl - September 14, 1997)
Diamond Dallas Page, Rowdy Roddy Piper & The Warrior vs. "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan, Stevie Ray & Bret Hart vs. Kevin Nash, Sting & Lex Luger (Fall Brawl - September 13, 1998)
Sting, Booker T, Goldberg & Kronik vs. Kevin Nash, Jeff Jarrett, Scott Steiner & The Harris Brothers (Monday Nitro - September 4, 2000)
Two things strike me as to this release, albeit in varying degrees. The first is the main element holding back this feature from a clear eyed, full hearted endorsement is that is seems myopic in its vision. Rhodes is the de facto host for the film, but he is also the only interview subject. The feature would easily have been better served by interviews with other participants. Granted, some of the subjects work in smaller organizations, left the WWE on bad terms or are unfortunately no longer with us. But the film could have been bolstered by interviews with say, Anderson and Blanchard, or even newer participants like Hart or Austin, who no doubt saw the rise in popularity in War Games and their desire to be part of it at some point. You don't look back at an influential album from a band and interview one member, particularly if there are other members you can try to reach out to, can you?
A more under the radar thing on this set is the inclusion of the 1997 match. Chris Benoit has been quietly swept under the WWE rug as a result of the murder suicide he committed in 2007, and his excision is akin to Voldemort, with his DVD set quickly made out of print, and his name not spoken unless by longtime friend or colleague. I understand the WWE's decision to avoid any bad publicity by association, though they certainly could not have anticipated what happened in his life. Perhaps a lifting this self-imposed moratorium would help the match quality of peripheral DVD sets in the future, and if they have done it, more power to them.
All in all, War Games is a nice stroll down memory lane of one of WCW's more popular match concepts, and by extension a nice stroll down WCW period, as the match became "safer" (the early ones were flat out bloodbaths) and sanitized to the point where they would even show up on televised shows. The one-dimensional, modest approach to looking at it tends to hamper it, but the first few matches in the series are amazing to watch again and that all of the War Games matches are included is nice to see on this set.
The set is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, but also juggles a large bit of full frame video from the old matches to boot. The older matches are in good condition, and there does not appear to be anything in the way of image processing that would deter anyone from watching the matches. Edge enhancement and image haloing is virtually nil, and there are moments of crushing, but those would appear to be inherent in the source. The discs look as good as they are going to look.
Dolby Digital 5.1 for the newer things, and two-channel stereo for the older material. No substantial complaint, other than the final mix for the interview sounds low and one has to compensate accordingly for it. The matches sound clear and fine, with little in the way of hissing or chirps in the material, and the subwoofer/rear channels are dormant through virtually all three discs. Nothing real special here.
Nothing to speak of.
Going through three discs of matches in War Games is a nice palate cleanser to the blood-free matches that mostly occur these days. Watching the matches from the beginning to the early â€˜90s made me feel like I needed a Coumadin prescription at the end of them. It would have been nice to see some more ingredients in the final mix, but as it stands it is a solid set worth checking out.