I can't imagine Jess McMahon, grandfather of Vince McMahon would have ever foreseen his wrestling promotion Capitol Wrestling Corporation being around 62 years later, let alone having morphed into what is now "the" only true game in town when it comes to professional wrestling. Then again, he'd probably find that fact easier to swallow than his grandson attempting to make the word "professional wrestling" itself a dirty word, replacing it with the less punctuating and downright dull term "sports entertainment." Any way you cut it though, the 50-plus year history of the WWE (originally the WWWF and then WWF) is a fascinating case study in the power of professional wrestling and to a greater extent the genius of one man, Vince McMahon, who love him or hate him changed the face of pro-wrestling forever. In traditional, slickly produced WWE fashion, "The History of the WWE: 50 Years of Sports Entertainment," offers up viewers a surprisingly insightful and at some times, candid two-hour overview of perhaps the most innovative wrestling promotion to ever exist.
To the seasoned WWE fan it shouldn't come as a big surprise that in the fine details, particularly those regarding the evolution of the WWWF to the WWF and Vince McMahon's launching of the brand as a big-time cable TV player, that history gets muddled if outright whitewashed to paint a more positive portrait of Vince McMahon's business genius. What makes this aspect of the program forgivable is the sheer fact that the program itself gathers many key figures in WWE history together to provide first hand accounts of life in the WWE pre-1980. In many cases, it's obvious these interview segments are several years old, given many of the subjects haven't been with us in nearly a decade. Most notably the global impact of Bruno Sammartino's still unbroken title streak is covered in admirable detail that made even this longtime WWE fan learn a thing or two. However, the first two decades fly by rather quickly and once the program settles in on the genesis of Wrestlemania and eventually the launching of Saturday Night's Main Event, much of what is conveyed is familiar ground.
To the longtime fan, the vast majority of the "History of the WWE" is more a nostalgic excursion and less source of insight. That's not to say a few curveballs don't pop up including a shockingly candid and moderately lengthy look at the steroids scandal of the early 90s. It's one of the first times I've heard anyone connected to the McMahon family address what could have spelled financial ruin for the WWE and the family itself. However, all this is more of a tease before returning to your standard modern era talking points, save for one brief diversion to cover the tragic death of Owen Hart. This inconsistency between true insight and saccharine highlight reel material makes the program hard to take seriously and while deep down I never truly expected even a passing mention of the Chris Benoit tragedy, I didn't expect the level of bias and downright doldrums when it comes to the most recent two decades in the companies history.
To make a long story short, "The History of the WWE" tries to do what the current brand does, please everyone at once, and like the current brand, it often comes off as incredibly stale. There's flash and fast pacing for the newer fans and plenty of interviews from key figures for the old fans, with just enough brief moments of insight and introspection to draw your attention away from what is far less extensive than the Wikipedia page for the company. That said, like many WWE productions, the quality production value coupled with enough nostalgia makes it worth visiting at least once, but to take it for the absolute definitive historical gospel is a critically foolish mistake.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is more than serviceable for the main documentary feature, with archival material varying in quality depending on its age.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio is never utilized to full effect during the documentary portion, with the entire feature firmly rooted in a stereo soundscape. Archival footage is on par, if not bit flat and tinny at times. English SDH subtitles are included.
The bonus features consist of two discs containing representative iconic matches (and a few TV segments) of the WWE's 50-year history. Some inclusions may be historically important (i.e. the first Royal Rumble) but downright dull, while others are more curiosity pieces, such as the hard camera, no commentary presentation of the Wrestlemania III main event. It's bound to not wholly please any WWE fan, but ultimately serves its purpose for providing a chronological overview of big era events.
Regrettably, both the feature itself and the two bonus discs are generally cookie cutter presentations designed to appeal to every single cross-section of fandom. There's not enough deep history for longtime fans, while newer fans are going to walk away with a considerably skewed view of the company; at best, it's a nostalgic supplement to external reading into WWE history. Rent It.