Generic Pre-Review Wrestling Disclaimer: Long before my affinity for globetrotting documentaries, Martin Scorsese films and The Criterion Collection, I found a soft spot for professional wrestling. Don't ask me how this happened; it just did. Despite this declaration, I shower daily, all my teeth are accounted for, I have a college degree...and, most importantly, I have a wife with the same merits. I'm not alone, of course. The wrestling fans I know aren't slack-jawed yokels; they simply appreciate the spectacle and illusion that this genuine sport creates, in the same way movie lovers enjoy fast-paced fights and thrilling chase sequences. Long story short: we know this stuff is "fake", but we like it anyway. Give us a break.
My first real exposure to WWE, aside from the occasional match while channel-surfing, came in 1993 for reasons unknown. Like my belated addiction to The X-Files which began a few years later, perhaps I just saw the right episode at the right time. Years before WWE resorted to monthly pay-per-views, brand extensions and a virtual glut of weekly programming, I eagerly watched Monday Night Raw (one hour only, remember that?) for my weekly fix of scripted brawling and colorful characters. The occasional pay-per-view was ordered at our household after a few months of regular viewing---and before we knew it, Wrestlemania 10 was around the corner. It turned out to be quite a show, and not just in retrospect: WWE really knew how to pull out the stops every March or April when Wrestlemania returned, and they rarely disappointed. This is literally wrestling's World Series or Superbowl---and even though all 24 of these yearly events have been made available on DVD, only the most die-hard WWE fans own them all.
Up for review today is The Greatest Superstars of Wrestlemania, a two-disc set highlighting some of the biggest stars to shine during wrestling's most respected night. Truth be told, there's not a bad match on here...but we can all agree that any collection entitled The Greatest Superstars of Wrestlemania needs more than eleven of them. Only two matches are pulled from the first fourteen years of the event, while three are pulled from Wrestlemania XXII alone---and to exclude classic early matches for the benefit of a younger audience is simply a bad decision. All are preceded by mini-biographies of eleven WWE superstars (in this case, those whose names are listed first below), along with a short recap of the feud that resulted in the particular match at hand. Younger audiences who weren't around during the first Gulf conflict may not fully appreciate the over-the-top cheesiness of Sgt. Slaughter (Boo! Hiss!) vs. Hulk Hogan (USA! USA!), but their brawl is included here for history's sake. From top to bottom, here's what's included:
(11 matches on 2 single-sided DVDs)
With that said, the selection of several matches proves to be slightly confusing. Bret Hart's match against Yokozuna is significant enough, but why not include Bret's classic match with his late brother Owen (from the same night) instead? Why not Bret's epic submission match against Steve Austin three years later? Heck, why not the Ironman Match against Shawn Michaels? This is just the tip of the iceberg, along with a few rather odd superstar choices themselves. Why are Batista, Edge and Rey Mysterio included when folks like Randy Savage, Andre the Giant and Mr. Perfect are left off the list? There's certainly some great stuff on here, but The Greatest Superstars of Wrestlemania seems awfully skimpy to warrant such a lofty title.
But let's not focus too much on what this release could or should have been, let's take it for what it is: an entertaining and solid collection of top-level matches that fans will enjoy. Highlights include The Rock vs. "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan (featuring the most electrified crowd of all time), Edge vs. Mick Foley (a bloody brawl initiated by an interesting feud), Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho (an epic contest between two top competitors, followed by a deliciously downbeat ending) and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs. The Rock (because, well, those two hardly ever disappoint). Overall, the highs are high and the lows aren't too low...so even though this appetizer of a release could've been the main course, it's still worth chewing on.
On the technical side of things, this two-disc set is on par with recent WWE releases: production values are solid, the full matches are included and that damn WWF "scratch" logo is still blurred from existence. Glaring issues aside, most wrestling fans should find this collection worth the price of admission---but since this appears to be a Wal-Mart exclusive (as emphasized by a large sticker on the cover), purchasing it may involve setting foot inside a Wal-Mart. If you're up to the challenge, The Greatest Superstars of Wrestlemania should prove to be a relatively satisfying purchase. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, The Greatest Superstars of Wrestlemania is easily on par with the most recent crop of WWE DVD releases. Colors are generally bold and bright, while black levels are typically solid. Mild pixellation and artifacts can be seen during certain pyrotechnic sequences, but these are generally kept to a minimum. Overall, fans should know what to expect here.
The audio is presented in a fairly standard Dolby Surround mix; likewise, it's roughly on par with recent WWE releases. Crowd noise and play-by-play commentary come through loud and clear, creating a satisfying soundstage overall. Optional subtitles, Spanish commentary or Closed Captions are not offered, unfortunately.
This two-disc, five-hour collection is chock full of wrestling action...yet The Greatest Superstars of Wrestlemania can't help but fall short of its ambitious title. Those looking for a complete and balanced look at the industry's most respected event will undoubtedly feel a bit disappointed, but what's here is still entertaining in its own right. WWE's technical presentation is roughly on par with recent compilations, while the lack of bonus features is hardly disappointing, given the circumstances. Overall, this Wal-Mart exclusive collection won't exactly be the crown jewel in your WWE collection...but it's still worth the price of admission, and that's all that really matters. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.