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 believe it or not, 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.
Summerslam is WWE's regular August pay-per-view; it's been a yearly tradition since 1988, when the first installment was held at Madison Square Garden. As the fourth of the "Big Five" PPVs (the others being Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania, Survivor Series and King of the Ring), this annual event has enjoyed a great amount of success over the years. Though it has no regular "gimmick matches" like most of its Big Five brethren, Summerslam typically mixes a handful of title defenses with several mid-card matches. Past main events featured the likes of Hulk Hogan, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, Andre The Giant, The Ultimate Warrior and more---but by the time 1993 rolled around, most of these superstars had left the company for one reason or another. Falling between WWE's glory days from the 1980s and the darker, more sophisticated "Attitude Era" of the late 1990s and beyond, this collection depicts a company struggling to redefine its image. It's a somewhat awkward affair, but so was my seventh grade class photo.
My first real exposure to WWE, aside from the occasional match while channel-surfing, occurred during the first year of this collection. It was later in the fall, but enough to get me excited enough for the upcoming Royal Rumble 1994 and the excellent Wrestlemania X. So while I missed the first installment of Summerslam by five years, the bulk of what's here was originally watched by someone new to the sport. That's not to say that I'll let nostalgia get in the way: this collection is hardly a highlight reel from start to finish. It is, however, sprinkled with memorable and classic moments, not to mention some unintentionally hilarious segments that will surprise those only familiar with the "Attitude Era". On a match-by-match basis, here's what's included on Summerslam Anthology, Volume 2:
(39 matches on 5 single-sided DVDs)
NOTE: Discs 1-5 can be found on Summerslam Anthology, Volume 1, available separately.
Disc Six: Summerslam 1993
Razor Ramon vs. "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase
Disc Seven: Summerslam 1994
Bam Bam Bigelow & I.R.S. vs. The Headshrinkers
Disc Eight: Summerslam 1995
Hakushi vs. The 1-2-3 Kid
Disc Nine: Summerslam 1996
Owen Hart vs. Savio Vega
Disc Ten: Summerslam 1997
Mankind vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley [Steel Cage Match]
Let's be honest here: Despite a handful of now-classic matches peppered throughout, Summerslam Anthology, Volume 2 represents WWE during a creative slump. The 1993 and 1995 installments are particularly mediocre, especially after the excellent 1992 event in London. A few matches help these two regain some footing, such as 1993's Michaels-Perfect IC match, which holds up quite well despite having a questionable finish. Michaels contributes to another standout match: 1995's ladder (re)match against Razor Ramon, which was also included on the excellent Ladder Match compilation. Other installments are slightly more well-rounded, thanks to matches like Bret & Owen Hart's heated Steel Cage match (1994) and Mankind & The Undertaker's Boiler Room Brawl (1996). 1997 features a trio of above-average matches, including HHH & Mankind's Steel Cage bout, Steve Austin vs. Owen Hart (in which the former receives a nasty neck injury near the end) and Bret Hart vs. The Undertaker.
For the most part, though, most of this content is squarely middle-of-the-road; whether due to poor execution or just bad booking, matches like Diesel vs. Mabel (1995)---a championship bout, and a main event at that---is hardly worth the disc space it's been burned on. Even the usually-reliable Undertaker can't carry Giant Gonzalez during their final in-ring encounter from 1993, while a generous helping of mid-card matches don't always get the job done either. Jerry Lawler's juvenile mockery of Jake Roberts during their 1996 match remains an embarrassing spectacle. Even the tag team division seems fairly stagnant during this era: aside from a halfway-decent contest between The Heavenly Bodies and The Steiner Brothers (1993), there's not much to get excited about. A handful of skits, interviews and vignettes are here to lighten the mood---including several classic "Hotline" segments, like the one up top---but only the most die-hard WWE fans will watch this collection without skipping a few chapters.
But let's not focus too much on what this release could or could have been, let's take it for what it is: a fifteen-hour collection of 1990s-era matches that most fans will appreciate...from a purely historical standpoint, at the very least. On the technical side of things, this five-disc set is typically on par: production values are decent, music is intact and full matches are included. As with several other vintage WWE releases, the company's former initials are audibly edited...though the pre-Attitude Era "block" logo is completely intact. Glaring issues aside, most wrestling fans should find this collection worth the price of admission: it's quite a bargain when compared to stand-alone PPV releases. If you've got a soft spot for 1990s-era wrestling and several evenings to spare, Summerslam Anthology, Volume 2 is worth browsing through. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Summerslam Anthology, Volume 2 is easily on par with the most recent crop of WWE DVD releases...taking its age into account, of course. Colors are generally bold and bright, on-screen graphics are crisp and black levels are typically solid. Several digital issues arrive in the form of pixellation and artifacting---especially during pyrotechnic sequences and crowd shots---but these are generally kept under control, considering the source. Overall, WWE fans should know what to expect by now.
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 during these events, unfortunately.
WWE has wisely divided the massive Summerslam Anthology into more digestible five-disc sets, but Volume 2 is the least essential collection to date. This is mainly due to a substantial amount of less-than-impressive matches, but plenty of memorable moments and classic bouts can be found as well. To the company's credit, everything from 1993-1997 is included here (aside from the usual editing of the company's former name)---and without a doubt, this package is quite a bargain compared to stand-alone PPV releases. The technical presentation is limited but on par with other WWE releases from the era, while the lack of bonus features is offset by the fifteen hours of included content. Casual fans will be happy with a rental, but die-hard WWE enthusiasts will want to grab Summerslam Anthology, Volume 2 in the near future---if they haven't already, of course. 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.