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. 1988 kicked things off with a bang, thanks to the steamrolling popularity of stars like Hulk Hogan, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, Jake "The Snake" Roberts and The Ultimate Warrior. Even the "heels"---or bad guys, if you're new to the sport---like Andre the Giant and "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase proved to be an essential part of the picture. After all, what action movie is complete without a suitable villain?
My first real exposure to WWE, aside from the occasional match while channel-surfing, didn't occur until around 1993. So while I missed the first five installments of Summerslam the first time around, the bulk of what's here is completely approachable by fans of any wrestling era. Long-time WWE fans are obviously the target market here; they'll obviously enjoy revisiting memorable and classic moments. Newer fans, though, shouldn't be intimidated: aside from a few genuinely solid matches, we're also treated to plenty of unintentionally hilarious interview segments. As a snapshot of WWE circa 1988-92, this five-disc set proves to be as nostalgic, fun and corny as an old school yearbook. On a match-by-match basis, here's what's included on Summerslam Anthology, Volume 1:
(44 matches on 5 single-sided DVDs)
Disc One: Summerslam 1988
The Rogeau Brothers vs. The British Bulldogs
Disc Two: Summerslam 1989
The Hart Foundation vs. The Brain Busters
Disc Three: Summerslam 1990
The Rockers vs. Power & Glory
Disc Four: Summerslam 1991
Ricky Steamboat, British Bulldog & Texas Tornado vs. Power and Glory & Warlord [Six-Man Tag Match]
Disc Five: Summerslam 1992
Money Inc. vs. The Legion of Doom
On paper, this lineup mirrors the typical WWF/E pay-per-view formula: plenty of entertaining matches, along with plenty of not-so-great ones. First, the good news: many of the more technically gifted athletes (read: Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and Mr. Perfect, just to name a few) rarely disappoint during these years, just as they were beginning to come into their own as singles wrestlers in the WWF. Bret Hart participates in two of the best matches on this collection: vs. Mr. Perfect (1991) and The British Bulldog (1992), while Michaels holds his own during singles bouts and while teaming with Marty Jannetty as The Rockers. Other tag teams, such as The Brain Busters and The Hart Foundation (again, featuring Bret), also contribute quality material. Still, it's hard to deny the sheer spectacle of several less technically-based matches, whether they feature Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior or Hulk Hogan himself. WWE---or wrestling as a sport, while we're at it---typically employs a balance of "mainstream", marketable performers and truly gifted athletes, so it's no surprise to say that a predictable Hogan match still can be satisfying in its own right.
Unfortunately, the not-so-great matches tend to slow things down on occasion, making several of these three-hour shows feel even longer. The main problem is an ample amount of mid-card matches with little at stake---not to mention the occasional cheap finish (such as a count-out or disqualification), which really have no place during a pay-per-view event. Most seasoned WWE fans should be able to pick out these less-impressive bouts on name value alone, such as Volkoff / Duggan vs. The Orient Express (1990), Nailz vs. Virgil (1992) or most anything involving Earthquake. Additionally, there's plenty of filler between matches, especially the 1990 and 1991 installments. In the case of the latter, roughly a dozen backstage segments take place in a row at one point, which all but kills the show's momentum. It's good to know that WWE has presented these events in their entirety (aside from a handful of dark matches, unfortunately), but one wishes they'd have kept things moving quicker in the first place. Not all of the backstage segments are bad; in some cases, they provide a much-needed dose of comedy relief...but tend to overstay their welcome, more often than not.
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 vintage Summerslam events 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 generally on par: production values are decent, entrance music is intact and full matches are included. As with several other vintage WWE releases, the company's former initials are audibly edited...though pre-Attitude Era "block" logos (and audible mentions of the company's complete former name) are left intact. Glaring edits aside, most wrestling fans should find this collection worth the price of admission; it's a bargain when compared to most other stand-alone PPV releases. If you've got a soft spot for this era of wrestling and several evenings to spare, Summerslam Anthology, Volume 1 is worth browsing through.
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Summerslam Anthology, Volume 1 is easily on par with the most recent crop of WWE DVD releases...taking its age into account, of course. The 1988 installment looks particularly soft, but I doubt a cleaner copy exists in the WWE vaults. 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, and Volume 1 stands tall as a fairly satisfying release in its own right. Moreso than the slightly lackluster second volume, this five-disc set seems more well-rounded---and, of course, it's still peppered with plenty of classic moments. This is perhaps the second best of the four total Summerslam anthologies, which should place it high on the list of wrestling fans looking to bulk up their DVD collections. The technical presentation is strictly on par with other vintage WWE releases (especially considering the source material), while the lack of bonus content is offset by the running time and retail price. Overall, Summerslam Anthology, Volume 1 is a solid buy for those seeking a nostalgia fix...or simply a great introduction to the WWF, circa 1988-93. Firmly Recommended...if you haven't picked it up already.
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.