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.
Sometime during the last 15 years or so (beginning mostly with a series of low-tier events titled "In Your House"), WWE has managed to dilute their pay-per-views by offering them on a monthly basis. This isn't quite at the level of having Christmas every day, but you know what I'm trying to get at: special events just aren't as exciting when they're more frequent. Fortunately, the "Big Four" (Wrestlemania, Survivor Series, Royal Rumble and, to a lesser extent, King of the Ring) manage to carry a certain degree of weight, due to their long-standing history and traditional "gimmick matches". Though no wrestling fan can deny the pageantry and spectacle of Wrestlemania, Royal Rumble is probably my favorite WWE event during most years. Aside from a series of mid-card and championship matches, the Rumble itself offers a hour or more of non-stop action, surprise entrants and nail-biting close calls. The winner of this spectacle is awarded a title shot at Wrestlemania, which often leads to lengthy fueds and cliffhangers while the epic encounter grows closer.
This year's Royal Rumble, held at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan on January 25th, manages to deliver a satisfying show in almost every department. Without any further delay, the event's card includes the following matches:
Complete Match Listing
Jack Swagger vs. Matt Hardy [ECW Championship Match]
Don't let the short list of matches fool you: this event, like most WWE pay-per-views, runs nearly three hours in length. And unlike most WWE pay-per-views (especially in recent memory), this is a firmly well-rounded show from start to finish. Filler is kept to a minimum, all five matches are either championship bouts or have a measurable degree of significance, while several well-placed twists and turns keep things interesting along the way. In fact, the event's only minor mistake is the somewhat predictable ending to the Royal Rumble itself, though the hour-long marathon match is loaded with plenty of action. Elsewhere, Jack Swagger and Matt Hardy's ECW Championship match offers a good mix of brawling and technical wrestling, while even the Women's Championship match between Beth Phoenix and Melina is genuinely well-executed. The other two (Jonn Cena vs. JBL and Jeff Hardy vs. Edge) are slightly less impressive on paper, though they're completely saved by surprise endings and strong crowd reactions. All in all, it's one of the best WWE pay-per-views in recent memory, and even managed to top this year's Wrestlemania 25 in many respects.
On the technical side of things, this DVD is on par with recent WWE releases: production values are decent enough and all matches are free from edits. Unfortunately, only two bonus features have been included, and only one seems to be exclusive to this DVD release. This is bad news for those who already spent $40 on the PPV the first time around, though new viewers probably won't mind as much.
Presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, Royal Rumble 2009 looks to be on par with most current WWE releases...but that's not necessarily a good thing. Notable amounts of pixellation, edge enhancement and compression artifacts can be seen during many entrances and fast-moving sequences, which has been a long-standing problem we've undoubtedly become accustomed to. Colors are generally bold and bright, though reds pop out almost unnaturally at times. Certainly not a five-star presentation overall, but this is probably about as good as we'll get from WWE.
The audio is presented in a robust Dolby 5.1 Surround mix, which does a fine job of recreating the WWE live experience. Crowd noise and play-by-play commentary come through loud and clear, creating a satisfying soundstage overall. A Spanish 2.0 play-by-play track is also available, though it's not quite as dynamic overall. As expected, optional subtitles and Closed Captions have not been provided.
"The Randy Orton Story" (8:29) is a short segment from Monday Night Raw on 1/26/09, which took place the following night. It's essentially a confrontation between the younger McMahons and Orton (flanked by Legacy members DiBiase and Rhodes), and is oddly cut short before the nine-minute mark. This isn't exactly essential material, but fans may still want to give it a once-over.
Like the main event, both extras are presented in 16x9 format and do no include Closed Captions or subtitles. Unfortunately, the Royal Rumble pre-show dark match (Jimmy Wang Yang vs Paul Birchill) is not included here. Why not go all the way?
From top to bottom, Royal Rumble 2009 is a fast-paced show with very little fat around the edges. Plenty of twists and turns keep things interesting, while higher stakes are on the line during the more traditional matches. In the technical department, this one-disc release is roughly on par: the technical presentation is decent by WWE standards, while the bonus features are light and generally non-essential. Relatively new WWE fans---and those who already saw the event live, of course---may be satisfied with a rental, but all other interested parties will want to add the solid Royal Rumble 2009 to their wrestling collections. Highly 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.