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.
Tables, Ladders and Chairs 2009 (or TLC 2009, from here on out) is the first annual pay-per-view dedicated to the match of the same name, even though it took roughly 10 years to arrive. Numerous TLC matches took place during the past decade, from legendary multi-team brawls (usually involving The Hardy Boyz, Edge & Christian and/or The Dudleys) to later variants like "Money in the Bank" matches. During these matches, just about anything goes: all three items are plentiful and can be used for attacking or defending...but only the ladder can win the match, as the desired championship belts are typically suspended high above the ring. Often packed with daring, dangerous stunts, near-falls and clever teamwork, TLC matches quickly became show stealers on the rare occasions when they took place during a weekly broadast---or, more appropriately, a pay-per-view event.
Of course, as with all gimmick matches, the spectacle gradually loses its luster over time. Early TLC matches (circa 2000) set the bar high, and the stakes were gradually raised as the months and years wore on. The aforementioned "Money in the Bank" matches added the twist of a title shot for the up-and-coming winner. But it was easy to see that later matches just didn't have the same punch as earlier ones; after all, that's just how our consumer-driven minds work. Which brings us to the present: TLC 2009, WWE's final pay-per-view extravaganza of last year, when the TLC concept was inevitably thrown over the falls. Multiple matches were booked with various combinations of tables, ladders and chairs---and for the most part, they aren't half bad. The problem is, we don't see nearly as many surprises along the way, since most of the stunts, spots and surprises are practically old hat by now. Taking place on December 13, TLC 2009 includes the following matches:
Complete Match Listing
Christian vs. Shelton Benjamin [Ladder Match for the ECW Championship]
Here's the good news: the emergence of several new stars manages to create a few bright spots along the way. Relatively new WWE personalities like Drew McIntyre, Sheamus and Kofi Kingston add new styles and move sets to the mix, while fan favorites like The Undertaker, DX and John Cena bring many of the same things to the table (pun intended). Many of the most thrilling matches, oddly enough, are placed right up front: Christian vs. Shelton Benjamin aims for the rafters and survives a few missteps along the way. Their experience and skill is virtually expected at this point: Christian participated in the classic TLC tag matches from the early years, while Benjamin took part in his fair share of Money in the Bank free-for-alls. John Morrison vs. Drew Mcintyre is a solid brawl from two relatively new faces, while John Cena vs. Sheamus is as rugged and vicious as expected. Kofi Kingston vs. Randy Orton is the only match without gimmicks or championships on the line---so while there's little at stake, it's still a decent contest that fans should enjoy. The main event, a TLC match for the Unified Tag Team Championship, is a little anti-climactic but still has its moments.
Less impressive, as expected, is the Women's Championship match between Michelle McCool and Mickie James; it's not horrible by any stretch, but it's definitely the odd one out this time around. The Undertaker vs. Batista isn't particularly thrilling, either: I've never been a huge fan of either superstar either now or in the past, and their styles don't particularly blend well together. In any case, TLC 2009 isn't a bad show from start to finish, and doesn't drag much during its lengthy three-hour running time. There may not be many engrossing moments along the way, but there's enough decent action to make it worth watching at least once.
On the technical side of things, this DVD is on par with recent WWE releases: production values are decent enough and all matches are apparently free from edits. Unfortunately, only one minor bonus feature has been included. 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, TLC 2009 looks to be on par with most current WWE releases...but that's not necessarily a free pass. 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.
We're certainly treading on familiar territory here: TLC 2009 isn't a bad WWE pay-per-view by any stretch, but none of the matches hold a candle to TLC matches from the "early days". Several new faces and personalities help to liven things up along the way, though a few missteps slow the event's momentum at times. The technical presentation is up to WWE's shaky standards, while the relative lack of bonus features is equally unsurprising...but it's still bargain-priced in comparison to the original pay-per-view. Casual fans and previous viewers will be happy with a rental, but new viewers and rabid WWE disciples should consider this a worthy addition to their ever-growing collections. Mildly Recommended overall.
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.