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 would begin 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 X was around the corner. It turned out to be quite a show, and things haven't changed much since then: WWE usually pulls out all the stops every March or April when Wrestlemania returns, and they rarely disappoint. This is literally wrestling's World Series or Superbowl---and much like those revered events, some Wrestlemanias stand out more than others.
Not being overly familiar with WWE during the early years of its flagship pay-per-view, I have no vivid memories of Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and the like. Still, the Wrestlemanias post-1993 yielded plenty of memorable moments; as the "Attitude Era" rolled in (featuring the likes of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, D-Generation X, The Hardy Boyz and company), matches got more dangerous, more sophisticated and arguably more spectacular. Likewise, the late 1990s and early 2000s showed a surge in WWE's popularity: ratings and profits increased, their roster was arguably the strongest it had ever been...and most importantly, it wasn't embarrassing to admit being a fan of. Even so, my weekly WWE viewing eventually dwindled sometime around 2003, as other hobbies (including DVD reviewing) gobbled up more and more of my free time.
I've been more faithful in my PPV viewing as of late, though...which is also due to DVD reviewing, oddly enough. Having thoroughly enjoyed 2008's Wrestlemania XXIV, I was looking forward to tackling this year's generally well-received installment; at the very least, it had to be better than Wrestlemania XXV, right? In any case, this year's show took place on March 28th at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona and included plenty of old and new Wrestlemania traditions: multiple main events featuring both "brands", a handful of lower-tier championships on the line, a high-stakes "Money In The Bank" Ladder Match, surprise guests and an obligatory Diva shriek-fest. Arguably the most hotly-anticipated match would feature WWE legends Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker (seen above): not only was The Undertaker's undefeated Wrestlemania streak on the line, but Michaels' career hung in the balance as well. Though I'd imagine that most WWE fans knew the results of this PPV by the end of March, this review will remain generally spoiler-free just for consistency's sake. With that said, let's take a look at the show from top to bottom:
(10 matches on 2 single-sided DVDs)
Fantasia Sings "America The Beautiful"
Disc Two *
Batista vs. John Cena (WWE Championship Match)
* - Includes Additional Bonus Features (see below)
Of course, it goes without saying that Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker's high-stakes bout is the real standout here. It's a fantastic match that's even better than last year's epic encounter---and with so much on the line, it wasn't surprising that many folks had trouble predicting who would come out on top. Bottom line: if you've heard the result of this match but have yet to actually see it, this one's practically worth the price of admission alone. Surprisingly enough, the title bout between John Cena and Batista (above right) isn't far behind, even though I've never been a huge fan of either athlete. The crowd is gradually worked into a fever pitch, and the numerous close calls and near falls elevate this one to silver medal status. "Money In The Bank" Ladder Matches rarely disappoint---and though it's becoming harder every year to keep the bar high, this year's installment (top left) certainly makes the cut. The action is fast and furious, tension runs high and just about everyone comes within inches of victory.
Plenty of other matches here are PPV quality, but they can't help but fall in the shadow of Wrestlemania XXIV's biggest moments. The Unified Tag Match is a short but satisfying opener: all four athletes are worthy competitors and to a great job of leading things off. The Triple Threat Match between the former three members of Legacy is also quite impressive; though Randy Orton has stretched his persona a little thin in recent years, there's great chemistry here...even though the surprises are few and far between. Two more non-title matches are sandwiched right in the middle, featuring Triple H vs. Sheamus and Rey Mysterio vs. CM Punk (top right). I'm a bit biased towards the latter as I'm a much bigger fan of the athletes involved, but both matches are solid entries and keep the crowd going strong for the later main events. Finally, Chris Jericho vs. Edge is a vaguely familiar championship match that nonetheless gets the job done; though it's tough for me to get enthusiastic about Edge, it's hard to deny his charisma and general in-ring ability.
Only two matches here are truly disappointing, though most fans probably had a gut feeling that they wouldn't measure up. Bret Hart's much-anticipated revenge match against Mr. McMahon (above left) starts fine enough but quickly wears out its welcome: it's obvious that the legendary Hart still has a bit of gas in the tank, but it's not enough to carry this drawn-out brawl. The 10-Diva Tag Match, however, is easily the worst on the card: most fans rarely have high expectations for these "bathroom break" matches...but this abomination is even worse than usual, thanks to the horrible in-ring participation of Vickie "Excuse Me!" Guerrero (literally, it's like watching someone's mom try to wrestle). All things considered, though, it's easy to forget two disappointing matches when the rest of the action is this good. Wrestlemania XXVI doesn't have as many "filler moments" as usual, which helps to keep things moving.
On the technical front, this two-disc DVD package is on par with recent WWE releases: production values are top-notch and all matches are apparently free from edits. A few bonus features have been included, but the main extra is edited for content and time (more on that later). Luckily, a 3-Disc Collector's Edition is also available, which should undoubtedly be of interest to those looking for the complete Wrestlemania experience. For now, let's take a look at this basic version, shall we?
WWE events always feature plenty of colorful sets, pyrotechnics and bustling crowds---and unfortunately, these don't always look great on DVD. Presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, Wrestlemania XXVI suffers from most of the digital issues present in nearly all of their catalogue titles. Notable amounts of pixellation, edge enhancement and compression artifacts can be seen during many entrances and fast-moving sequences, which are long-standing problems we've undoubtedly become accustomed to. Colors are generally bold and bright, though reds and purples pop out almost unnaturally at times. It's not a five-star presentation overall, but fans should know what to expect from WWE by now.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1---and luckily, it's more consistently impressive than the visuals. Crowd reactions spill into the rear channels, creating a fairly immersive "you are there" experience, while the on-screen action and commentary sound crisp and clear. Overall, this is a satisfying presentation that won't disappoint regular WWE viewers. Optional Spanish play-by-play commentary is offered during the main feature, though a standard English 2.0 mix is nowhere to be found. Optional subtitles and Closed Caption support are not offered anywhere on this release, unfortunately.
Leading things off is an abridged version of the 2010 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (37:42), which originally aired on the USA Network. The complete "Class of 2010" includes "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase, NJPW founder Antonio Inoki, Wendi Richter, Maurice "Mad Dog" Vachon, "Gorgeous" George Wagner (posthumous), Stu Hart (posthumous) and Bob "Bob Uecker" Uecker. Unfortunately, this version only has room for DiBiase, Vachon and Uecker, but it appears that all three speeches run in their entirety. It's odd that Uecker was selected over someone like, say, Stu Hart, but them's the breaks.
Also included on Disc 2 is a 26-Man Battle Royal (11:47), which was originally a dark match that took place before Wrestlemania XXVI began. As far as battle royals go, it's fairly by-the-numbers; participants include Mark Henry, Goldust, Chavo Guerrero, Yoshi Tatsu, Santino Marella, Funaki, Great Khali, Carlito, William Regal and...well, just about everyone else who didn't wrestle during the actual event. It's nothing special overall, but it's a great way to give up-and-comers (or has-beens) some face time and get the crowd going. Here's hoping that WWE is more consistent with keeping more dark matches on their DVD releases.
In contrast, the Collector's Edition includes the full three-hour Hall of Fame Ceremony, as well as the complete Raw and Smackdown shows from the following week and a few bonus matches. It's less than $10 more---and in this reviewer's opinion, is definitely worth the extra cash. But it's also nice to know that this version is available for those who don't need the extra stuff.
All bonus materials, like the main feature, are presented in anamorphic widescreen and include no optional subtitles or Closed Captions. I wish WWE would step up to the plate in this department, but perhaps that's just wishful thinking at this point.
With more than five hours of total content (including the abridged Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony), there's certainly a lot to like about Wrestlemania XXVI...but fans aren't really getting the whole picture unless they shell out for the 3-Disc Collector's Edition. Even so, the actual event is what really counts and this year's installment is a relatively solid effort: over half the matches are as good as (or better than) expected, and only two are blatant disappointments. WWE's technical presentation continues to be average at best---and this two-disc version skimps on the bonus feature, of course---but what's here should satisfy wrestling fans for the most part. Die-hard WWE disciplies will definitely want to pony up a few extra bucks for the Collector's Edition, but this stripped-down version is for folks who aren't interested in the bonus features. Mildly 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.