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.
After several different watered-down resurrections, WWE's version of ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) more or less bit the dust a little over a year ago. It had its own weekly show under the WWE banner from 2006-2010 and, once a year, its own pay-per-view titled "One Night Stand". Originally conceived as a 2005 reunion show for current and past ECW stars, "One Night Stand" was invaded by WWE regulars as the years went on...and everything went south from there. 2008's installment was barely recognizable by vintage ECW standards; in fact, Tommy Dreamer was the only guy accounted for. By 2009, the annual event was renamed "Extreme Rules" and still kept the same overall gimmick: all of the included matches featured less rules and regulations than usual, from "Last Man Standing" matches to straight weapons-only brawls. WWE's recent shift towards a more family-friendly product has prohibited excessive blood from being shown, though beating someone with a trash can until they can't get up is apparently not a problem. In other words, it's about as "extreme" as rollerblades or neon green Kool-Aid.
In any case, Extreme Rules 2011 continues many of the trends set during past installment. Each and every match has one or more stipulations to spice things up a bit, from "Falls Count Anywhere" to "Loser Leaves WWE". This year's show took place at the First Mariner Arena in Baltimore, MD on May 1st, and included the following 8 matches:
(8 matches on 1 single-sided DVD)
Randy Orton vs. CM Punk [Last Man Standing Match]
First things first: at least three of these matches are terrific, which automatically gives Extreme Rules 2011 an advantage over most recent WWE events. Randy Orton and CM Punk's "Last Man Standing" match, Christian & Alberto Del Rio's Ladder match and the main event Steel Cage match are all great examples of booking done right, as they pull more than their own weight (especially given their placements on the card). All three are entertaining from start to finish and full of near-falls, twists, turns and (of course) action. Slightly less impressive are Sheamus vs. Kofi Kingston's "Tables" match and Rey Mysterio, Jr. vs. Cody Rhodes' "Falls Count Anywhere" match; the latter has never been my favorite stipulation, but both of these matches still manage to keep the momentum going and don't wear out their welcomes. This definitely helps the show's pacing quite a bit.
There are, of course, a few missed opportunities and disappointing matches here as well. Both tag team bouts are less than stellar...especially the "Country Strap Match", which cements my belief that strap matches are incapable of being awesome. The lumberjack match (another less-than-reliable stipulation) isn't too bad in comparison, but it fails to keep the momentum going in time for the main event. Other than that, though, it's hard to complain about what's here: heck, even the women's match is pretty good. In this day and age of WWE's watered-down product, that's about the best a wrestling fan can hope for.
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 one minor bonus feature has been included. This is bad news for those who already spent $50 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, Extreme Rules 2011 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, a long-standing problem that fans should be accustomed to. Colors are generally bold and bright, though reds pop out almost unnaturally at times. Certainly not a five-star presentation overall, but fans should definitely know what to expect by now. Oddly enough, I've see a few WWE Blu-Rays and they don't offer a dramatic improvement, so it's not like you're missing much with standard-def.
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 clearly, creating a satisfying soundstage overall. A Spanish 2.0 play-by-play track is also available, though it's not quite as dynamic overall. Optional subtitles and Closed Captions are not provided.
WWE is nowhere near the level of excitement and spectacle of the late 1990s' "Attitude Era", but Extreme Rules 2011 is an above-average PPV with minimal filler and several bright spots. Even though there's only a vague sense of the ECW spirit that originally spawned this annual event, it's notably better than last year's installment. WWE's one-disc package offers a minimal amount of support, pairing a decent technical presentation with little in the way of bonus content. It's not a fantastic value on paper...but compared to what Extreme Rules 2011 originally cost on PPV, this seems like a bargain. Overall, it's worth buying for WWE completists or casual fans who missed it the first time around. Firmly 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.