In my encounters with WWE produced DVDs (and in some cases, VHS tapes) highlighting the career of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, one thing became clear: either the offering would be strictly kayfabe (wrestling terms for "in character") or a glossy overview padding a collection of noteworthy matches. The last big release was 2008's "The Legacy of Stone Cold Steve Austin" that finally highlighted Steve's early run in WCW as well as his short time in ECW, but for understanding the real Steve Austin, it would take until "Stone Cold Steve Austin: The Bottom Line on the Most Popular Superstar of All Time" to give fans not only a solid collection of matches to revisit but an exhaustive documentary that lets the man himself let you know how it went down, in a candid way only "Stone Cold" could get away with.
To the casual viewer, Austin's laid back nature and blunt delivery in the set's nearly three-hour main program may feel like a shtick, but to those who have followed Austin's career as well as those who make to the end of the program, you realize Steve Austin (born Steve Williams) the man shares a lot in common with Steve Austin the character. The program is an excellently paced, candid documentary that starts with Austin's childhood and the origin of his wrestling days training with "Gentleman" Chris Adams in World Class Championship Wrestling as well as a few other southern territories before taking his first stab at stardom in WCW as "Stunning" Steve Austin a cocky, blond-haired heel who would eventually team up with the late Brian Pillman to form the Hollywood Blondes.
The casual pace the program takes through these early days is greatly appreciated as many fans haven't seen or don't fully remember this era of Austin and along the way Austin finally gets to share his feelings on being fired while injured and how time in ECW helped open the door to the WWE (then WWF) and ultimately, the industry changing character in 1996 at the King of the Ring. Joining Austin are a good selection of colleagues who provide their own commentary on events, including WWE owner Vince McMahon who is one of the program's biggest revelations discussing early planning meetings with Austin regarding his character as well as his side of certain events that occurred years later during a rough patch in Austin's professional and personal life. The honest nature fits with Austin's character; however, in an era of the WWE loving to whitewash history, is initially shocking, but obviously a sign of respect towards the man who helped keep the company alive during the infamous Monday Night Wars.
If there is one failing point it's that the film does gloss over Austin's latter career and put up some barriers when it comes to certain personal factors that contributed to him famously walking off the job. Austin takes full responsibility for being a no-show, but argues from a logical business standpoint that his decision had some merit. What isn't mentioned is Austin's personal legal troubles that occurred at the same time, which many suspect may have been a catalyst in his frustrations at work; while this is still speculation, the lack of any real reference to it keeps the shroud of mystery up. The bottom line (pun intended) is that "The Bottom Line on the Most Popular Superstar of All Time" is a must see feature for Austin fans and wresting fans at large. It is easily WWE's finest behind-the-scenes release and the no "BS" approach to telling Austin's story from everyone interviewed makes for an engaging program that deserves a spot on your shelf. On a personal level, it brought me "out of retirement" from consuming any pro-wrestling media for nostalgic reasons and for someone who lived and breathed wrestling at the height of Austin's career it far exceeded my wildest expectations of what a retrospective on the man could be.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer that makes up the present-day interview segments is sharp looking for a documentary feature, with strong detail, little issue with compression artifacts, and colors that are a bit on the hot side but consistent and vibrant. The bulk of the archival footage is sharp looking considering the source and age of the material and is presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio where applicable with "Stone Cold" themed borders filling in the dead space on the sides.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 feels like in many documentary cases, a gussied up stereo track, but has a few surprises up its sleeves. Dialogue is prominent and distortion free, while archival footage sounds a tad better than an original television broadcast.
While the main feature is housed on disc one of the set, three other discs remain as a treasure trove of Austin related footage, all hand picked by Austin himself. The extras do start on the first disc in the form of a few deleted segments from the main feature that are still worth checking out. Disc two starts with an intro from Austin himself and takes fans from day one in WCCW.
Disc four closes the set out, packed full of vintage Austin promos ranging from the WCW days through ECW and the WWE, nearly all the most iconic promos are here, although a few notable omissions include Austin's Hall of Fame induction and post-induction speech, which show up as Blu-Ray exclusives along with four bonus matches including Austin's final match at Wrestlemania XIX in 2003.
Whether you own zero or all of the WWE's previous "Stone Cold" releases, "Stone Cold Steve Austin: The Bottom Line on the Most Popular Superstar of All Time" is a mandatory purchase, if for the epic main feature alone. The only quibble I can really pose against the release is the Blu-Ray exclusive stuff, but that's a very minor omission from an otherwise busting at the seams release. DVD Talk Collector Series.