Ask any wrestling fan who their favorite company is (or was), and you'll get plenty of different answers. It's the same story with "favorite performer", "best match", and so on. But if you ask them when the best years in the industry were, the answer will probably be "the late 1990s": WCW and the WWF battled for ratings supremacy, ECW had crept in from the sidelines to influence both companies and, well, the sport as a whole had once again stumbled into mainstream acceptance for a few years. After WWF's steroid scandal from the 1980s slowed down the momentum of Hulk Hogan and company, the sport's resurgence made it socially acceptable to watch grown men in colorful outfits beat the snot out of each other.
All three companies changed their approach a bit during these competitive years: ECW toned down their material slightly, WCW cherry-picked some of ECW's locker room and...well, WWF eventually bought both of 'em out, effectively ending the war. During this time, WWF also switched to a more profane, violent, sexually-charged product, and guess what? It worked, and the absorption of both smaller companies led to a huge roster of talent, mammoth ratings, weekly envelope pushing and much more. Eventually, the bubble popped: the renamed WWE put less emphasis on wrestling and naughty content (partially fueled by a failed Senate campaign by the CEO's wife, Linda McMahon), so most of the frothing, dedicated 18-34 male demographic left for greener pastures. WWE's current product isn't without its bright spots, but it's painfully obvious that the company has been treading water since the glory days of 1997-2001.
Coincidentally, that time period has come to be known as "The Attitude Era", and WWE's eponymous new DVD collection (also available on Blu-Ray) attempts to pay tribute to its most fertile and popular chunk of history. After detailed career retrospectives like Stone Cold Steve Austin: The Bottom Line... came out, expectations were undoubtedly running high for something of this nature. Unfortunately, The Attitude Era fails miserably for the most part. Or at least the first disc does, since the featured attraction is a pitifully short 55-minute documentary that barely scratches the surface of the era's most memorable moments.
Sure, the talking heads share a few memories, including favorite matches and behind-the-scenes tidbits. The occasional clips of action, comedy and general debauchery also alleviate some of the pain, but the idea of compressing more than four years of history into one hour? Not a good move. It also doesn't help that certain details are glossed over or skipped entirely, from ECW's obvious contributions (which paved the way for some of the era's best matches, not to mention the wrestlers that participated in them) to the gradual fading of the company's popularity after its legal renaming and the confusing "brand split" of its two popular weekly shows, Raw and Smackdown. It's more like the condensed Cliffs Notes, really.
Of course, The Attitude Era isn't all bad, as it would take a much less professional studio to completely muck up a release like this. Undoubtedly, the real main attraction is an assortment of bonus segments (listed below in their entirety) that highlight some of the era's most popular and controversial storylines, as well as TV-only stuff that you probably haven't seen in at least a decade. Though only 16 matches are here, the wealth of content on titles like The Bottom Line..., other wrestler-specific retrospectives, various PPV compilations, the Ladder Match collections, etc. has ensured that "The Attitude Era" has been pretty well-represented thus far. Yet other nagging issues are easy to spot, from the continued (yet understandable) omission of Chris Benoit to the lack of a few full segments briefly seen during the documentary. For the most part, however, this content is what makes The Attitude Era worth a look.
The real kicker, of course, is that these matches and segments are presented in original, uncut "WWF" format, which means that the company's legally-stripped former name is no longer blurred, edited out or otherwise obstructed from view. Here's hoping that future retrospective releases are allowed to go the same route, as pre-lawsuit "unblurred" WWF DVDs aren't exactly getting any cheaper on eBay.
From top to bottom, here's what The Attitude Era includes on all three discs:
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in a mixed 1.33:1/1.78:1 aspect ratio, The Attitude Era is easily on par with other recent WWE DVD releases...taking its age into account, of course. The company wouldn't switch to a 16x9 format for another several years, so fans of this era should know what to expect. Colors are generally bold and bright, on-screen graphics are crisp and black levels are typically solid. Newly-recorded interviews look excellent. A handful of nagging digital issues arrive in the form of pixellation and compression artifacts, especially during pyrotechnic sequences and crowd shots). With that said, these digital issues have affected all WWE DVDs in recent memory, so fans should be accustomed to what's on display here.
The audio is presented in a fairly standard Dolby Surround mix; likewise, it's roughly on par with recent WWE releases. Talking head interviews are crisp and problem-free. Crowd noise and regular play-by-play commentary come through loud and clear, creating a satisfying soundstage overall. Optional subtitles, Spanish commentary or Closed Captions are not offered during any of this content, unfortunately.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen below, the animated menu designs are basic and easy to navigate. The main feature has been divided into 13 chapters (see the content listing above), while no obvious layer changes were detected during playback. This three-disc release is housed in a foldout digipak case; no inserts are included, but a helpful chapter and match list is printed inside. The packaging design is nice, if you're a Beatles fan.
Since the brief documentary functions as our main feature, that list of Matches & Segments
seen above is technically the extra stuff...and for the most part, it's a solid cross section of content. Are plenty of memorable moments missing? You bet. But what's here is worth watching, especially since it's presented in the original, uncut "WWF" format. No word on if this trend will continue, but it's about freakin' time. Highlights include the "Friendly Tap" bar brawl, anything involving Mankind / Steve Austin / The Rock, one of the infamous "Brawl for All" matches, a handful of solid PPV bouts and much more. Though some of this content is understandably recycled from past DVD releases, occasional hidden gems make up for it.
It's not a total failure, but The Attitude Era is a missed opportunity from a studio that's been churning out some impressive Blu-Ray/DVD compilations as of late. Our pathetic main feature barely scratches the surface, compressing more than four years' of WWE history into 55 minutes of back-patting interviews, vague recollections and whitewashed details. Only the decent collection of bonus segments---presented here in uncut "WWF" format for the first time in years---keeps everything slightly above water, elevating The Attitude Era from "a coaster" to "something that should be watched once for the extras". Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.