REVIEW: The True Story of WrestleMania

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World Wrestling Entertainment’s The True Story of WrestleMania is available now through Netflix Instant (though the physical DVD is not yet shipping). It’s certainly something I wanted to see, but to be honest there’s no way I would have had a chance to anytime soon without this being available through Netflix. Only Volume 1 of the multi-disc set is currently streaming, but this is the documentary portion of the release while the other volumes are filled with matches. With a running time of just over 2 hours, the documentary features some incredible footage from the early ’80s and was a really nice way to revisit my youth, particularly with this year’s WrestleMania just two weeks away.

Touching on all twenty-six installments of the annual extravaganza, a great deal of time is spent focusing on the risks the company took creating the first WrestleMania in 1985 and the shared desire to outdo the previous events year after year. Unfortunately, some years were glossed over (particularly WrestleManias V, VIII, XV, XXII and last year’s XXVI) but it kept the production from becoming too self indulgent, choosing instead to focus on what really made each event special. The first few installments received the most attention (as they should) and I was particularly pleased to see that they gave equal time to the Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage match as they did on Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant when it came to WMIII. Hogan/Andre was the draw for that event, but Steamboat/Savage is one of the greatest matches of all time.

A young PTB tries to capture the spectacle of WrestleMania IV in Atlantic City.

I initially hated that some events were presented out of chronological order, but I came to appreciate that there was a solid logic to it that kept things moving. Some interesting connections were made between particular installments, such as WMIII and WMXXIII both being in Detroit, setting attendance records, and the latter involving Donald Trump which led the story back to WMIV held at Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza. WMIV has a special place in my heart not only because it was the first one I attended, but because it wasn’t all about Hulk Hogan. It featured an amazing tournament for the WWF Championship and showcased one of my all-time favorites, Randy Savage, in four matches on the card.

A significant element adding to my enjoyment of the story presented here was the narration by one of my favorite actors, Keith David. David has a number of WWE connections most notable to me starring in John Carpenter’s 1988 scifi classic They Live with wrestling legend Roddy Piper. Using someone outside of the WWE announce team as as the voice of the story of WrestleMania was a great choice. Hollywood celebrities, for better or worse, have often been a component of WrestleMania and the documentary provides a who’s who of recognizable participants. Everyone from Mr. T to Kim Kardashian have been part of the show and it’s absolutely wild to think that active NFL players were part of a battle royal at WrestleMania II. That would never happen today. It’s amazing how much I can’t stand most of the celebrity involvement lately, but I think that has more to do with the caliber of the celebrities and the fact that they’re just there to sell a product rather than really be a part of the show.

Throughout the production, interview clips from past and present superstars were tied to the history of the event along with personal anecdotes. These came primarily from current performers Randy Orton, Edge, Rey Mysterio and John Cena but some segments featured all-time greats like Hulk Hogan, Ted DiBiase, The Rock, Steve Austin, and of course, Vince McMahon. One of the more interesting points that came from these comments was crediting Hulk Hogan for beginning the phenomenon of WreslteMania in the ’80s, Steve Austin for reinventing it in the ’90s and John Cena for carrying it to new heights into the new millennium. That’s high praise for Cena and I hope history comes to prove it true.

The True Story of WrestleMania is an incredible documentary. Even if you’re not particularly interested in wrestling, there’s enough pop culture history here to keep the story and presentation interesting. If you’ve ever been a fan of the WWF, WWE, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Steve Austin, The Rock or anything associated with WrestleMania you owe it to yourself to check this out. It really served as a nice primer for this year’s installment of WrestleMania which will emanate live from Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday April 3rd, 2011. It truly is the “Showcase of the Immortals.”

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