Matthew Roberts takes a look at WWE Home Video’s latest release, the nine disc Attitude Era – The Complete Collection
It’s (in)arguably the most (in)famous period of WWE history. A few years prior to 1996/97, even with WCW on the rise it would have been unthinkable for the WWE (and Pro Wrestling in general) to reach such heights, in terms of numbers, as it did during these glory years. It seems unthinkable now, two decades or more later, that any pro wrestling company will ever be able to seep so pervasively into the national/international consciousness as the WWE did here.
But what was it really like?
This 9 disc set brings together the previously released Attitude Era DVD’s Volume 1-3 in one neat package and gives you an overview on almost everything Attitude Era, good and bad. In that sense it allows those who were caught up with it at the time a long trip down memory lane and those who perhaps weren’t even born at the time to see for themselves what it was all about.
Volume 1 kicks off with a snappy one hour documentary that is enjoyable without ever quite becoming essential viewing. It does a neat job of telling you a little about the many different things that made the Attitude Era such a hit. There’s nothing here that long-term fans won’t have heard a million times and there are times, such as discussion of the PTC hearings that caused so many headaches for the WWE at the times, when you wish there was a little bit more in depth discussion but on the whole it’s an entertaining look at the era in question that is certainly never boring. Some modern viewers may laugh at the idea of “long-arching storylines” being one of the key’s to a promotions success being mentioned on an official WWE release, mind you.
The rest of Volume 1 is filled with matches and segments.
Disc one picks out some, presumably, choice cuts that are presented in chronological order on the disc (the other two discs do the same on their own). There isn’t a match to be seen here, instead we get angles and promos. These include such things as Stone Cold throwing the Intercontinental Title belt off a bridge (avoiding dropping it in a match, but there you go), a Jim Ross sit-down interview with Goldust and Marlena, Mae Young beating the APA at their own poker playing, drinking and smoking game and that time when Triple H was caught “training” Trish Stratus by Stephanie McMahon.
Discs two and three offer more of the same, although they do throw many matches in there as well.
Some of the angles are genuinely great ones. Mike Tyson joining DX in March 1998 is one that is forgotten about coming as it did after the legendary Austin/Tyson confrontation so it’s good to revisit it here. Other highlights of this nature include Austin giving the Corporation a Beer Bath, the debut of Chris Jericho and the Wedding of Stephanie McMahon and Andrew “Test” Martin. Spoiler alert, it’s a wrestling wedding, so it doesn’t end well for the groom. Test walking to his own wedding to his theme music is a laugh that resonates with me to this day.
On the flip side, there are some more, well, unsavoury angles that don’t play as well when viewed today and certainly are things the WWE would shy away from today. DX playing dress up as the Nation of Domination certainly has humour but it’s difficult to see the WWE green lighting it for air today. The Big Boss Man / Big Show feud was never really funny to begin with.
The matches that are included on Volume 1 are also a mixed bag. When we get to the PPV matches of the set, such as Rikishi/Val Venis (Fully Loaded 2000), TLC (Summerslam 2000) and Six Man Hell in a Cell (Armageddon 2000) there’s a lot to enjoy. When we’re talking about TV matches it’s a different story. Some, such as a Four Corners tag match that includes Undertaker & Steve Austin, New Age Outlaws, Kane & Mankind and The Rock & Owen Hart get carried along on star power and a VERY hot crowd. Others, such as a Chris Jericho / Eddie Guerrero battle from an April 2000 Raw are better on paper than in the execution (namely because they are either short, full of interference or sometimes both). A few more, such as the Bart Gunn / Steve Williams Brawl For All Match or a TV Buried Alive match between The Rock & Mankind and Undertaker & Big Show are by no means classics but perhaps demand inclusion on such as set as this if we’re trying to show all the facets of what “made” the Attitude Era what it was.
Volume 2 is hosted by Michael Cole, and is a straight compilation of matches and vignettes interspersed by his links and the occasional story from some of the players from that era. We start with Sunny describing the increased amount of flesh on show compared to previous WWE television and end with the July 2000 Raw main event between The Rock & Lita and Triple H & Trish Stratus. Inbetween we run the gauntlet of the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
Ken Shamrock seems to enjoy the “Slammy Awards Swimsuit” competition that opens disc 1 more than you or I might do nearly 25 years later. That it is followed by a Shawn Michaels/Owen Hart singles match is a cause for celebration until you remember that this is the Attitude Era. Not for the last time on Volume 2 does the idea of match on paper not live up to what we actually get. It’s TV matches with scrappy finishes galore here folks. Still, the legendary and game changing Steve Austin / Vince McMahon “match” from Raw gets a full airing (complete with clips of the show long build up) so it’s not all bad. The Rock and X-Pac have a fun match, Jerry Lawler talks about “puppies” and “D-X Takes New York” sees a series of sketches from that faction getting women in Manhattan to flash their breasts. And that’s not even the worst part of those sketches.
Disc 2 has a lot of the Godfather and a lot more matches, such as Edge Vs HHH, Stone Cold Vs Kane and The Rock Vs The Undertaker in a casket match, that sound a lot better than they prove to be. Still, if you lower expectations they are still entertaining enough and the white hot atmosphere carries things along somewhat. And if you’re like me and don’t have a great memory for random Raw matches from two decades plus ago it’s nice to see things you “don’t remember” and aren’t the usual couple of dozen chosen matches the WWE usually wheels out.
Disc 3 carries on the theme prevalent from the others. There’s some entertaining action such as the Acolytes Vs Kane & X-Pac, Kurt Angle, Taz and Chris Jericho in a spirited three-way and The Rock & Lita teaming up to take on Kurt Angle & Stephanie McMahon in a match where almost nothing of note happens from an “star-rating” point of view but at the same time has so many things going on storyline wise that you can’t help but get into it. There’s more “looked better on paper” action as Eddie Guerrero clashes with Dean Malenko. And then there’s a lengthy section on Mark Henry’s “Sexual Chocolate” days. Might be an eye opener for any newer fans who only knew him as the “World’s Most Strongest Man”.
Volume 3 takes a different route to the two before it. As the title suggests, it focuses on “Unreleased” matches that have never (or rarely) seen the light of day before this set. There’s 25 or so of them which makes this a great Volume in terms of bang for your buck although there are a few words of warning. “Unreleased” generally means “not taped for TV” so there’s a lot of one-camera, no commentary matches which, as host Cory Graves admits, most certainly aren’t HD standard. There’s no getting around that for some people, this will be a distraction. Then there’s the fact hat “not taped for TV” means house shows and dark matches…which are not renowned for being work rate city. So viewers with high expectations for matches like Steve Austin Vs Bret Hart, The Undertaker Vs Mankind and Steve Austin Vs Triple H might be in for a slight disappointment.
Still, if you can get past the presentation there’s some fascinating stuff in here. Of the above mentioned matches, Austin Vs Hart from April 1996 in Germany offers a fascinating look at them before they ever got to Survivor Series 96 or WrestleMania XIII. Seeing Undertaker and Mankind clash in an In Your House dark match before they’d ever met in the ring on TV or PPV in the WWE offers a nice perspective. A May 1996 WWE Championship Match between Shawn Michaels and Austin from Kuwait is a lot of fun. And there’s not many other places to see curiosities like The Ultimate Warrior Vs Owen Hart or a Triple Threat Match between Michaels, Sid and Bret Hart.
Whilst volumes 1 & 2 offer up a look at the Attitude Era that will entertain fans who were watching at the time as well as showing newer ones what all the fuss was about (good AND bad), Volume 3 is perhaps better suited to fans from that era as it’s very much non-canonical in terms of storylines and all that (if it didn’t happen on TV, it didn’t happen as Pat Patterson used to say). The real interest lies in seeing “different” versions of matches you’ve seen on the bigger stages as well as the odd match that you might never even have contemplated before, such as Yokozuna Vs The Sultan, or Shawn Michaels & Triple H against The Legion Of Doom. It’s not the place to come for five-star classics, but any old school fan will certainly enjoy the novelty of volume 3.
The Attitude Era was not about “wrestling” per se, so it is understandable that this nine disc, near TWENTY hour, collection is a little short on “must see” matches. As a journey of what made the Attitude Era stand out though, this is an entertaining trip down memory lane. The big names and angles you’ll remember are covered but the collection doesn’t just focus on them. For a WWE release this covers a lot of ground beyond the usual names and action that gets recycled ad nauseam; sure there is the understandable focus on the likes of Austin, Taker, Rock and Mankind but there’s also a lot of love spread around for those working underneath the big names who also had a lot to do with the all-round vibe of the Attitude Era.
Fans who were watching at the time will love the nostalgia; those who are newer to pro wrestling and the WWE in general can make up their own minds about one of the hottest periods in wrestling there has ever been. Either way there’s no denying that this collection offers fantastic value for money and for better or for worse this collection does a great job of summing up what made the Attitude Era what it was.
9 out of 10.
Photographs courtesy of Fetch and WWE
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