Review of WWE: Wrestlemania 23 (3 Discs)
From a commercial standpoint, the 23rd instalment of the annual Wrestlemania event was one of the biggest professional wrestling shows in the history of the WWE. 74,687 fans packed into Detroit`s Ford Field indoor gridiron stadium (not 80,103 as WWE claimed), for one of the biggest attendances ever in the stadium, and the third biggest attendance ever for WWE (Wrestlemania III and Summerslam 1992 at Wembley Stadium both beat these numbers). The company grossed £2.65m in gate receipts, and with 1.2m people watching at home on pay-per-view, another £29.5m was generated. Who says wrestling isn`t as popular as it once was?!
In terms of in-ring action, the main event on the card was John Cena`s WWE title defence against Shawn Michaels, closely followed by The Undertaker challenging Batista for the World Heavyweight Title. But the match making the most publicity was that which pitted Umaga vs. Bobby Lashley, the former representing Vince McMahon, and the latter representing Donald Trump. This was set up as a "Battle of the Billionaires" hair vs. hair match; if your wrestler won, you had the pleasure of shaving your enemy`s head bald.
Wrestlemania 23 is presented here in a three-disc set, with the near four-hour show occupying all of Disc One and some of Disc Two, with extras (including the entire Hall of Fame 2007 ceremony) adorning discs Two and Three.
Video is presented in 4:3 fullscreen PAL, and is excellent for a DVD of this genre. The DVD has been authored intelligently, so that the last hour of the show is presented on Disc Two, ensuring high video quality, rather than trying to squeeze four hours of video onto one disc. The DVD transfer benefits from that, with no distracting digital artefacts.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, and is also very good for a DVD of this genre. The audio is well-mixed, so that everything from entrance music, to in-ring action, to commentary, is easily decipherable. Commentary is provided at various times by the teams of Jim Ross and Jerry "The King" Lawler, Michael Cole and JBL, and Joey Styles and Tazz.
One slight disappointment with the audio is the lack of a 5.1 track, that has been available on other event DVDs. Granted, the difference between a 5.1 track and a 2.0 track is mild in WWE instances, but considering that Wrestlemania is the biggest event of the year, I would have hoped for 5.1. It will be interesting to see how 5.1 tracks are incorporated into future releases.
Perhaps the reason for the exclusion of a 5.1 mix is the fact that many languages are also catered for on this set. There are 2.0 tracks in Italian, Spanish, German, and French, as well as subtitles in Greek, Portuguese, and Dutch.
The extras open up on Disc Two with several short features, the first being a music video announcement of the Ford Field venue. From there, we have a highlight video of previous Wrestlemanias, again set to music. The three marquee matches (Umaga vs. Lashley, Batista vs. The Undertaker, and Cena vs. Michaels) then get brief advertisements, before four "All Grown Up" vignettes are presented, concentrating on John Cena, Edge, King Booker, and The Undertaker. The clamour for tickets is noted in a feature talking to the fans who queued to purchase them, and there is a look at the Wrestlemania press conference, the main body of which is McMahon inciting Donald Trump before their Hair vs. Hair match.
There is the announcement of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin`s participation in the event, from the 5th March edition of RAW, and an unused interview segment from Wrestlemania itself, as Maria interviews CM Punk. There is also the No Way Out main event rematch from 26th March, in which John Cena & Shawn Michaels team to face The Undertaker & Batista. Sadly, it is leagues below the quality exhibited in the pay-per-view encounter.
There are still more extras on Disc Two, as the non-televised Wrestlemania match of Carlito & Ric Flair vs. Chavo Guerrero & Gregory Helms is available here, notable only because there are serious microphone problems which hinder the sound of the referee delivering the three-count finish. From the 2nd April Raw TV show (ie. Post-Wrestlemania) Bobby Lashley confronts Mr McMahon, and from the proceeding Smackdown event, Batista and The Undertaker agree a Wrestlemania rematch. Finally, an excellent montage of photos plays with Default`s "The Memory Will Never Die" playing in the background.
After all of these extras - which are nice companions to the set, but are not really worthy of repeat viewing - Disc Three is entirely taken up with the annual WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which this year celebrated the careers of Nick Bockwinkel, The Wild Samoans, The Sheik (not to be confused with The Iron Sheik), Mr Fuji, Jim Ross, Jerry "The King" Lawler, "Mr Perfect" Curt Hennig, and "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes.
The behind-the scenes stories told by the inductors and inductees are a great listen for anyone who has an interest in the inner workings of the business, although it must be said that there is nothing here to equal the supremacy of the 2006 ceremony, which featured a heart-breaking tribute to the deceased Eddie Guerrero, and a superb speech by Bret Hart, returning to the WWE after almost ten years away. While the tribute to Curt Hennig was interesting and most-deserving, I was hoping for more from the speeches of Jerry Lawler and Dusty Rhodes, neither of whom were really able to grip the camera in the manner that they had done in their wrestling prime.
In any case, the extras here are as complete as one could expect, and are certainly worth the time to take a look at.
After a rendition of "America The Beautiful" by Aretha Franklin (reprising her role from Wrestlemania III, twenty years previously), the show kicked off with the Money In the Bank Ladder match, the winner of whom would be guaranteed a shot at a title of their choosing, at any point in the next 365 days. Edge, Matt Hardy, Jeff Hardy, Mr Kennedy, CM Punk, Randy Orton, King Booker, and Finlay were the participants for a match which contained some brutal moments, and was a good way to start the show.
The less that is said about Kane vs. The Great Khali the better, so let`s move on to the U.S Title match in which Chris Benoit wrestled MVP. This was a fine match, with some very good wrestling involved, and an interesting story to the match to boot.
Surprisingly, one of the main bouts was featured next, as Batista defended the World Heavyweight Title against The Undertaker. This was an incredible contest considering the low expectations of it, with Batista putting in his finest performance in two years, and The Undertaker defying age and injuries. A clean finish made it all the more remarkable, and memorable.
ECW was then represented with a six-man tag team match, as Rob Van Dam, Sabu, The Sandman, and Tommy Dreamer faced Elijah Burke, Marcus Cor Von, Kevin Thorn, and Matt Striker. The crowd did not seem to be into this one after the previous encounter, but this was about as good as could have been expected.
It was then time for the Hair vs. Hair match, contested by Umaga and Bobby Lashley as representatives of Vince McMahon and Donald Trump respectively. With "Stone Cold" Steve Austin as referee, they pulled off a reasonable match, highlighted by several huge bumps taken by the Samoan Bulldozer. The post-match was a lot of fun of course, with quite the haircut being administered to the unhappy loser.
After an instantly forgettable Women`s title bout between champion Melina and Ashley Massaro, the main event had everyone back on the edge of their seats, as John Cena defended the WWE Championship against Shawn Michaels. This was an excellent match, certainly one of the best of Cena`s career, aided by the fact that the crowd were so viciously pro-Michaels. The bout was fought at an excellent pace, and it`s conclusion was dramatic, justifying its position as the marquee bout of the entire year.
Overall, Wrestlemania 23 was a good event, made to feel even better because the marquee matches delivered. The Undertaker vs. Batista was a huge surprise, as the two assembled at excellent match that many thought they were not capable of. John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels was a reminder that Michaels too can still turn it on, and that Cena is a main-event calibre wrestler in terms of how the crowd view him. The Hair vs. Hair match is fun, which saw everyone happy with the inevitable conclusion.
Wrestlemania 23 is the biggest event of the year, and this 3-disc set makes it the biggest DVD of the year, too. If you have an interest in the current WWE product, this is a must-own.