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For retro wrestling fans, WWE Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels Vs. Bret Hart is one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year. Unlike most of the WWE's retrospectives, the piece is less a documentary and more an extended roundtable discussion with both wrestlers, moderated by legendary announcer Jim Ross. The conversation is an often tense, sometimes funny, and quite revealing document of how professional wrestling rivalries can bleed out of the ring and into real life.
Each wrestler's backgrounds are explored through interstitial biographies, accompanied by scripted, anonymous voice over narration. These segments fill in the gaps of each wrestler's life and career Reader's Digest-style, adding context to the dialogue between Hart and Michaels. While this narrative frame is certainly functional, it is also clumsy and at odds with the minimalist style of the feature. Fans won't be interested in reliving the Hart and Michaels rivalry, but in hearing each man's interpretation of this feud.
Thankfully, said dialogue is the meat and potatoes of WWE Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart, and what a feast it is. Mention the phrase "Montreal Screw-Job" to any WWE fan and you'll likely get a strong opinion in exchange. The phrase refers back to Hart's final WWE match, held at the 1997Survivor Series (in Montreal, Canada) against Shawn Michaels. This was planned to be one of Hart's last critical matches before his defection to Ted Turner's rival promotion World Championship Wrestling. The outcome of said bout was an upset, resulting in Bret Hart's loss of the belt despite a clear victory over Michaels.
The event captured the venom of wrestling fans because the winner, Shawn Michaels, blatantly cheated his way into the belt with the backing of WWE big cheese Vince McMahon. The resulting "Screw Job" created a rift between Hart and the WWE, resulting in real-life fisticuffs with McMahon, harsh words, and Hart's falling out of the Universe's inner circle until his return in 2009.
Much of the tension in WWE Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart revolves around the screw-job. It is the elephant in the room whose discussion is wisely saved for the climax of the roundtable. However, the information leading up to said event is paralleling the wrestlers with one another in terms of style, origin, talent, and motivations. Through it all, the quarrel between the Hart and Michaels remains as palatable as their mutual admiration for one another.
It's clear Michaels is the most adamant about wanting to patch things up, coming off as cool, sardonic, self-effacing and completely unlike his showboating wrestling persona. Hart, on the other hand, maintains a steady coolness, going for an objective opinion on their relationship that occasionally falters into an acidic viewpoint. These moments when Hart cracks into bitterness are as absorbing as any match the pair have had together.
Though its roughly three hours of two guys sitting in a room, talking indirectly to each other, WWE Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart is terrifically entertaining and enlightening material. The feature alone is worth the price of a purchase, making it a contender for the greatest WWE documentary yet. Given the company's track record, that is some very high praise.
Professional wrestling fans might be a little disappointed with the DVD itself. The second and third discs are packed with great matches and moments between the two, including moments of their tag team rivalry (The Hart Foundation Vs. The Rockers), a ladder match for the WWE Intercontinental Title, a steel cage bout, and an hour-long Iron Man face-off. This is all solid, A+ stuff that, if judged on its own terms, makes for an incredible mixture of action packed face-offs.
If I have one complaint, however, it is the critical match the set is missing: the aforementioned Montreal Screw-Job. As the majority of the set is built around the event, so it's surprising that it isn't included. One assumes the politics of the WWE (as dictated by Vince McMahon) have a lot to do with this, but since WWE Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart pitches itself as a shocking, no-holds bar piece on the two, the omission seems cowardly at best.
The DVD itself is very strong technically. Video and audio are very sharp and clear, on par with the WWE's typically strong offerings, meaning fans will have nothing to complain about in terms of presentation.
Overall, the DVD is easily recommendable to WWE fans and anyone interested in the behind-the-scenes world of the WWE. The lack of the critical match is a detriment, but not enough to hold the set back from being anything more than amazing.
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