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HTF Review: Beyond the Mat - Ringside SE



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#1 of 12 OFFLINE   Jason Perez

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Posted March 18 2004 - 04:41 AM

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Beyond The Mat: Ringside Special Edition (Unrated)





Studio: Universal
Year: 1999
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 108 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Full Frame (4:3)
Captions: English
Subtitles: French, and Spanish
Audio: English – Dolby Surround





Release Date:
March 23rd, 2004




Barry Blaustein’s Beyond the Mat, the “movie Vince McMahon doesn’t want you to see”, is a no-holds-barred look inside the violent world of professional wrestling, or “sports entertainment” if you prefer. Early on, Mr. Blaustein professes to being a wrestling fan hopes to discover what it is that makes these athletes put themselves at risk in the ring. I know, you might be thinking “At risk? But wrestling isn’t real!” True to some extent, but if a 240-pound man hits you with a steel folding chair, it is going to hurt like a moth*&^$#cker, scripted or not! And while I am on the subject of sports entertainment being scripted, I should point out that Barry Blaustein does not disapprove of that part of the show.

In terms of how the movie is structured, it starts off as a documentary, but somewhere along the way, it seems to morph into a chronicle of the careers of wrestling legends Mick Foley, Jake Roberts, and Terry Funk, among others. Although some time is spent looking at the Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) and a school that trains athletes for professional wrestling, the real focus of Beyond the Mat is the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), headed by promoter/businessman extraordinaire Vince McMahon, and the three men named above.

Strangely, there is not so much as a mention of Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling (WCW), which gave the WWF a real run for its money over a several year period in the late 90s. I can only speculate that WCW refused to grant Mr. Blaustein any sort of access, as I find it difficult to imagine that a self-professed wrestling fan would not wish to at least talk about a wrestling organization that had such a rich history.

Moving on, what I found intensely interesting was how Beyond the Mat provides a glimpse into aspects of the business never seen by wrestling fans - the writers, costume designers and production folks that put the events together. Of course, the larger part of the film, which examines the wrestlers’ private lives, is just as interesting, if not more so. In my personal opinion, I found the most value in the interviews of Mick Foley, who very candidly discusses the part professional wrestling plays in his life, and how he abuses himself to provide for his family and perform for the fans. Indeed, you can see how it grieves him to see shots of his wife and children react in horror as they watch their husband/father get beaten to a bloody pulp by The Rock (The Rundown) during a match, and then have to watch the man have his head stitched up afterwards.

Another wrestler who gets a lot of screen time is the aged Terry Funk, who wrestled professionally for over thirty years. Despite Funk’s advanced age, he is still loved by wrestling fans, and commanded big paychecks when this film was made. For that reason, and because of his love of performing for the fans, he simply could not walk away. However, the many years of wrestling have left Terry’s body battered and broken, and during the film we see his family pleading with him to retire.

Finally, we get to see the sad story of Jake “The Snake” Roberts (one of my personal favorites), who was a big draw in the 1980s. Unfortunately, heavy drug use and turbulent personal relationships have ruined him, and he was wrestling for peanuts in obscure arenas at the time the film was made. Possibly the most disturbing moment in the film comes when Blaustein’s cameras capture Jake's attempt to make peace with a daughter who resents him for not being a part of her life.

As I mentioned earlier, Beyond the Mat seems to veer away from its charted course as a documentary to focus on personal tales like this, so Blaustein’s analysis of professional wrestling game is not as thorough as it could be, but the film is still a decent documentary. Moreover, the film provides a good (but brief) overview of the professional wrestling game’s history, features a look at the inner workings of the business, and offers enough interesting stories, to make it a must-see for any self-respecting wrestling fan.

No matter what you think of this film (I liked it), I think you have to give Barry Blaustein a lot of credit – namely because Beyond the Mat will change the way most fans think about sports entertainment forever. At the very least, it should get viewers to ponder the things these individuals are subjecting themselves to in the name of entertainment.





SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Beyond The Mat was shot in the Full Frame (4:3) format, and that is how Universal presents it on home video. Obviously, since this is a documentary, some segments of the film look a little worse than others, especially some of the archival wrestling footage and footage shot on the fly in the back of arenas.

All things considered though, this low-budget affair looks pretty good, particularly when taking into account the conditions in which the film was shot. Although there is a moderate amount of film grain visible in a few scenes, the image is pleasant to look at overall, and the print is in pretty good condition. Color rendering also appears to be done naturally, with flesh tones looking particularly accurate. I should also note that I did not notice any compression artifacts or pixelization, although mild edge enhancement was apparent on occasion. Not spectacular, but not bad either!




WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
I would be lying if I said that Beyond the Mat’s Dolby Digital 2.0 track was better than serviceable. However, since this film was recorded in true documentary style, it would probably be unreasonable to expect much more. Really, almost all of the audio information consists of either interviews or narration, all of which are presented clearly enough for the listener to hear what is transpiring without any difficulty.

There is a bit of music in this film, and some crowd noise during footage of matches (both WWF and small-town types), and this material is presented in a decent fashion as well, without noticeable hissing or distortion. Overall, this is a satisfactory reproduction of some really basic source material that leaves the listener with precious little to complain about.




EXTRAS, EXTRAS!!!


Audio Commentary #1
The first feature-length audio commentary is provided by Barry Blaustein, who seems more like a moderator (as in the second commentary), and former wrestling icons Jesse Ventura and Mick Foley. Really, it is not a commentary in the strict sense, as the guys only pop up here and there. In addition, they are visible, with the film playing in the background.

The few comments they do offer, however, are very candid, and extremely interesting. Would you really expect anything les than fascinating insight from two people who saw the wrestling business evolve from the inside. Some of the highlights included:

--- Mick Foley discussing how much involvement Vince McMahon has in the lives of his employees.

--- Jesse Ventura opining that today’s wrestlers are too focused on themselves, and do not protect their opponents the way the wrestlers did in the past.

--- Both guys talking very openly about how wrestlers are not offered medical insurance or a retirement plan, even today. They are considered independent contractors!


Audio Commentary #2
For the second audio commentary, Barry Blaustein is joined by legendary wrestler Terry Funk, who provides a great deal of insight into various aspects of the wrestling business, not to mention his part in it. Really though, Blaustein serves more as a moderator, while Funk does most of the talking. This is a very interesting and informative commentary, and if you liked this film at all, I can’t imagine that you will have any difficulty sitting through it.


Up Close and Personal
In an interview with Director Barry Blaustein, wrestling icons Jesse “The Body” Ventura and Mick “Mankind” Foley talk openly about their days in the wrestling business, both inside and outside of the ring. It is an entertaining interview, and features some interesting accounts of some of the sport’s more famous characters and memorable events.


Dinner With The Legends
Jesse Ventura and Mick Foley, again sitting down with Barry Blaustein, recall some more of their most memorable moments in the wrestling biz, and also describe various aspects of the business, both past and present. Specifically, they address why they chose wrestling as a profession, the process of adjusting to life after wrestling, and the cutthroat nature of the business. A nice compliment to the film.


Production Notes
There are six pages of text (over still photos) that basically serves as a plug for the film.


Cast and Filmmakers
Brief biographies are included for:

--- Mick ‘Mankind’ Foley
--- Terry Funk
--- Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts
--- The Rock
--- Chyna
--- Barry Blaustein


Trailer
The original theatrical trailer for Beyond the Mat is included.

The disc also opens with trailers for The Rundown, Honey, and The Skulls III. There trailers can be fast forwarded through, but not skipped entirely.



SCORE CARD

(on a five-point scale)
Movie: Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image
Video: Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image
Audio: Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image
Extras: Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image
Overall: Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image



THE LAST WORD
If you have (or ever had) more than a passing fancy for professional wrestling, and have not seen Beyond the Mat, you should be ashamed of yourself! On second thought, even if you don’t particularly care for wrestling, you should check this documentary out, as it takes a rather interesting look at an unorthodox, and sometimes very cold, business.

In terms of presentation, Universal has come through with a very respectable disc, although the previous release was no slouch either. In simple terms, the transfer renders the source material accurately, and the audio is about as good as can be expected. Further, the extras are interesting supplements to the film, although they are virtually identical to what was included the first time around. As such, I recommend this title to those who have yet to experience the film, but if you’ve already got the previous disc, you should probably save your money for the next pay-per-view event! Posted Image


Stay tuned…
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#2 of 12 OFFLINE   Casey Trowbridg

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Posted March 18 2004 - 05:04 AM

I've got the previous disc, so I'll probably pass but I enjoyed the review.

A few points that I'll make to add to this. Its a wrestling DVD, you didn't think I could let it pass without offering some thoughts now did you?

1. Yes, Jason you are correct in saying that WCW denied access to its company for the film. Although there is a little bit of irony involved in this.

Quote:
the “movie Vince McMahon doesn’t want you to see”,

The reason Vince McMahon didn't want people to see this movie was because he was not thrilled with the way he came off looking in the film. As a result he did not allow the film to be advertised on his Monday Night Raw program, then on the USA network, or any other WWF program.

However, and here's the irony once McMahon haulted the WWF's promotion of the film...World Championship Wrestling actually started to promote this film. They were promoting something they had no part in, and weren't going to profit from mainly because Vince McMahon wasn't promoting it.

Anyway, the most memorable part of the documentary for me is when Terry Funk is at his doctor's office talking about his knees and he says to the Doctor something like: "So how long will I be able to keep wrestling?" and the Doctor says: "Terry, you shouldn't even be able to walk right now." Those aren't word for word but pretty close.

Thing is, Funk still wrestles on accasion even today! He was on an NWA:TNA Pay Per View not all that long ago.

I'd recommend this to anyone that likes wrestling and to anyone that likes documentaries. I'd also suggest picking up Mick Foley's books, especially the first one "Have a Nice Day," Mick is easily 1 of the most likeable guys in wrestling.

#3 of 12 OFFLINE   Adam_ME

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Posted March 18 2004 - 05:11 AM

I already have the original DVD, so I'll stick with that one. Even if I wanted to double-dip, the forced trailers are enough to dissuade me.
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#4 of 12 OFFLINE   Casey Trowbridg

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Posted March 18 2004 - 05:17 AM

One more thing I didn't mention in my previous post. Its funny that this is called the movie Vince McMahon doesn't want you to see. I'd think of the 2 documentaries the WWF gave permission for filming, the 1 he wouldn't want you to see is Wrestling with Shadows.

I'd also say with some measure of confidence, that the WWE won't be granting permission for anymore documentaries to be filmed in their locker room anytime soon, not after these 2.

#5 of 12 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx

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Posted March 18 2004 - 05:27 AM

I always wanted to get this dvd but somehow that never happened.

This time I will get it.

Too bad about Jake Roberts. He was truly scary with his snake
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#6 of 12 ONLINE   Russell G

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Posted March 18 2004 - 05:47 AM

so other than the extras, is the documentary itself the same as the previous release? If so, I'll skip this and keep the one I have.

#7 of 12 OFFLINE   JonZ

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Posted March 18 2004 - 07:57 AM

Same here.

I have the first release and wont be rebuying it.

Excellent documentary though, a fav of mine.

#8 of 12 OFFLINE   TedT

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Posted March 18 2004 - 07:59 AM

ah, I think I'll buy it for the new commentary. I wish I knew how long the extra interviews are.

#9 of 12 OFFLINE   ChrisBEA

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Posted March 18 2004 - 11:30 AM

I have the VHS, So I believe I will be picking this up.
Very well done doc.

#10 of 12 OFFLINE   Adam_WM

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Posted March 18 2004 - 02:30 PM

I have the first DVD signed by Blaustein and Terry Funk. I'll keep it.
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#11 of 12 OFFLINE   RomanSohor

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Posted March 19 2004 - 09:21 AM

I heard (I think it was in one of Mick Foley's books) that Blaustein did a huge segment on Diamond Dallas Paige, who really does have an inspiring story (getting into the business in his 30's against all odds and all) but WCW wanted way too much money to use him in the final cut, so sadly a great part of the movie is lost, I guess forever?
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#12 of 12 OFFLINE   Nick Graham

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Posted March 24 2004 - 09:51 AM

WCW wanted editorial control over what would be shown and what wouldn't, whereas WWF/E offered Blaustein access with no restrictions. Ironically, once Vince realized it focused a good deal on how the industry and those in it can go bad, he tried to buy it outright (likely to shelve it or re-edit it into a puff piece), and when Blaustein and Imagine wouldn't sell, he refused to let them promote it during WWE television shows (at the time WWE itself sold the advertising time on its programs, not the networks who aired it). This really killed it at the box office. The only promotion that ended up promoting it was WCW on their TV shows, as a way to spite WWE, but their ratings were in the toilet at that point anyways.