Beyond The Mat: Ringside Special Edition (Unrated)
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 108 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Full Frame (4:3)
Subtitles: French, and Spanish
Audio: English – Dolby Surround
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.
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.
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
--- Barry Blaustein
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.
(on a five-point scale)
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!