You know how I described some features as compelling as watching a high-speed car crash? Well 'Beyond the Mat' is the embodiment of that ethos. First time director Barry W. Blaustein wants to continue a childhood dream - to document the lives of wrestlers outside of the ring. Blaustein is no tyro - he is a 'Saturday Night Live' writer and is responsible for the screenplay behind many of Eddie Murphy's recent comedies. This is a 100 minute ride into the personal lives of wannabee wrestlers, the superstars and the biggest show on Earth (WWF) and the violent and bloody leagues that have to be 'extreme' to compete.
I admit that I'm a wrestling fan. I watch it on TV and Pay TV every so often. I borrow tapes from friends. I know my WWF's from my WCW's and my ECW's. I would not pay single dollar for a wrestling tape or DVD because this is just not my 'passion' just like I would not buy any pornographic DVD's.
I would expect only truly dedicated wrestling fans would spend $30 or whatever it is on this DVD. There's not a great deal of wrestling action. There is a lot of personal family detail that is just too hard to watch. Let me give a few examples. Mick Foley (or 'Mankind') is an extreme wrestler currently with the WWF syndicate. His specialty is just surviving what other wrestlers won't do. That is fine however watching his wife and his two small children as he is beaten with a chair is not something that I wish to see more than once.
It is clear that he is a reasonably intelligent person like many wrestlers I wonder what draws them to wrestling. Is it money or a slight sadistic bent? 'The Rock' has a degree in criminology yet is the 'most electrifying man in sports entertainment today'. George 'The Animal' Steele is a university maths professor yet likes to munch turnbuckles.
And then there are the wrestlers after they retire and that includes the shocking injuries and the downward slide into obscurity.
This is very unbiased documentary yet paints things as the viewer would expect. The WWF is a big soap opera for guys orchestrated by a oily Machiavelli in the form of Vince McMahon who oversees a billion dollar company that markets a product just like other companies. And it is a pyramid with the dupes at the bottom risking life for a few dollars. Perhaps the viewer is at the bottom with them?
Menus are static shots. This is the first time I've seen the Universal trailer on a non-r1 disc. It is dualcoded r2 and r4 and seems to be a UK release production.
The video is 4:3 and of reasonably good to poor quality. Some of it is shot on consumer grade camcorders and there you get sub-VHS quality, ie. grain, colour shifts, ringing, the lot. Mostly it looks like it was shot with prosumer grade cameras and the result is surprisingly good looking. Thankfully the majority of the feature is well shot with good lighting, colour, contrast and a excellent 'docu-drama' shooting style. If you're used to wrestling on FTA or Pay TV, you know what to expect.
The audio is Dolby Stereo at 192k/s. The track is almost 99% dialogue so it's entirely adequate. Vocal quality is very good however and you're never wanting to turn on the subtitles which is good because there are none.
Extras are limited to a poor quality trailer and a set of biographies for various wrestlers shown in the main feature.
Rent it. Because it's unwatcheable more than once. There's just some stuff here that is too strange and too hard to watch emotionally.