Back in November one of my generous friends bought me a 42-inch high definition TV along with a Blu-Ray player, a combination Christmas and early birthday gift. (What can I say? My friends love my body.) I am now totally enthralled with the whole Blu-Ray experience, which I am buying into in a big way. The clarity and vividness of the images and the vibrancy of the colors astound me--qualities that shine most brightly in films like Scott Pilgrim versus The World and 127 Days. I even forked out the extra ten bucks to get Can-Am's The Arena 2 (Rusty Stevens versus Aryx Quinn) in Blu-Ray format (I'm not sure the enhancement is strong enough here to warrant the extra sawbuck, though I like the video). I can't wait to see more wrestling companies enter into the Blu-Ray technology, but right now only WWE seems to be investing in it with much energy.
As most of you know, WWE is not on the top of the list of things I love. I have been critical of it in previous posts. Its huge and undeniably game-changing success stems from its willingness (and ability) to broaden the audience for professional wrestling to include people who do not particularly care for wrestling. The move is understandable, since so few people do care for pro wrestling, so, sure, the move makes sense in strictly capitalistic terms. Predictably, such a sweeping outreach pretty much ensures the diminishment of qualities loved by true believers in wrestling--as I put it before, once you make fish taste less "fishy," you may draw in the chicken and tofu lovers, while disappointing those who want fish to taste fishy--so now, on its multiple weekly TV shows, WWE offers product that includes little actual wrestling, but lots of soap opera, lots of huge computer-generated graphics, lots of formulaic comic relief, lots of noise and flash. (I don't single out WWE for abuse. The business model it follows is ubiquitous now. Remember when MTV was mainly about music? )
Still, when it wants to, WWE knows how to put on a truly stunning wrestling show. It's unwilling to do so for free, though, so ... enter pay-per-view and video sales. Saturday, while looking for new ways to satisfy my Blu-Ray jones, I found WWE Royal Rumble 2011 (originally broadcast on January 30th). It wasn't immediately obvious to me that I should buy it, but I did, won over by the cover shots of John Morrison's sneer and The Miz's smirk. I'm glad I bought it, too. The opening fight between The Edge and sexy (and vaguely futuristic) heel Dolph Ziggler is smoking--I'm getting a semi-stiffy just remembering it--especially when Ziggler is such a dick in the ring and sooo deserving of what's about to be dished up on his plate, especially when high definition lets me savor every tremor of his abs and thighs while Edge works him over.
The championship match between Miz and Randy Orton is pretty good too. Orton (2011 series) is looking less and less like a human being. There are characters in Toy Story that look more lifelike--so it's impossible these days for me to have any human feeling for the man. Impressive, hell, yes, but sculpted and depilated to the extent that he looks like he was hatched in a test tube. Miz, for all his sins, still looks homo sapiens. Sure, I favor heels in the ring anyway, but I think I might root for even the Rev. Fred Phelps, just out of kindred feeling for a fellow mortal, if he were forced to fight the IBM Watson in the squared circle.
Of course, the big event of this video is the 40-man rumble, which determines who gets to move on to Wrestlemania XXVII in Atlanta on April 3rd. This is the sort of silliness I usually don't like in pro wrestling, but I have to admit I found this contest awesome, not so much sexy as well-paced and dramatically gripping. There are, as you might imagine, given the large cast, plots and subplots aplenty--wrestlers with knotty histories with each other, impromptu alliances, acts of hubris, and jaw-dropping derring do. The central drama focuses on CM Punk (yeah, I'd do him) and his cadre of young, strapping henchmen known as the Nexus. In a brilliant bit of strategy, Punk convinces his all-but-hypnotized followers to sacrifice themselves to protect him, so that he will last to the bitter end in the rumble and win. It's a huge enough challenge, considering that Punk gets called for the Number One spot in the contest, which means he's first in the ring and has to outlast thirty-nine opponents in a match that lasts over an hour. This alone builds a great amount of suspense and intrigue--as loyalties are tested and the contest's central conceit ("every man for himself") is stood on its head.
But Nexus isn't all there is to this match--there are thrilling (and hot) showings by men like John Morrison, Sheamus, Chris Masters, Alex Riley, Ted DiBiase, R-Truth, and Drew McIntyre--all glorious in Blu-Ray high-def! Morrison, in particular, astounds with a bit of parkour that thrillingly defies one of the rumble's central rules. There are cameos by wrestling legends like Booker T, William Regal, and Rey Mysterio that, sentimental me, I found touching. And there's a breathtaking double reversal of fortune at the climax that caps the action off brilliantly.
Don't expect me to go all soft on WWE now. But I have to admit I may have been overly harsh on it in the past (even the recent past). Its roster (cherry-picked from smaller promotions which arguably put the men's talents to better use) is the best there is. And the fact of WWE's existence appears to be what is keeping pro wrestling going in America (and the world) today. I'd like to think that, without WWE, organizations like Ring of Honor and Chicago Style Wrestling would thrive and grow and produce improved forms of wrestling entertainment. But now I am beginning to think that, without WWE, pro wrestling might well follow roller derby and TV variety shows into obscurity, if not extinction--and I'm beginning (just beginning) to appreciate WWE for keeping a dying art form viable for a few more years anyway--and giving promotions like Ring of Honor, etc., something to shoot for (and at).