I am an unabashed wrestling fan.
Have been for a long time now. I know it's staged, I know a lot about how matches are constructed and performed and I've even had a chance to meet and talk to a few of my favorites.
Hell, Terry Funk bled on my shoes and I was happy about it.
One of my favorites was always Bret "The Hitman" Hart. Not particularly outstanding on his mic work or in appearance but in the ring he was a technician. Bret seemed to be able to pull out a good match out of anyone. A few weeks ago, I caught a match he had against Yokozuna, a huge Japanese (really a Samoan) with a sumo gimmick and I was amazed at even after all this time that 1) The match still held up fairly well and 2) That Bret made this match work despite the size and style difference.
Bret was also a wrestler a guy like me could look at realistically and think "I could do that. I'll never be huge like Hulk Hogan or Lex Luger but this guy is about my size. If I worked at it, I could be a wrestler too."
But unfortunately his career was cut short in many ways. Starting with the infamous Montreal Screw Job where Bret was "screwed" out of the championship. That was followed by a very lackluster run in WCW (no fault to Bret on this one. He unfortunately jumped on to the Titanic minutes before it hit the iceberg) and a match with Bill Goldberg that probably ended his career. Following that, Bret took a spill on his bike without wearing a helmet. That combined with his previous concussions caused a stroke.
Between the stroke, the concussions, the in-ring death of his brother Owen and the fact that Vince McMahon, the man who "screwed" Bret, now owned the wrestling world (Vince bought his competitor in 2001), it kind of looked like Bret was done with the world of wrestling.
And then Decemeber 2009 came around an the wrestling world learned that Bret was coming home to the WWE.
Which brings us to The Fight Network's "Bret Hart: Surviving the Hitman". The documentary follows Bret's career from starting out in his father's Stampede promotion all the way until after his current WWE return.
The trick with doing a doc like this is to bring something new to the table. Bret's life has been covered in a variety of ways at this point. There's the excellent "Wrestling with Shadows" which filmed during the time of the Montreal Screw Job and captures Bret, his career and the entire situation going into Montreal really well. There's Bret's autobiography which comes across as very honest and has a lot about his life and his career and his thoughts on the business in general. There's also dvds, shoot interviews, etc etc etc.
From what I understand, Surviving the Hitman wasn't just aimed at me, it was aimed a lot of the current viewers who only have a vague idea of who Bret was. He has been out of the ring for a while and with Bret playing a large part in Wrestlemania this year, it might be a good idea for the Fight Network to do a recap and introduce Bret to a new audience.
I'm happy to say that this documentary has something for newer wrestling fans and older wrestling fans alike.
For those of us who know know Bret's story, the information isn't very new but it's presented through a few different voices. We get to hear a bits of the story from his brothers Bruce, Keith and Ross. From Carl DeMarco who used to be president of WWE Canada. From Lance Storm who was a fan of Bret's and trained in Calgary under the Hart family. We even from Paul Jay who directed Wrestling with Shadows.
While the information is well know to a guy like me, it's presented in a fresh manner with a bit of a different take from these other people. I was afraid when I started watching Surviving the Hitman, I'd be bored. You can tell right from the start that you are going to hear a lot of things you already have. But presented in this manner and inter cut with footage and picture montages, I was pretty much sucked in.
If you don't know Bret, this content is new and done in a great manner to quickly grasp while not losing anything. It's an easy to watch Bret Hart history lesson.
The general overall production is great as well. The producers chose to go without a narrator, letting all of the people involved tell the story. I usually prefer this method as it seems less forced and more honest. I also love some of the candid footage they use through out, especially a moment where Bret wrestles with his dog and starts doing a great impression of his father Stu. I was also intrigued seeing Bret watch the screw job match and give a bit of play by play to the whole thing, it's something we've never seen before and it shows you how much this one event did really affect him.
My only complaint and to be completely honest it's not a complaint as it is a compliment is that I want more. I would have loved to see more about Bret after the Screw Job. Just more on his thoughts on his WCW career and match info, more on the process of his return to the WWE. While none of this takes away from the documentary,I'd love to have this on dvd with a second disc of bonus features.
Which I guess, kind of sums up my review. I enjoyed "Bret Hart: Surviving the Hitman" enough that I'd purchase it on dvd and would even buy it as a two disc set despite the fact you can watch it for free on youtube. For old wrestling fans, it has new takes on old information. For new wrestling fans, it will completely gear you up for Bret's return at Wrestlemania. And for non wrestling fan, I'd take a look at it. You might be surprised out how interesting you find it.
Bret Hart: Surviving the Hitman will be airing again on the Fight Network, Thursday and Friday at 6pm, Saturday at 4pm and Sunday at 5pm but if you don't get Fight, you can watch the entire thing HERE