Sunday, March 21, 2010

Twenty Years Too Soon
Directors: Kevin Dunn
Distributor: WWE Home Video
Released: 1/06 

Featured Talent
Brad Baker (pastor), Freddie Blassie, Gerald Brisco, John Cena, Christian, Valerie Coleman (Billy Graham's wife), Ric Flair, Jimmy Hart, Bobby Heenan, Hulk Hogan, Superstar Billy Graham, Steve Lombardi, Shawn Michaels, Gene Okerland, Randy Orton, Bruce Pritchard, Dusty Rhodes, Jim Ross, Triple H 

The Good
“Superstar” Billy Graham is a unique brand of pro-wrestler whose packaged presentation changed the sport as much as anyone else. Although his autobiography is one of, if not the best released by the WWE. However, the Superstar's jive-talkin' rap and his distinctly colorful appearance lends itself best to a production such as this. Aside from that he is such a great talker and storyteller that just himself and the clips is enough to make this top notch. Then there is the issue of his religious side, which comes across more vividly as well. The approach to some contemporaries of Billy Graham from Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund to Hulk Hogan and Jesse Ventura is largely fair although all have spotty histories with Vince McMahon. A lot of credit is given to Superstar's innovations, which is nice to see because old-timers do not always get the credit they deserve in this regard. Not surprisingly much focus is given to his fall. His drug abuse is depicted honestly, the discussion of steroids is interesting (although questionable in its fairness and accuracy), the burial of his later martial arts character is necessary and his grudge against Vince is handled much the way you would expect it to be. In the end, Billy Graham says bluntly, “I would do it again!” and believes the reward was worth the countless physical problems he's faced. All of that content aside, the production of this is excellent. WWE always puts out a decent product, but this has exceptionally good music and this neat reoccurring visual with images of Superstar Graham on a TV from that era. This is inarguably one of the WWE's few successes in that regard. 

The Bad
This documentary has the usual flaws - missing footage, missing personalities, missing interviews and a skewed version of history. Coming from a humble background, Graham's early life is limited to a handful of photographs. Unfortunately they are shown over and over again with these scrolling shots that grow obnoxious. There are similar limitations with his career before his AWA run because there is no footage shown and often later footage or photos are shown in lieu of more time-appropriate material. While many people are mentioned, many are not, or they are but in only as a passing detail. From Dr. Jerry Graham and Wahoo McDaniel early in his career to the Grand Wizard, Ivan Koloff, Chief Jay Strongbow and Ivan Putski later in his career, there are a number of people who get little mention, needless to say being interviewed. While its no surprise that Bruno Sammartino, Bob Backlund and even Jesse Ventura are not interviewed, why could they not get Pat Patterson? As for the historical inadequacies, there are several of note. The footage shown really makes Superstar Graham's in-ring work look good, although he was (by his own admission) a limited worker. Vince McMahon is put over strongly in this as a really nice guy who was taken to court by the Federal Government in a trial that was a sham, but it is widely known that Vince has a reputation as a tough businessman who rewards bodies that are often built with steroids. This documentary is too limited to scope to be considered “great,” but it is very good for what it is. 

The Rating: ****3/4

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