Bret “Hitman” Hart – The Dungeon Collection (Cert 15)
3 Discs DVD/ 2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: Fremantle Media) Running Time: 410 minutes approx.
I was sorely tempted to simply proffer “It’s Bret Hart. *****” as my review for this release but unfortunately that would be doing both this title and you dear readers a great disservice.
I won’t lie to you – Bret “Hitman” Hart is my favourite all time wrestler. Right from when I saw my very first WWF video – Summerslam 1990 – it was the Hitman who impressed me the most out of all the wrestlers featured on the card, not Hogan, Warrior or anyone else. At this point Bret was still part of the Hart Foundation tag team with his real life brother-in-law Jim “Anvil” Neidhart. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was that made Bret stick out for me but somehow did. I suppose it was because he wasn’t a roided up beast like Hogan and thus was more believable and easier to root for in my eyes. Either way, I became more interested in the Hitman’s matches on my subsequent WWF videos and shows I watched and was usually rewarded for my interest.
Since a previous 3 discs DVD set is already available with most of Bret’s most noted matches, one has to wonder what this new release has to offer. As the title suggests, Bret and the WWE have delved deep into the archives available to them to bring us a collection of rarely or never seen before matches, from Bret’s storied and illustrious career spanning the many promotions he wrestled for outside of WWF, extending beyond the US with matches from his native Canada, Japan, Italy and beyond. As is the case with archive material not all of it has stood the test of time and even on Blu-ray we do have to endure varying video quality in the process.
Unlike the previous Bret Hart release, this one is essentially the evolution of Bret as a wrestler and is effectively presented in chronological order. The first match pits a young, comparatively skinny, mop haired Bret against the legendary Dynamite Kid Tom Bilington in a 2/3 falls match from Stampede Wrestling, the promotion run by Bret’s father, the late great Stu Hart. As always matches shown on Stampede Wrestling’s TV show were joined in progress and this match is not different, picking up the action at the seventeen minute mark. We still get a further ten minutes of solid wrestling from these two future greats although it may seem slow and archaic for modern fans weaned on the fast paced style of today.
The second match is a real archive gem although one that suffers from poor picture quality. It’s from Bret’s very short stay with Georgia Championship Wrestling in 1979 and sees him face off against Buzz Sawyer, a clean cut babyface long before his more famous heel turn and box office blood feuds against the likes of Tommy Rich. Billed as a “scientific match” and called by the legendary Gordon Solie, the match is a solid display of technical wrestling from both guys and a portent of things to come for both men. The picture quality is a shame and a surprise when you consider how well looked after the footage from the other NWA territories is.
The bulk of this set is of course made up of matches from Bret’s WWF run and sees him collide with such luminaries as Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig, Ric Flair, Undertaker, Bam Bam Bigelow, Yokozuna, his younger brother Owen, Diesel, Vader, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Andre The Giant and more. This last match up, which took place in Italy, is noteworthy because the only footage they could find was sourced from YouTube and as a consequence the picture quality is wildly variable and quite often very hard to watch in the early stages, and thus it might be a rare occasion where watching this on YouTube is preferable than on Blu-ray!
Another match in need of discussion is Bret’s bout against Tiger Mask II at the Tokyo Dome from April 1990. Bret had fought the original Tiger Mask Satoru Sayama in the early 80’s but under this mask this time was the late great Mitsuharu Misawa. The story goes that they were told to go to a 20 minutes time limit for their match and as a result it relies on a lot of rest holds until the final few minutes. It’s a good match but Misawa was not the small, lithe high flyer his predecessor was and it shows here but had it taken place five years later when both men where in their prime – Misawa unmasked in a big shock angle a few months later and went on to become one of the greatest wrestlers in Japanese wrestling history – it would have been the bona fide classic many hoped this match would be. But it’s great to finally see it in HD!
Bret himself provides some insight into the matches and offers his honest thoughts on his opponents, making for some interesting viewing as well as providing some historical perspective for us older fans to relish. This is complimented by further anecdotes to be found in the extras section that reveal more about life as a pro-wrestler in the 80’s and 90’s and personal stories about being the Hitman. The true fascination for old school fans is watching the development of Bret from skinny youngster in Canada to the well travelled and experienced world champion we all know and love.
Just because the Hitman’s well known matches aren’t featured in this collection doesn’t devalue it or relegate it to mere companion piece to the previous Bret Hart DVD release. It’s essentially the “best of the rest” and is a wonderful and varied historical document in its own right. From a pure wrestling point of view this is likely to be one of the best WWE releases of the year no question.
English subtitles for the hard of hearing
Sleeping On A Plane
Survivor Series With Bob Backlund
Customs With Owen
Lost At Sea
Two Of The Best In Japan
Super Skilled, Super Athletic
WWF Title Match – Yokozuna (c) vs Bret Hart Raw – November 1993
Doing It Old School
Bret Hart & British Bulldog vs Jim Neidhart & Owen Hart – Albany NY 1994
A Good Soul
Bret Hart vs Hakushi – Raw 24th July 1995
WWF Title Match – Bret Hart (c) vs Vader – Friday Night’s Main Event 29th August 1997
Rating – *****
Man In Black