Depending on your age, where you live, or when you were born the phrase “The Eighth Wonder of the World” may have different meanings. A millennial may not consider landmarks like the Great Wall, the Taj Mahal, or the Empire State Building to be eighth wonders. Neither would a Texan, because he knows that Houston’s Astrodome is the Eight Wonder of the World – in accordance to its designated nickname when the facility opened in 1965.
Then there’s Andre Rene Roussimoff. A Frenchman that would grow to stand seven-foot-four and weigh in excess of five-hundred pounds. Defined by visual characteristics associated with acromegaly (enlargement of the hands, feet, forehead, nose and jawline), Andre was clearly a giant of a man. His billing as the Eighth Wonder of the World as a wrestling performer was without question. At the height of his fame he was as recognizable as Muhammad Ali. Yet, for Andre Roussimoff he was so much more than numbers on a scale or tape measurer.
He was a man who became a myth who became a legend.
Jason Hehir’s documentary Andre the Giant explores the life of a French boy who grew to become one of the most popular professional wrestlers of all time. Andre was an average-looking kid until his teenage years, where he started to grow and would not stop. Andre’s indomitable size made him a sight to behold and he used the look to his advantage, moving from sport to sport before finding his true home in the squared circle. The sport of professional wrestling may have been his living but away from the ring Andre could never find peace. His immensity made it impossible to be inconspicuous in a public setting. Andre could never experience normalcy.
Conversations with family members and close friends offer insight of what it must have been like to be Andre the Giant, though Hehir shortchanges Roussimoff’s story; he casually moves through Andre’s wrestling territory days in North America where he got the same mouth-agape reaction at every stop. Most of the documentary’s ninety minutes is reserved for two stories in particular: when he played Fezzik in The Princess Bride, and his match against Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III. Both are career highlights, but the time spent on a singular match, and playing up the intrigue of whether or not Andre would stick to the script, is a bit much at times. During this episode the documentary shifts from being less about Andre Roussimoff and more about Hogan.
I understand Jason Hehir was building up the match and what it meant for the business of wrestling as a whole, but this was supposed to be Andre the Giant, not Andre: How a Giant Made Wrestling Sports Entertainment. Wrestling fans know the historical significance of WrestleMania III. Non-wrestling fans don’t need an exhaustive look behind the curtain as Hogan and World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Vince McMahon share stories about the match and its future implications. All you need to know is that the wrestling contest was a passing of the torch giving Hogan instant credibility while furthering Andre’s legendary status.
Wrestling defined Andre the Giant, giving him the fame and fortune he would not have experienced residing in France. Becoming this imposing phenom, stories concocted about Andre were akin to stories about the likes of Wild Bill Hickok and Davy Crockett. Tales greatly exaggerated to play up the myth. The famous giant had a genial quality, too, which is recounted by his director and co-star on The Princess Bride, Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal. Together, along with stars Cary Elwes and Robin Wright, they share their experiences working with Andre and how, at this point in his life, he was unable to do some of the stunts because of injuries accumulated throughout the years.
With most of the documentary reserved to charting the creation of Andre Roussimoff’s giant character and the rumors that would shape his myth, Andre the Giant is a big success. As a wrestling fan and movie buff I pretty much knew all I needed to know about WrestleMania III and The Princess Bride, but I understand the importance to reserving a substantial amount of screen time to discuss both for the unfamiliar.
Where I am conflicted is the lack of time spent on Andre’s private side. Interviews with family are sparse leaving gaps in his life. The most informative of all the subjects is Tim White, a former wrestling referee and Andre’s assistant. He speaks of the Andre the public did not see. Through anecdotes White gives us the best interpretation of the man who lived up to his legendary stature, be it wrestling, drinking, playing cards, or breaking wind. (A pity to those standing next to Andre while exerting flatulence.)
Dying at the young age of forty-six, Andre Rene Roussimoff lived life on his terms. Though he could rarely find the anonymity he coveted, he accomplished so much with the time he had. Jason Hehir’s documentary may not offer stories beyond those that bolster the subject’s mythical status it does give a a better understanding of his fame and isolation.
Director: Jason Hehir Notable Cast: Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, Tim White, Rob Reiner, Billy Crystal, Vince McMahon, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ric Flair, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright Running Time: 85 Minutes
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!