DVD Review: WWE Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart

Writer’s Note: This is a reprint of the DVD review published on October 9, 2011 at Inside Pulse Movies.

If there were two men that helped forge the identity of the then World Wrestling Federation in the 1990s it was Bret “Hit Man” Hart and “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels. Hart, who had a four-year head start on Michaels in the WWF, having entered the promotion in 1984, got a major singles push in 1991, dethroning “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig of his Intercontinental Championship at SummerSlam. Prior to that push, however, he battled in a team-heavy tag division with his brother-in-law Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart as The Hart Foundation. At that time the WWF had arguably the best tag team competition in any wrestling company’s history, with such teams as The British Bulldogs, The Rougeaus, The Brainbusters, The Killer Bees, Strike Force, and Demolition. Then The Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty) came into the division in 1988 and brought with them a high-flying style they honed as The Midnight Rockers in the American Wrestling Association (AWA).

In a year’s time both The Rockers and The Hart Foundation were having matches together, main-eventing house shows while the company’s heavyweight champion was already back the hotel ordering room service. Well, that’s how Bret Hart eloquently puts it in WWE Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart, anyway.

In this first set of what should be a continuing series of famous feuds (Steve Austin vs. The Rock is already planned), Jim Ross serves as the interviewer, directing questions to Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Right from the start we know Ross is the right man for the job. He has that certain gravitas and history that the other commentators lack. Ross gives the two breadth to speak openly and has smart follow up questions in case there are any dangling threads.

Survivor Series 1992: Historically significant, yet completely ignored

The main interview feature runs 125 minutes and could have easily eclipsed three hours. With the added time they could have spoken at length about their first pay-per-view encounter at the 1992 Survivor Series and its historical importance, because it is completely neglected in the main interview. Since Randy Savage’s tag team partner The Ultimate Warrior failed a drug test he was replaced with Mr. Perfect in a tag team bout against Ric Flair and Razor Ramon. The match was supposed to be the main event of the PPV, but instead that spot was filled by Bret Hart defending his World Championship against Intercontinental Champion Shawn Michaels. Both wrestlers had won their respective titles the month previously and now saw themselves in the main event. (This was Bret Hart’s second consecutive main event following his Intercontinental Championship loss to the “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith at SummerSlam 1992.) Strangely enough, their last PPV match against one another would be at the same event five years later in what we all know as the “Montreal Screwjob.”

In some ways their first PPV encounter signaled a changing of the guard. With the steroids scandal under siege in the early 1990s, Vince McMahon made the move to push smaller wrestlers instead of “dinosaurs” and “fossils” (again, two more Bret Hart idioms to describe those main eventers who couldn’t “work” quality matches). Granted, while McMahon would fall back to pushing meatheads with muscles as the years went by, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels would continue to deliver quality matches, whether it was in a main event or a mid-card feud.

The interview goes through the usual hoops in recounting each star’s history with the promotion. Both had a mutual respect for one another when competing in the tag team division, ultimately stealing shows from the lumbering superstars that dwarfed them by a mile. In the early 1990s the two would move into singles competition with regularity, though Bret Hart began sowing the seeds for a singles push against the likes of Mr. Perfect and “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase in 1989. Shawn Michaels’ entry into singles began with a superkick to Rocker partner Marty Jannetty, and then throwing him through a window.

World Champ becomes Clique-less

Around the 54-minute mark we get to the portion that fans have been waiting to hear. As farfetched as it sounds both wrestlers were adding gasoline to a fire to improve business and seemed to be on the same page from the start. Everything from Bret Hart refusing to shake Michaels’ hand after their match at WrestleMania XII to his backstage tirade in the locker room was all intentional, as he hoped to build to a bigger “money” match. But that return match, which was to have been at WrestleMania XIII, never occurred. In a year’s time, from late 1996 to November 1997, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were on a collision course. Whereas Hart had no problem jobbing when called upon, Michaels explicitly told Hart to his face that he would not drop the title back to him. At the time, Michaels was all about wanting to work with his “Clique” friends: Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, The Kid, and possibly Hunter. But while Michaels planned on making money with all of his friends (he only had the chance to defend his newly won title against Kevin Nash in April ’96), WCW threw a wrench by signing Nash and Scott Hall, a coup that would give the rival promotion a lightning hot angle.

When 1997 rolls around, the world title scene was in disarray. Michaels had an impressive run that previous fall, defending it, funnily enough, against WCW castoffs Vader (SummerSlam 1996) and Mankind (In Your House: Mind Games), but claims a knee injury would force him to relinquish the title instead of defending it at WrestleMania XIII. Hart balked at the severity of the injury claiming it to be a ruse to avoid having to job the title. In the interview Michaels jokes that it allowed Hart and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to steal the show, probably one of the rare instances where Hart had a “showstopping” moment at WrestleMania.

HBK: All he wanted was a pat on the back

The crux of this legendary feud hinged on two factors: validation and respect. Shawn Michaels was always looking for that pat on the back from Hart, while Hart commanded respect. Both had broken through that glass ceiling of winning the world championship but with Hart as the seasoned professional by the time he dropped the title at WrestleMania XII Michaels expected his support. Hart always thought his support was implied – he lost the title to Michaels, after all – but it wouldn’t be fully realized until Michaels would lose the title back to him a year later. In hindsight Hart notes that he should have been more forthcoming and regrets not doing it sooner. Without that validation it opened up a can of worms both professionally and personally (like Shawn Michaels playing instigator to Bret Hart’s marital woes with his infamous “Sunny Days” comment on an episode of Monday Night Raw). Such animosity would culminate at the 1997 Survivor Series. At least thirty minutes of the interview is devoted to the Montreal Incident. Bret Hart is so open about that fateful night, while Michaels remains a little more guarded. If you were a fan of either performer this is the moment of the interview where you’ll have a cathartic release, seeing these two recount the meetings they had to discuss the match, and how referee Earl Hebner was Hart’s Achilles Heel, having received special instructions prior to heading out to ringside.

Bret Hart also loses his smile

The fallout is discussed with Bret Hart going to WCW and Shawn Michaels suffering a near-career ending injury – he would return to action four years later against a Clique member he wanted to make money with back in 1996-1997, Triple H. During one of the last video packages to play during the interview, we see Bret Hart’s fall from grace as sad reflection. His jumping to WCW was a financially sound decision, but he was entering a creatively bankrupt operation. In 2000, he would suffer a concussion that put him on the shelf. Bad becomes worse when he has a stroke while riding a bicycle in 2002. In the interview Bret Hart makes a comparison to Michaels “losing his smile” with him looking in a mirror and being unable to form a smile on the left side of his face.

After the stroke Vince McMahon was one of the first persons to call him once the hospital installed a phone in Hart’s room. Bridges that were burned years prior were rebuilt and the two made amends. Hart and Michaels reconciliation would follow seven years on the January 4, 2010 episode of Monday Night Raw. Burying the hatchet with shaking hands and hugging in the middle of ring it, like the interview itself, gives an overall sense of closure with Hart’s willingness to heal and Michaels’ redemption.

Inspecting the packaging, the three discs that comprise the Rivalries set are housed in a cardboard package with gateway foldout. The gateway foldout is very elaborate, and includes vintage photographs from their matches with one another as well as excerpts taken from WWE’s magazine publication. WWE has printed the disc contents on the inside flap adjacent to the first disc. This includes a breakdown of the interview’s segments on the first disc, plus the supplements that are spread across the second and third discs: eight bonus matches, two WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and the segment from Monday Night Raw where the two legendary superstars make amends.

The DVD release has a 480p transfer with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The HD shot interview inside WWE Studios is well lit and exhibits the natural skintones, warm color palate and rich blacks. The detail is so fine we can make out the stitching on Shawn Michaels’ baseball cap that looks to hide the tops of his eyes in shadow. The video segments that act as a bridge between sections of the interview include numerous match clips and vintage photographs. You can see dissimilarity in the older footage and its softness as compared to what plays weekly on television. Material that was originally shot full frame is presented as is, but with mattes on the sides. The HBK logo flanks the left, while the Hit Man logo occupies the right side.

The audio presentation is a Dolby Digital Stereo 5.1 track. The dialogue and interaction in the interview is crisp and clean with only subtle interference due to Bret Hart brushing against his microphone. The musical score and soundtrack used for the video highlight packages has minimal bleed through to the surrounding speakers. It is your front speakers that will get a workout. The matches on discs two and three have clean play-by-play announcing while the wrestlers’ entrance music comes in loud and clear on the front channels.

Disc 2 – Bonus Matches (125 minutes)

The Rockers vs. The Hart Foundation
Madison Square Garden – November 25, 1989

Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
Wrestling Challenge – February 10, 1990

The Rockers vs. The Hart Foundation
Tokyo Dome – March 30, 1991

Ladder Match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship
Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
Portland, Oregon – July 21, 1992

Intercontinental Championship Match
Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
Syracuse, New York – April 29, 1992

WWE Championship Match
Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
Survivor Series – November 25, 1992

Steel Cage Match
Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
Utica, New York – December 1, 1993

Disc 2 – Bonus Match and Segments (152 minutes)

Iron Man Match for the WWE Championship
Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
WrestleMania XII – March 31, 1996

WWE Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
Bret Hart’s Induction
Chicago, Illinois – April 1, 2006

Bret Hart Returns to Raw
Raw – January 4, 2010

WWE Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
Shawn Michaels’ Induction
Atlanta, Georgia – April 2, 2011

The biggest gripe some fans are likely to have with the DVD set is the noticeable exclusion of the 1997 Survivor Series match. WWE has instead made that match exclusive to the Blu-ray version and included other in-ring moments and interview excerpts. While it is a smart move in trying to drum up sales for Blu-ray titles, it’s hard to overlook the omission. Also unexplained is only including two hours of matches on the second disc. The producers could have easily added matches that can be found on Coliseum Video titles from the early ‘90s: The Rockers/Hart Foundation tag match from WrestleFest ’90; numerous one-on-one encounters found on the Invasion of the Bodyslammers, Rampage 1992 (Note: this match can be found on Shawn Michaels: My Journey), and Bret “Hitman” Hart releases; and a dream tag team match from Grudges, Gripes & Grunts that had Michaels teaming with Ric Flair to take on Hart and Randy Savage.

If you want to see more of this feud on other WWE DVD releases be sure to check out some of these titles: Best of Confidential Vol. 1, which includes a segment on the Montreal Incident and has the Survivor Series match as a bonus; Hart and Soul: The Hart Family Anthology includes the Hart brothers taking on Shawn Michaels (subbing for Jerry Lawler) and his Knights; and Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows, a documentary film that follows Bret Hart during his last year in the WWF, from winning the Championship at SummerSlam 1997 to his match with Shawn Michaels at the Survivor Series.

WWE Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart is unlike any DVD release World Wrestling Entertainment has ever attempted. And what better way to start a series than have the “Excellence of Execution” and the “Showstopper” sitting next to one another discussing their feud and how its implications affected both men. It can be argued that Bret Hart comes off as the better man, as Shawn Michaels as a born-again Christian looks to put this behind him once and for all. The face-to-face interview makes the DVD a must-own. However, the decision to leave the “Montreal Incident” off the DVD release detracts from the overall score.

WWE Home Video presents WWE Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart. Featuring: Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and Jim Ross. Running Time: 7 Hours and 2 Minutes (box art advertises 9 hour approximate run time). Rating: TV-PG (Language). Released on DVD: October 25, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.

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