DVD Review: 1997: Dawn Of The Attitude – WWE

Image Source: Amazon
Image Source: Amazon

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 450 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: October 2 2017

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

When analysing the history of WWE, previously the WWF (and the WWWF before that), a pivotal year is 1997. During that time, business was way down, and the company lagged behind WCW in almost every key area. However, a revolution was happening on-screen, and years of promoting wrestling to please the kids and bringing the families was being slowly replaced by a rebellious product which focused on entertainment via strong language, sexuality, bloody violence and more mature themes to the storylines. This would eventually lead to a massive boom period for the WWF and for wrestling in general, with 1998-2001 being the company’s most successful years in history. Seriously, the word “ass” and the ever-so-frequent use of it made the WWF millions.

But most of this was still to come when 1997 began. At that time, traits of Attitude were being gradually introduced (Steve Austin swearing and flipping people off, slightly more violent matches involving the likes of Mankind, the sexual nature of Goldust’s “psychological” tactics, and the infamous “gun” angle involving Austin breaking into Brian Pillman’s home, during which Pillman said “fuck” live on the air, which almost got the WWF kicked off the USA Network), but it was still marketed as a family-friendly show. Throughout the year things would change, and as 1997 came to a close, the “new” WWF had arrived. A few weeks into 1998, Mike Tyson came on board to help promote WrestleMania, and subsequent angles along with other plotlines would bring about the success that Attitude is most remembered for.

This DVD is intended to provide an overview of that year. A round-table hosted by Renee Young (who is very good in her role as host here), the discussion involves Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, The Godfather, Ron Simmons and Kane as they reminisce and reflect on key events from the year within the WWF and, in some cases, their own careers. After some brief introductions, Young breaks down pivot points such as the rise of Steve Austin, the evolution of the Three Faces Of Foley, the Nation Of Domination, DX, Montreal and the edgier content in general. There are also smaller sections devoted to the likes of the divas (watching some of these clips is bizarre when compared to how WWE treat the females today) and presentation aspects such as the new Raw stage (the Titan Tron, which debuted on March 10 1997).

The tone is relaxed with plenty of wisecracks and a fair few amusing stories. If you’re hoping for a ton of revelations, however, then this won’t suffice. Obviously, the fact that this is a WWE production means that the tone does not stray too far from the party line (indeed, WCW is only mentioned in passing, despite their dominance in the Monday night ratings providing the greatest catalyst for change within the product, and ECW isn’t mentioned at all, despite being a major influence on WWF Attitude). In fact, although the likes of Shawn occasionally touch upon the way things were, no official reason is ever really given as to why the WWF completely transformed its product. If you’d never heard the background details and relied solely on this DVD, then you’d assume that Vince McMahon decided to change the presentation of WWF programming for the hell of it.

This is still very enjoyable, though. The hour-long running time of the main feature flies back, and it comes across as a feel-good trip down memory lane. As noted, there are plenty of laughs to be had, and some intriguing anecdotes relating to how certain performers reacted to key moments. For instance, with the exception of the main players – Bret Hart, Shawn and Vince – we never really hear what the WWF wrestlers at the time thought about the Montreal Screwjob, so it’s cool to get some different perspectives here. It’s also cool to hear some insight on Shotgun Saturday Night which, when originally launched, was completely different from the likes of Superstars and Wrestling Challenge, and provided the first true look at what the WWF would be like with risqué elements incorporated into the branding of the show. So, this is still an enjoyable look back at a crucial year in WWF history, but just don’t expect it to be as thorough a breakdown of behind-the-scenes events as Jim Cornette’s Timeline storytelling with Kayfabe Commentaries was (and this, by the way, was an absolutely hilarious production and features the often foul-mouthed Cornette at his very best, so it’s well worth checking out).

The rest of the DVD comprises matches from 1997 and a few angles. It doesn’t appear as if WWE has gone down the route of choosing “unreleased” matches here; the second bout on this collection is the only one to have never been previously released. This means that there are a few glaring omissions, as I will explain. Nevertheless, the match selection provides a fine demonstration of how much the WWF changed in 1997, which is the main purpose of the DVD, and there are some spellbinding battles and exciting moments throughout discs two and three.

The first match is a bout that few would associate with Attitude: it’s Sid vs. Shawn Michaels from Royal Rumble 1997 and, though it’s no classic, it’s enjoyable enough. It’s also bizarre that more people attended this Rumble than they did for any WCW show, despite WCW destroying the WWF at this point in terms of business. Then, it’s onto a hidden gem between Bret Hart and Mankind from Shotgun Saturday Night (one of the most intriguing shows ever when you consider the context of when it originally aired and in what form), along with a fantastic Raw clash between Owen Hart and British Bulldog to crown the first European Champion.

Next is a Steel Cage clash between Sid and Bret for the WWF Title just six days before WrestleMania 13, which is most notable for Bret’s post-match tirade (during which the word “bullshit” made the airwaves, uncensored, more than once, at a time when kids were still the WWF’s target audience). A humorous Owen acceptance speech for a Slammy Award that he didn’t even win is followed by one of the greatest WWF/WWE matches ever, an incredible Submission match between Bret and Steve Austin. This is the match that featured the famous double-turn for Hart and Austin, and it’s the match that some could argue reversed the company’s long-term fortunes.

The two clash again in a Street Fight on Raw, which is more angle than match. By this time, the tone of the WWF product was changing, which is underlined by the next two parts involving Mankind. One is a gripping and emotional interview with Jim Ross (which introduced the world to Dude Love), and the other is a hard-hitting King Of The Ring final match against Hunter Hearst Helmsley, who had yet to evolve into the de-generate known as Triple H. Disc two ends with Bret Hart addressing his Canadian compatriots on Raw at the height of the anti-American angle which was a company first for specific crowds reacting to certain performers in a particular way (I bet WWE wishes they didn’t have to put up with this so often nowadays).

The first two matches of disc three are familiar to collectors: Dude Love’s debut alongside Austin against Owen and Bulldog, and a six-man Flag match (Bret, Owen & Bulldog vs. Austin, Dude & The Undertaker) which has been released far too many times. If WWE had to reuse a match from this rivalry, the Canadian Stampede top-liner would have been ideal. Following this is Shawn vs. Undertaker from Ground Zero, a forgotten brawl which has only been released a couple of times on DVD. That being said, at the risk of contradicting myself, their subsequent Hell In A Cell match was a ground-breaking classic, and it really should have been here for historical purposes.

It’s disappointing that the DVD doesn’t include either of the superb Bret vs. Undertaker matches from that year, but we do get the infamous Bulldog vs. Shawn showdown from One Night Only, as well as Austin’s first Stunner on Vince McMahon, and the promo DX cut the night after the first HIAC match, which included footage of the Curtain Call and a subtle (okay, not so subtle) acknowledgement of backstage politics within the company.

By Survivor Series, the transformation was almost complete, evidenced here by Kane’s debut match in a stunning scrap against Mankind. But it’s the notorious Bret-Shawn main event featuring that double-cross (and Vince’s “Bret Screwed Bret” promo, which isn’t shown here) which would really trigger the Austin-McMahon rivalry (although I still maintain that this was unintentional), which would carry the company throughout 1998 and 1999 and contribute greatly to the boom period of the Attitude Era.

Austin vs. Rock from In Your House: DX is the last proper match, and though it’s short, it’s a great example of just how over Austin was, as he prepared to truly break through the glass ceiling and take his place as the WWF’s main man. The DVD ends with two angles which can also be found on the Raw 15th Anniversary DVD: Sable wearing a potato sack and removing it to reveal, well, not very much (no, the kids weren’t the target audience anymore!), and a Shawn-HHH “match” which is entertaining, though it ultimately buries the European Title that they are supposed to be battling for. Mind you, at least it wasn’t the WWF Championship; 13 months later, WCW would learn what happens when you make a mockery of a World Title in the Fingerpoke Of Doom match between Kevin Nash and Hollywood Hulk Hogan.

Overall, Dawn Of The Attitude is plenty of fun, and does a decent job at highlighting the intriguing transition period between the kid-friendly New Generation and the adult-orientated Attitude Era. If you’re looking for hard-hitting revelations or a true study into the WWF business practices of 1997, then you will be disappointed, but plenty of fun stories with a relaxed tone to the group discussion, combined with memorable matches and moments to prop the analysis of 1997 up, leads to an enjoyable DVD set that is worth watching.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good