THE SPECIALISTS MICROSCOPE'S LEE STEVENS: "The Wrestler" successfully makes the viewer care; what WWE can learn
Jan 14, 2009 - 3:46:25 PM
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By Lee Stevens, PWTorch Specialist
The most important movie for the WWE this year will never be promoted by Vince McMahon's company.
Just days after Mr. Kennedy's "Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia" hit video stores with poor reviews, standard action characters, and low numbers, "The Wrestler" made its mark at the Golden Globes, including a Best Actor nod for Mickey Rourke for his role as Randy "The Ram" Robinson.
This clearly isn't the first time non-fans have been exposed to wrestling, but it is one of the rare times when the sport has been treated with any level of seriousness. The film not only gives the fans a unique view of the sport, it also provides the WWE with an example of how to get an audience to care about a character.
Those who grew up watching wrestling had limited examples of the sport visiting the mainstream. In 1989, casual wrestling fans saw Hulk Hogan hit the big screen with "No Holds Barred." He basically played himself in the story of a champion who defends the honor of his family, his friends, and his sport. Ultimately, he needs to avenge the beating of his brother and save his life by winning a wrestling match against "Zeus." The plot was as unrealistic as the follow through - "Zeus" actually showed up on TV to fight Hogan. His reason for challenging Hogan was that he was still angry for his fictional character losing in the movie.
The 2000 film "Ready to Rumble" featured several WCW regulars, including Goldberg, Sting, and Diamond Dallas Page, but it also featured a plot of two sewage workers who help their favorite wrestler regain his title. The main wrestler in the film was portrayed by Oliver Platt, an actor not known for his physical attributes before the film or since. Continuing the unlikely tone, David Arquette, who portrayed one of the fans in "Ready to Rumbl,e" went on to actually win the WCW World Championship.
In each example, nobody ever claimed that it was anything other than mindless fun and there is certainly a place for that type of entertainment, but most of the characters fit a basic profile. The bad guys sneered, huffed and would kidnap your brother to help their devious plots. Why did they do this? Because they were bad. The good guys rallied against all odds and you knew that they would prevail in the end, simply because they were good. With over-the-top caricatures and ridiculous plots, none focused on a realistic view of the business within the script, production, or promotion.
Another criticism with these creative endeavors is that they gave the impression that anyone could be a professional wrestler. Zeus went straight from the movie set to the ring and battled the WWF Champion. Even worse, Courtney Cox's husband went straight from the movie set to the ring and actually won the belt and he doesn't look like he could intimidate Courtney Cox.
"The Wrestler" shows the genuine sacrifice required to have even a chance at glory inside the ropes. Although the negative, but accurate, view of wrestling brought a quick dismissal from McMahon, I believe the film has the possibility to actually benefit the WWE. Many moviegoers will identify with the underdog role and the human tragedy of how Robinson's personal life suffers as his career progresses. Viewers, whether they are die-hard wrestling fans or someone caught up in the award buzz will be able to identify with the characters and themes of the movie, even if they can't relate to the specifics of the business.
Why do people care about someone as like "The Ram" even if they don't agree with his life? With many poor choices throughout the movie, he's certainly not a hero, but how many average viewers can identify with someone who never makes a mistake? During the two hours of the film, we are given a chance to see the good and the bad of this person. Even though he participates in a career of which we will never be a part, outside of our role as a fan, he's still an authentic, flawed human who battles with his insecurities, family issues and financial troubles. That's something we can get behind.
On WWE television now, what do we know about Dolph Ziggler, other than he enjoys introducing himself? Why is Ezekiel Jackson so loyal to The Brian Kendrick other than his title of bodyguard?
WWE had the right idea when they reintroduced Ron Killings with well-produced vignettes about his tough start and poor choices. He vowed to return to the WWE and make amends for his mistakes. Since his debut, what have we learned? He has a great entrance and apparently he would like to know "what's up?" None of these men have been given a chance to give us a reason to care.
Obviously the WWE can't devote two hours of airtime to each competitor just for the sake of character development, but instead of another two minute Boogeyman match, wouldn't we all be better off hearing from Mike Knox about his motives for attacking Rey Mysterio? The Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho feud worked not only because the two are talented, but also because the two were given the time to develop their issues. We knew their motives and many of us could identify with their choices. We cared about what happened and not only wanted to watch, we needed to watch.
Of course, not everyone has the same skill level on the microphone or in the ring as Michaels and Jericho, so WWE can adjust. Instead of a 15-minute segment to open the show, we get a brief interview at the bottom of the hour. Instead of a 20-minute match to close the broadcast, we give them a brief comment just after their five minute match explaining why the win was so important to them.
If not, we are left with a handful of wrestlers who can carry a franchise and the rest of the crew will be known as good guys simply because they dance, smile or the announcer tells us that he "just likes to have fun." The bad guys sneer, huff, and simply look menacing, even though we're never quite sure why.
"The Wrestler" is successful because we care. Whether you love Mickey Rourke's character or you hate him, you care. As soon as you stop caring, that person becomes irrelevant. Soon after, we will likely wish him or her well in their future endeavors. In the other corner is a realistic, emotional, well thought out character, giving the entire business a chance to grow.
Lee Stevens is a Torch Contributor who examines Raw and Smackdown with "Under The Microscope." You can leave comments below or e-mail him at GLStevens.Torch@gmail.com
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