It's amazing how much the wrestling business has changed in the 15-off years since Beyond The Mat was originally released in theaters.
WCW and ECW have collapsed and were more or less absorbed by WWE; TNA was created (insert snide comment here); many top Attitude-era stars have retired, while dozens of others have died.
But the biggest difference (at least to an outsider looking in) is that wrestling used to be a mainstream pop culture phonemenon; a designation it really hasn't since enjoyed.
Revisiting Beyond The Mat reminds one not only of the differences, but also what made that era so special. Sure, there were more eyeballs on the business back then, but the industry was at such at an interesting stage in its history that were literally dozens of great stories to tell in explaining professional wrestling to a novice.
For those of who you don't remember (or have never seen) Beyond The Mat, director Barry Blaustein focuses on four main stories: the rookies looking to make it in the big leagues (Michael Modest and Tony Jones); the aging veteran nearing the end of his career (Terry Funk); the washed-up star trying to stay sober (Jake The Snake Roberts) and the popular everyman who's about to compete in the biggest match of his life (Mick Foley).
There are certainly other subplots along the way, as we get a behind-the-scenes peek into everyone from Darren Drozdov to Dennis "I'm Not Booked" Stamp to New Jack, but the four main stories make up the bulk of the documentary.
Blaustein masterfully weaves in humor and horror in a rare balance that satisfies both hardcore fans and novices. Having seen the film numerous times over the years, I'm hard pressed to find any major flaws with it. The only thing I would have liked to see was some WCW involvement (although that may have kiboshed WWF and ECW's participation; who knows?).
The "Ringside Special Edition" DVD, which is still available in some stories, features a handful of bonus features, most notably a dinner conversation between Blaustein, Foley and Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Ventura is an odd choice because he was in the film for about eight seconds, but one can understand why he was selected (star power, political fame, nostalgia, etc).
There's also audio commentary at various stages from Foley, Ventura and Funk and some other goodies.
Now.... is it worth buying the special edition if you already have the original documentary? Probably not. But whichever format you end up owning, I'd definitely recommend one as part of your wrestling DVD collection.
Beyond the Mat
Ringside Special Edition