We’ve been covering news of the upcoming Andre the Giant documentary from HBO Films and Bill Simmons since it was first announced, making sure to share all the trailers and updates, hoping that the story of an enormous pro wrestler so famous he’s practically a mythological being would break new ground in the pro wrestling documentary game.
At the top of the film, in the credits, you’ll notice, “In association with WWE,” and that’s key, because this is a very, very pro-WWE product. If you’re a WWE fan (or a regular reader of With Spandex), you know what that means. You’re also probably aware that it’s not a bad thing, really, especially when it comes to video production and documentaries about the company’s superstars. If you’ve ever picked up one of WWE’s spotlight DVDs — highlighting the careers of everyone from Superstar Billy Graham and Dusty Rhodes to Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock — you’ve seen the documentary features often included, and you’ve probably loved them. I have, too. I think that’s why I noticed that while it’s an expertly accessible retelling of the Giant’s amazing life, HBO’s Andre the Giant plays so, so much like them.
Andre’s life — his real, real life — almost takes a back seat at times to the spectacle Andre represented. I couldn’t help but compare it to Box Brown’s fantastic graphic novel Andre the Giant Life and Legend, which told the Giant’s story from the beginning, but ping-ponged between his memorable moments in the ring and on film with a series of deeply personal conversations, anecdotes, and relationships. The book spends several pages on how difficult it was for Andre to get to school as a kid. In the documentary, Andre’s early life is breezed through in the first six or seven minutes to get to the pro wrestling documentary classics: an explanation of wrestling terms, an explanation of the territory system, and so on.
The production of the documentary is fantastic, as you’d expect. HBO and WWE are both masters at film production. Everyone you’d want to talk about Andre is there, from the McMahon family to his best friend (and former WWE referee) Tim White to Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. If you’ve got a cursory interest in Andre as a celebrity, you’re going to be enraptured by this. Stories of Andre’s legendary drinking are many, as you’ve probably clicked on stories about this here and elsewhere because it’s so insane to imagine. Lots of images of how big his hands were, stories of how big his hands were, stuff he could do with his hands.
Ric Flair shows up for the first time about 26 minutes in just to make a dick joke. At times, it’s exactly right. It’s maybe never as right as when Vince and Hulk spend about two solid minutes doing impersonations of Andre’s farts.
At the same time, the “winner writes the history” version of WWE storytelling is heavy. Heavy. You’ve got Vince McMahon explaining how he took over the territory system by announcing that his product was “vastly better,” with no argument or even a conversation. It was just accepted as fact. Hulk Hogan’s the guy they go to when it’s time to talk about how Andre hated Macho Man Randy Savage, because of course he is, and at one point the documentary straight-up almost becomes a Hogan doc. They push Andre aside to explain Hulk Hogan, which takes time, but in fairness is somewhat necessary for the non-wrestling fan viewer to grasp the big WrestleMania III part. Hogan is there to talk about himself, wearing a Hogan’s Beach T-shirt. WrestleMania and how great WrestleMania is dominates the second half of the film. Mean Gene Okerlund is there to explain how he’d never seen anything as great as WrestleMania!