No Holds Barred Blu-ray Review
The terms “good” and “bad” are probably the two most often used adjectives when eliciting a first opinion from someone about the quality of a film. They are also the most vague and insufficient. Like most aspects of life, there is an expansive “grey” area when it comes to the quality gradient of many films. Rodger Ebert said he always tried to review a film based on the expectations of its core audience. Sometimes a film can be distinctly “bad,” but it possesses inherent qualities that people simply cannot resist, often referred to as “guilty pleasures.” The “sport” of professional wrestling encompasses this trait perfectly. The acting is over the top, the characters are ridiculous and the scenarios are absurd, yet it entrances millions of viewers and has sustained its place in pop culture for over 30 years. In 1989 when the then called WWF decided to showcase their most valuable commodity in a full-length feature film, little did they know that their NO HOLDS BARRED approach would become a rough blueprint for the lasting success of the company.
Professional wrestling champion “Rip,” (Hulk Hogan, ROCKY III) is one of the most loved personalities in the entertainment industry. The new head of the World Television Network, Brell (Kurt Fuller, GHOSTBUSTERS II), wants Rip to sign exclusively with his company. When Rip refuses, Brell looks to find a foil by initiating a competition to seek out a wrestler that can entice Rip by any means necessary into a ratings-grabbing grudge match.
Just like professional wrestling itself, NO HOLDS BARRED is equally polarizing to its audience. Even if you’re a big fan of the current World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) for the last decade, this film will probably induce and a sleeper hold on anyone who isn’t familiar with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) of the 1980s. There’s no defending the quality of this film, it’s bad. The acting is bad, the dialogue is bad, the story and execution of real-world scenarios is ludicrous and the overall plot makes little sense from the beginning. And therein lies the film’s built-in audience, NO HOLDS BARRED was Hulk Hogan’s premiere as the lead character in a feature film. His popularity during the release was at an apex and his legions of “Hulkamaniacs” would purchase and watch anything he pitched. Fast forward 25 years and this Blu-ray release now relies solely on the nostalgia of Hogan’s fans, not just for him but for a total recall to a very specific time in their lives.
Even though NO HOLDS BARRED is a “bad” film, it’s not a lousy one. The film is still very fun to watch. You have to think when now seasoned television director Thomas J. Wright (NCIS, SUPERNATURAL, CASTLE) was directing this film he knew that he had carte blanche to toss just about any boundaries out of the ring, as long as it made Hulk Hogan look good. Considering the extremely armature script, there was no other direction to take the story and characters other than emulating those taking place in professional wrestling at the time. And in this venue you can actually admire some of the high-quality overacting that was taking place. Hogan of course is flawless at this from all his years of practice in the industry, but Kurt Fuller needs some recognition as one of the best over-the-top villains that could’ve inspired even Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.
Perhaps though, the highest accolade of NO HOLDS BARRED is its credited launch of the film career of Tommy “Tiny” Lister. As Zeus in the WWF and NO HOLDS BARRED, Lister was a physical game changer, captivating audiences with his sheer size and disturbing gaze. A truly terrifying figure that was easily pigeonholed into bodyguard and prison inmate roles early in his career, but after NO HOLDS BARRED Lister demonstrated that his physical prowess did not negate an ability to portray a convincing, fully-fleshed out character a la FRIDAY, THE FIFTH ELEMENT and THE DARK KNIGHT.
Although the film’s action sequences are extremely antiquated, seeing the collision of physical titans like Hogan and Lister in their prime is still exciting for anyone who grew up ruining t-shirts and landing atomic leg drops on their little brother from atop the sofa. And even though NO HOLDS BARRED was not a box office success, it ultimately would lay the groundwork for how professional wrestler’s would successfully crossover into mainstream forms of entertainment, including the now WWE’s most prosperous asset to date, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (G.I. JOE: RETALIATION, FAST & FURIOUS 6).
It may sit in your collection for a while shrink wrap intact, but there are few films when pulled out of the cabinet that’ll evoke the reaction of, “Wow, you actually bought this . . . let’s watch it now!”
NO HOLDS BARRED BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen, 1080p/AVC MPEG-4: Starting with the box art, the image quality of NO HOLDS BARRED has been completely remastered. It’s not going to be confused with PACIFIC RIM or whatever “demo disk” you have designated in your collection, but it’s easily the best this cult-classic has ever looked. Some scenes do go a little soft, reminding you of those good old VHS days, but overall the colors pop, contrast is very good and the now 25-year-old film looks very serviceable again. It also retains a fine grain that keep it from looking too fresh, retaining its vintage quality that is so important to the nostalgic value of the film.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1: The audio mix is a substantial upgrade over any home video release the film has been previously paired up with. And if you were one of the few that contributed to its $16 million gross and actually caught it in your local multiplex, it’s probably better than that as well. The dialogue is clean and crisp and the effects and music are nicely balanced with some nice dynamic during the film’s climax.
Summerslam Match: Zeus & “Macho Man” Randy Savage w/ Sensational Sherri vs. Hulk Hogan & Brutus Beefcake w/ Miss Elizabeth (30 min): For a wrestling fan of this film’s era, including a classic match like this is #1 on the wish list. It’s just too bad they did not put a little more effort into upscaling it for HD, or include a complete retrospective look at how the whole Hogan/Zeus saga started in the ring and continued into the film.
“No Holds Barred” Match Revisited Tag Team Steel Cage Match (12/27/89) – (18 min): – Another great addition, but still standard definition. This release could’ve reached “greatness” if they just produced a piece detailing the apex of pro wrestling during the late ‘80s with clips from all of the Zeus/Hogan, or even better a “directorless” commentary track featuring only Hogan and Lister.
Photo Gallery: Production Stills