Bill Simmons’ HBO documentary of Andre the Giant aired last night. It has all of the aesthetics and beauty of anything HBO has produced over the last two decades. Andre the Giant was given a stunning visual film filled with archived footage and a rolling audio bed that never stopped. The music helps keep the film moving and the dramatic music gives rise to a sense of impending doom. The impending doom of course was Andre’s early death which we knew was coming.
This is a very WWE centric film. It serves partially as a history of the WWE’s big rise in the early ’80s. So much so in fact there’s a 10-minute portion of the film in which Andre doesn’t even appear. The film derails into a mini-biography of Hulk Hogan, which is something I feared. I feel that it’s important to fill in the general audience on what was going on in wrestling at the time but there were moments when this felt like a Hulk Hogan documentary. The detailed discussion of Hogan’s appearance in Rocky III doesn’t mention at all that the entire match was based on Andre the Giant’s actual real life match with the real life Rocky, Chuck Wepner.
Another thing completely missing from the film was Andre’s career in Japan which is glossed over a footnote. Andre was enormously famous in Japan as big as he was in the United States. In fact at the end of his career he spent two years continuing to wrestle in Japan as he was ushered off WWE TV screens. These perspectives were sorely missed as were a lot of the now-deceased characters from his life. I only wish we could’ve gotten an interview with Bobby Heenan in the film.
There were tremendous aspects of the film however Tim White, Andre’s handler and friend shined as I knew he would. His relationship with Andre really drove the emotional content of the show. David Shoemaker’s commentary was what pushed the factual content of the film and Shoemaker did a tremendous job explaining pro wrestling.
While the film leaves out some important aspects of Andre’s career, it was incredibly well made and delivers the pathos of the life of Andre the Giant in a serious manner. I’m sure it would’ve been impossible to satisfy an Andre the Giant biographer like me, the film gives a strong understanding of the legend of Andre the Giant.
Box Brown is comic artist living in Philadelphia. His book Andre the Giant: Life and Legend spent three weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List. His new book Is This Guy For Real?: The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, about Kaufman’s short but influential wrestling career is out now. Follow him on Twitter @boxbrown and Instagram @boxbrown.