Wednesday, October 22, 2014

THE WWE 2K15 TRAILER: THE STYLE WRESTLING DESERVES


Earlier this week WWE 2K Games released the following trailer for the eagerly anticipated WWE 2K15.


In just one minute, this genuinely moving trailer presents a modern, intense, and captivating aesthetic that, if adopted by the WWE for the company's main programming (even in the slightest of ways), could revolutionize professional wrestling.

The WWE currently exists in what has been dubbed "The Reality Era".

That term has only been mentioned on RAW a handful of times, used primarily outside the WWE fiction by the fans and pro-wrestling analysts to help define the current product. The need to define pro-wrestling "Eras" is instrumental in understanding and sustaining continuity in the product - the definition of a stretch of time helpful in producing cohesive content.

I've written and talked at great length already about why the company should more fully embrace the concept of a "Reality Era" and what embracing such a concept might actually look like.

This is what it would look like:


This trailer is exactly what a true "Reality Era" should be, and, I believe, what the fundamental conceit of the professional wrestling medium naturally demands.

Professional wrestling is attempting to create the illusion of a legitimate sporting event, all the while adding narrative to that basic concept.

Currently, pro-wrestling and the WWE's presentation doesn't always reflect that conceit (it doesn't even seem like people are always aware of this basic idea, whether they be fans or performers).

While the illusion of a live-sporting event is typically established in the arena through commentary and ring-work, the way backstage segments and backstage interviews are filmed and presented consistently contradicts the fundamental conceit of pro-wrestling.

Perfectly fine presentation (though the camera-quality could be better/more consistent with live-sporting events), consistent with the fiction that this is a legitimate sporting event where the characters are aware of the fact that they're being filmed.

Looking and sounding like a bad SNL skit, it's completely unclear if the characters are aware of the cameras, and it's even more unclear why they wouldn't be aware of the cameras, and it's completely unclear why they would occasionally plot and plan their future attacks when it will clearly be displayed on a massive screen in the arena, thereby alerting everyone to their nefarious intentions. The actual look of these moments is simultaneously at odds with how the show looks in the arena, making for two entirely disconnected realities. It might seem like an insignificant issue, but it is one of the most fundamental problems with the WWE and pro-wrestling. This style will continue to keep the medium down in the trash television muck, where it will never be taken seriously or generate interest from those who love sports.

That is not the case in this trailer.

The tone of this trailer is positively captivating, whether you're a wrestling fan or not, without sacrificing the entertainment-value of the medium. It is unabashedly sincere and human, elevating the typically cartoonish world of pro-wrestling to a cinematically powerful place. And every wrestler featured, especially Cena, seems to understand that in the way they perform.

This is not an argument for the abandonment of humor in pro-wrestling, nor an argument that John Cena should start reading poems instead of cutting promos - it's an argument for making everything look and feel consistent and well-made, and for Monday Night RAW to be tonally, visually, and stylistically indistinguishable from the latest prize fight on HBO or the various documentaries the company already produces.


This would be a massive undertaking, requiring the company to shed a thirty-year-old skin and push itself in a completely different, hyper-realistic creative direction (and I'm not blind to the difficulty behind such a massive rebranding). But the tools are there to achieve this revolutionary (and at the same time familiar) pro-wrestling aesthetic, and this trailer is proof that these characters can not only exist in a sincere world, but that they can thrive in such a world.

John Cena is the driving force of the narrative here; appropriate considering he's the top man in the business and everyone strives to become him or reflect back on when they once were him.

This tone represents the manner in which pro-wrestling doesn't need to extend its narrative reach to create emotionally moving moments (no Demons need to lurk in the backs of cars and no coffees need to be poisoned). For far too long pro-wrestling has been considered a "soap opera for men". It's time that changed. It's time it simply becomes exactly what it's supposed to be: simulated sport.

Even though pro-wrestling is staged, the performance does leave legitimate mental and emotional scars on the performers. These men and women actually do live in the world depicted in this video (at least some of the time), where the competition is real (though not the kind that involves legitimate wins or loses), and the requirements to achieve super stardom take their toll in ways both inspiring and unsettling.

One of the best, most authentic moments in the trailer. Quietly overflowing with psychological depth and intensity. The image, combined with the music and the voiceover, is haunting. It's not about having big muscles, it's about pushing yourself to a mental and physical limit, striving toward perfection.
 
Hulk Hogan's appearance sticks out as particularly moving - somehow managing to humanize the legend and simultaneously transform him into a mythological hero.
 
The timing of Cena's voice over ("Wise men...") combined with the image of a lone Hogan in the arena is a superb edit, but the subtlety of the way Hogan slowly looks over his shoulder, only for viewers to not see what he's looking for, catapults the scene into spine-tingling greatness.
 
 
It is as though we are witnessing Hogan's final moment in this world.
 
He has reflected upon his life, come to terms with it, and is now turning to face The Repear at his back.
 
Such is in keeping with the almost frightening, somber quality of the entire trailer.
 
 
To juxtapose this moment with an explosion of youth and life in Roman Reigns, punching and kicking bags in the gym is, once again, an example of great cinematic craftsmanship, the kind of craftsmanship that could easily inform the way backstage segments are cut together and presented between matches.
 
Not only does this style create a feeling of authenticity, it makes it hard to dislike these characters. Would Roman have so many detractors if this was his form of backstage interview or promo?
 
With only a minute to work with, no dialogue save John Cena's appropriately gentle reading of Dylan Thomas' villanelle "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night", simple yet elegantly careful cinematography that moves from steady-cam to handheld in a way that accentuates the emotionality of the trailer, and the time to craft this beautiful work, it's easy to watch this and simply say, "Why don't they just do that on RAW?!"

RAW is a live event after all, and it's truly staggering the amount of work and precision that goes into creating every single one of the WWE's various shows (on top of their philanthropic and community efforts). It's actually impressive that even the worst episode of RAW manages to make air.

But there's always room for growth, and the company, much like its talent, strives to be the absolute best (or should regardless of the lack of direct pro-wrestling competition), and the WWE remains fixed in a bygone generation, a time where adolescent antics and immature presentation meshed perfectly with the popular culture of the 1990s.

Even to this day, when we're done watching fights in a ring inside an arena, we still cut to the back to watch typically awkward or bad skits that couldn't seem more completely removed from the rest of the show, depicting good and evil characters plotting or joking, rather than watching athletes prepare for their next fight or give realistic interviews contextualizing their place in the company (done to perfection in NXT).

This trailer embraces the actual fiction of pro-wrestling (the idea that it is a legitimate sporting event) without ever requiring viewers to suspend their disbelief beyond reason.

John Cena does lift weights. John Cena does likely sit pensively in the back from time to time and go over his match. Roman Reigns does train. Cesaro is driven places, and he probably even glares menacingly out the window just for kicks (who hasn't?).


Each of these moments blends together to establish a competitive, emotionally intense, and authentic world. And it's uniform - existing cohesively from the Wyatt's dreary bayou to the legendary Hogan's empty arena.

There could have even been a brief shot of Adam Rose or Fandango dancing together in a club and it probably would have worked.

RAW currently feels so stilted and erratic because there is rarely an explicit unifying principle behind the action, and there's even less of a discernible art direction. This trailer provides an excellent example for how each of these characters can exist in the same world.

It's about competition.

It's about what it takes to exist in a competitive world.

It's not about making people laugh with silly, sophomoric backstage or in-ring shenanigans that appeal to the lowest common denominator, or segments that have nothing to do with anything (shenanigans that no one actually tunes in to Monday Night Raw to see).

It's not about ineffective horror-movie vignettes that occupy an alternate reality and don't bother to justify their existence.

It's about sport.

It's about what sport does to a man's mind and body.

It's not soap opera.

It's drama.


Each character is presented in a manner in keeping with their gimmick - no one needs to sacrifice who they are so as to exist in the other's world, and the consistency of the world isn't sacrificed when the characters come together.

These wrestlers are united by thought, by ambition, by their common motivation - each of them pondering their place in this pro-wrestling world, each with an entirely unique perspective on the same guiding principle, each bound by the rousing refrain, "...do not go gentle into that good night".


This trailer effectively sells the pro-wrestling fiction, embracing the fundamental core of pro-wrestling, and in so doing, helping the medium fully realize itself, ascending to a unique, powerful place in the world of entertainment and sport alike.

This style would make a UFC fan do a double-take.

This style would give even the most stalwart Cena hater reason to rethink their perspective on the character.

This simple presentation, this sincere look at the world of pro-wrestling and the characters that thrive within it functions as modern kayfabe.

Out on a swamp with Bray Wyatt and it's still intimately connected to the squared circle.

While fans criticize a myriad of problems in the WWE, especially RAW's schizophrenic nature, the most fundamental problem with the company is that it simply doesn't take itself seriously enough.

And by "take itself seriously" I do not mean that it's not "dark" enough, that it's not "serious" enough or that it's not "thoughtful" enough or that it's not "violent" enough or that it's too PG. There's nothing not PG about this trailer - it fits perfectly within the confines of that rating.

I do not mean that Monday Night Raw should be written and directed by Terrence Mallick, that RAW should now be an "artsy" program constructed of beautiful, thematically linked imagery accompanied by poetic voice-over.

I mean that the WWE far too often doesn't respect itself. And that is why people aren't watching.

It's almost as though the company is terrified of the fact that it subtly tells grandiose parables rife with allusion and commentary on the nature of good and evil. It's as though the company fears the inherent psychological depth of its characters, that treating the material with sincerity and respect will alienate fans and come off as anti-entertainment - we'll give you Paul Heyman's oratory genius, but if that's too heavy for you or goes over your head...here's a giant Bunny!

Meanwhile the most resoundingly praised and appreciated RAW segments always involve the WWE's most sincere, respectable, and intelligent performers. Meanwhile, the entire popular culture has embraced pathos as a necessary component of characterization in "entertainment", even the most feel-good of comic book movies starring a protagonist suffering some mental trauma (for better or worse).

Depth. Excellence. Sincerity. That's what stands the test of time and gets over in this world.


I offer this argument not to chastise the company - I'm not the least bit interested in giving the WWE a typical internet fan's laundry list of complaints. I want to help in my humble way by giving usable feedback that respects the business, to provide a suggestion for a new direction that may just be worth considering. I think the product is the best it's been in about thirteen years, I simply want to see it get even better.

The WWE, every so often, reveals that it still seems to think the audience for Jerry Springer and the audience for Monday Night Raw are synonymous.

That thinking is the death of the business.

The thinking behind this trailer, the sincerity and passion of this trailer...is life.


There is a massive, untapped audience hungry for quality, hungry for psychologically deep content in a post Chris-Nolan-Batman-world.

People don't dislike and avoid wrestling "because it's fake" (regardless of whether or not that's their stated reason). People don't watch UFC or Monday Night Football because those sports are "legitimate".

People watch what they watch because of the authenticity in the feelings these mediums inspire.

It's all a work. Everything on television, from Monday Night Football to the latest CW teen drama is a story.

It's all a collection of sights and sounds and basic, recognizable aesthetic principles created so as to manipulate your emotions.


The feeling of authenticity is what people are after. And authenticity does not strictly mean real. It means believable. It means honest. That is what people respond to. That is what people want in professional wrestling.

Not blood.

Not touchdowns.

Not cages.

Not twists.

Not turns.

Authentic drama, the thrill of "what is going to happen next?" and "how do I see myself in this character."

What contributes to that feeling of authenticity is consistency and excellence in presentation and performance.


If the WWE wants to actually compete with live sporting events and UFC, it has to match, and then exceed, the presentation of live sporting events and the UFC.

The company has taken a few small steps toward fitting in with modern pop-culture, but it continues to struggle to strike a definitive nerve in the media and entertainment worlds. This is not necessarily because of bad booking or bad talent. This failure to resonant with larger audiences is primarily resultant from lingering, old-fashioned creative dictates, a style that prevents the company from ascending to a place it clearly wants to be and should be, a style in keeping with present day.

Today, pro-wrestling, the WWE, the WWE Universe, and the potential audience deserves a better class of presentation. And even if a live broadcast couldn't emulate the exact look and feel of this trailer due to unavoidable limitations and time constraints, a live broadcast could certainly capture that real-world sport feeling, and the emotional depth of this trailer.

Sleek, straightforward, well-made, simple and psychologically driven.

That's how the WWE is going to get over in today's world.

That is the WWE people want to see...even if they don't know it yet.


Thank you for reading. Are you going to get WWE 2K15? Would you like to watch a WWE that looked, sounded, and felt like this trailer? Why? And if not, what do you think the company needs to do to gain ratings and subscribers?

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All photos are screen captures of WWE 2K15 Commercial and RAW.

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