“Coming down the isle, weighing in at 500 pounds, from Grenoble in the French Alps, the Eighth Wonder of the World, Andre the Giant”.
Some people in pop culture are not just iconic, they are unforgettable and Andre the Giant (Andre Roussimoff) was one of those figures. His legend has exceeded the wrestling industry and sports entertainment and - like wrestling stars Hulk Hogan, John Cena, The Rock, Steve Austin and The Undertaker - Andre the Giant is arguably a name that is recognisable to fans of wrestling and non-fans alike. Now, this documentary released through HBO Sports has finally hit UK screens on Sky Atlantic and while an interesting watch was assured for such a larger than life personality, this film is a poignant, funny and engrossing look at the wrestling titan in and out of the squared circle.
Concise and yet generously mapped out, Jason Hehir’s film has sympathy yet is not afraid to look at the darkness surrounding Andre’s life and career. Starting at the very beginning, with the Frenchman’s less known youth, to his early days as a competitor, to his regional wrestling run, to his big success in World Wrestling Entertainment (then World Wrestling Federation), this film covers all career bases and while hardcore fans may well question some missed moments (his historically brief championship win or final match for instance), these are hardly omissions, as the film gathers all his real career achievements but more importantly his life experiences. From Andre’s flatulent sense of humour and tough lessons of respect to medical struggles and how they marred his in-ring abilities or his angst in standing out in a mocking world, this film balances comedy with pathos and has you laughing frantically one minute and shedding a tear the next. This writer unashamedly admits he was moved to tears twice in the duration of the film.
Gathering a strong cast of talking heads, including Andre’s family, wrestling historians, his friends and his fellow competitors, the film gives a 3 dimensional view of the man behind the promoted 7’4’’ tall silhouette. Never shying away from his difficulties (his declining health, his estranged child, his legendary drinking ability and the reason for it) or his complex emotions or unorthodox approaches to the business and to life, the film offers a rounded look at Andre’s 46 years on the planet. As well as this it admirably captures the regret of some of the interviewees who honestly – sometimes tearfully - recall their own experiences with Andre and reflect on those memories.
Wrestling as a topic is not to all tastes but whether you are a fan or not, this film’s grasp on its subject is so compelling to witness. Hehir makes the build up to Andre’s iconic and groundbreaking clash with Hulk Hogan in the main event of Wrestlemania 3 (in front of a crowd of 93,000 people in 1987) the climax of sorts to the film and it results in a spectacle and thriller-esque coverage, mostly recalled by a clearly in the moment Hulk Hogan.
Andre impacted culture - with his appearances in fantasy classic The Princess Bride and on an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man being mentioned here - and was a pinnacle of his industry as it moved into one of its most feverously popular eras, however what this documentary establishes just as well is the impact Andre had on all those that knew him (in particular referee Tim White). Whether you are a WWE fan or not, we cannot recommend Andre the Giant enough. It is constantly moving, often fun, and at points incredibly humorous, as it tells the story of the man who was nicknamed “the eighth wonder of the world” and from this documentary, he was just that.
Andre The Giant is as powerful as its central figure.
ANDRE THE GIANT / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: JASON HEHIR / STARRING: ANDRE ROUSSIMOFF, HULK HOGAN, VINCE MCMAHON, DAVID SHOEMAKER, RIC FLAIR, ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGAR, CARY ELWES, ROB REINER, BILLY CRYSTAL, ROBIN WRIGHT, PATRIC LAPRADE / RELEASE DATE: AVAILABLE NOW (SKY ATLANTIC)