The legendary Andre the Giant is one of the biggest – in every way possible – stars that the professional wrestling business has ever seen. But it’s not just wrestling fans who are familiar with Andre, for he is a person who would go on to become a staple of pop culture for his literal larger-than-life presence. A tale of triumph and of tragedy, last year saw HBO chronicle the life of the real-life Andre Roussimoff, and now that documentary effort is hitting the home release market.
Born in Coulommiers, France in 1946, Andre Roussimoff was a normal youngster who was raised on a French farm. When Andre hit his teenage years, he had the mother of all growth spurts as he would eventually reach a height of over 7 ft tall. After trying his hand at rugby, Andre became gym buddies with several local wrestlers who were impressed by his ridiculous strength, and the rest, as they say, is history. Due to his unique look, Andre would soon become one of pro wrestling’s biggest attractions from town to town, city to city, country to country, and continent to continent.
Now while Andre’s size and remarkable athleticism for someone of such size made him the most recognizable figure in the wrestling world, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the Frenchman. The continuous travel of the wrestling business would take its toll on Andre – the transport of the day not being tailored for a genuine giant – and there was no stepping away from the spotlight regardless of how much Andre wanted to do just that at times. After all, how can someone billed at a height of 7’ 4” ever go out in public and not be noticed. And with being noticed, you will then get those fools who poke fun and mock such a figure as nothing more than a freakshow.
Throughout Andre the Giant, we see this legends story told through the means of countless talking heads and archived footage of Andre’s personal and professional life. In amongst those helping to tell this story, we have the surviving members of the Roussimoff family, we have some of the wrestling industry’s biggest names, we have Hollywood types such as Billy Crystal and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and we have all-knowledgeable historians. At the heart of these anecdotes and interviews, though, it’s Timmy White who shines as the true heart of Andre’s story. White is a former WWE referee, but at one point in time he ended up being Andre’s handler, travel partner and ultimately his best friend.
Coming in at well-paced 85 minutes, Andre the Giant is an engaging, fascinating documentary that spotlights a man who became both myth and legend. If there is to be a slight complaint about Andre the Giant, however, it’s that it very much skews aspects and elements of Andre’s life and career to fit in with a narrative that benefits the WWE (this is, after all, a production made in association with Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment). For example, it’s positioned that Andre was desperate to cling on to his in-ring wrestling career despite his failing body, when it reality there was also the fact that McMahon and the then-WWF were desperate to keep throwing Andre out in front of audiences due to his drawing power. Andre the Giant could have also fared better by featuring Andre Roussimoff’s family as more than simply bookends to Andre’s story, while renowned yarn-spinners like Hulk Hogan and McMahon get to craft their own beneficial narrative.
Andre Roussimoff may have died in 1993, but his legacy still stands as strong as it ever has. This is man who was a legitimate one-off, and Andre the Giant is a feature that highlights just how special a figure Andre was while similarly stirring further intrigue for us to delve deeper into the life and times of the man known as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
Throw in a couple of classic Andre matches as bonus material, and you have a release that has a whole lot to offer to both wrestling fans and non-wrestling fans. Highly recommended.
Special Features: All-Star Wrestling 1978 – Andre the Giant vs Jose Estrada & Tony Russo / Showdown at Shea 1980 – Andre the Giant vs Hulk Hogan
ANDRE THE GIANT / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JASON HEHIR / STARRING: ANDRE THE GIANT, HULK HOGAN, BILLY CRYSTAL, ROB REINER, ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, VINCE MCMAHON, TIM WHITE, DAVID SCHOEMAKER, PAT LAPRADE / RELEASE DATE: MAY 6TH