- Bill Simmons’ dream of making a documentary about pro wrestling great Andre the Giant has finally become a reality thanks to director Jason Hehir.
- The movie is a powerful look at the legend that explores the man as well as the mythology around him, which has grown for decades.
- Both wrestling fans and general audiences will enjoy this one.
When Bill Simmons launched the ESPN documentary series “30 for 30,” one of his dream movies was telling the life story of Andre the Giant.
Simmons has since left ESPN, but nine years later at HBO, he’s executive producing his first movie (from his The Ringer brand) at the network – and it’s about Andre. All we can say is good things come to those who wait.
Even if you aren’t a professional wrestling fan, you’ve likely heard of Andre the Giant. At 7′ 4″ and weighing 500 pounds, before Hulk Hogan it was Andre who was the face of wrestling. And if you really have no clue who I’m taking about, then maybe Fezzik (“Anybody want a peanut?”) from “The Princess Bride” rings a bell? Yes, that’s Andre, too.
The life of Andre Roussimoff is a myth built from years travelling the globe on the wrestling circuit (and has only increased since his death in 1993), and Simmons enlisted director Jason Hehir to uncover the truth about the legendary figure. He succeeded with flying colours.
Hehir’s HBO documentary “Andre the Giant” (airing on HBO on Tuesday at 10 p.m.) is not the typical documentary on a pro wrestler that celebrates career highlights. Though there’s a lot of that, Hehir pulls no punches in finding some truth about who Andre was, and what it was like to be touted as the 8th Wonder of the World.
With a powerful score, incredible archival video and photos, and interview clips from almost everyone you would want to hear speak about Andre, the movie shows a man living in a world not made for him – and the good, bad, and ugly that came with it.
Hehir paints a moving picture of Andre coming up the wrestling ranks in France during the 1960s as the character of a lumberjack called the “Great Fairy.” He catches the eye of wrestling promoters in America and quickly begins to bounce around the circuit, now being called Andre the Giant (as well as travelling to Japan, Canada, and Australia).
Through the 1970s, Andre is the main attraction in wrestling and his antics out of the ring become legendary. There are the “fun” antics, like drinking over 100 beers in a single night; and the less attractive ones, like how uncomfortable it is for him to travel, and how he has a daughter who he never sees because he is on the road so much.
There’s also the hilarious recollections of the wrestlers he didn’t respect. Those include Big John Stud, who Andre didn’t like because he would walk over the top rope to get into the ring, using the move that was known to be Andre’s. They also include “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who according to Hulk Hogan would get yelled at by Andre because Savage would always have on too much baby oil.
Then we get to the early 1980s and the Hulk Hogan era begins, as well as the Vince McMahon era, in which his WWF (now WWE) becomes the first nationwide wrestling outfit. Though Andre is beginning to wear down physically, McMahon convinces him to fight Hogan for the title at WrestleMania III.
For wrestling fans, the insight Hehir provides for this section of the film is the holy grail. Hogan, McMahon, and others close to Andre and the event (like legendary WWF announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund) are on camera in the movie laying out what happened behind-the-scenes leading up to WrestleMania III, Hogan vs The Giant – the irresistible force against the immovable object. It was the moment when professional wrestling went mainstream.
Hehir tells with vivid detail how little Hogan really knew about the match’s outcome and how much physical pain Andre was in at that point in his life.
Pain in Andre’s life is a major theme throughout the doc. Whether it’s talking about “The Princess Bride,” travelling the globe, or the sad final days of his life, Andre lived with a lot of discomfort but wouldn’t show it. And that might be the biggest takeaway from the movie – Andre the Giant really was a gentle giant who was more concerned about making others comfortable around him than worrying about himself.
Simmons found the right person in Hehir to take on one of his dream projects. The director successfully pulls away the layer of legend surrounding a literal giant to reveal the man who amazed so many.
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