Tuesday, November 4, 2014

An Ersatz Cinematic Offseason: The Greater Purpose of WWE Films

This Curb-Stomping out of WWE could be the best thing for Orton
Photo Credit: WWE.com
The last image of RAW last night (and the first image of the new "WWE Network Exclusive" show that featured an excellent Sheamus/Rusev United States Championship Match) saw Randy Orton incapacitated to the point of needing a stretcher to exit from the arena. Just as his lethal punt sent wrestlers on vacations for either retooling, rehabilitation, or other excursions, Orton's exit from the main RAW narrative was facilitated by a Seth Rollins curb stomp on the diamond-patterned steel ring steps. Dean Ambrose met a similar fate about two months prior, only instead of the steps, he got smushed through a cinder block.

Both wrestlers' write-offs were necessitated so they could appear in WWE Films vehicles. Reports are circulating that Orton's time off will have him miss Survivor Series in his hometown of St. Louis. On the surface, the decision to have him film his movie right now at the peak of his popularity with the crowd seems baffling, especially for such a non-entity like WWE Films. Orton is now being rabidly cheered by combination of tapping into a zeitgeist of wanting to see The Authority burn and him showing the best fire of his career.

Ambrose was in a similar situation when he left. He was near the peak of his crowd support, and boom, he was taken off television. However, when he came back, his reactions were just as vociferous if not even more so than before he left. The lack of a lapse in overness could be attributed to basic human nature. People tend not to know what they have until it's gone, so a forced vacation will make people miss a popular wrestler and thus grow more fond of them and their eventual comeback. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder" is a chestnut that is especially true in pro wrestling. Look at Ryback. Even though he was stuck in a dead-end tag team before his injury, he'd started to get people to cheer for him. When The Big Guy returned last week, live crowds went bonkers for him. The terrible "Goldberg" chants had completely dissipated, and he now enjoys the best crowd reactions of his career thanks to getting that big comeback pop.

Of course, the drawback of a guy like Ryback taking time off for injury to get that pop is that he had to go and get injured in the first place. However, with Ambrose and then Orton, their absences are basically paid vacations, relatively speaking. Unless they did/do their own stunts on their respective movies, the toll on their bodies dramatically goes down when they leave the ring to hit the set. Meanwhile, as actors on a film set, they theoretically sharpen their acting chops, and maybe they pick up something from working outside the business that could help them improve the way they build stories inside of it.

Many observers, myself included, have been clamoring for an offseason, but the questioning of the purpose of WWE Films has been just as loud. The venture hadn't been nearly as profitable as I'm sure folks in Stamford would have liked until recently, but in the last couple of years, the studio has found somewhat of a niche and has been turning profits. Even if the revenue intake is meager compared to the mutlimillion dollar empire that is the sports entertainment arm, if it remains solvent, it not only remains a revenue stream for the company, but a convenient outlet wrestlers to take some time off without it being precipitated by injury. It's a net win for the company; a guy like Ambrose or Orton can make crowds miss them, keep sharp on their promo/acting skills, and then make a few bucks for the company on the side.

Of course, the Film arm of the conglomerate isn't a panacea for everything ailing the mothership. WWE already has major issues booking a roster without forced depletion, and the treatment of wrestlers upon their returns from their hiatuses can dampen the impact of their return pops. One could argue that turning Ambrose into an amalgamation of the worst properties of the Joker as played by Cesar Romero and Heath Ledger has taken some of the bloom off his rose, but that is more a problem of the writers and Vince McMahon's leaky mental gaskets as the final stop between a script and air. WWE has a lot of fixing it needs to do on its creative process without worrying about which wrestlers it has available. But to be completely honest, having WWE Films around to work as a vehicle for a rolling, continuous offseason is perhaps one of the best tools at the main company's disposal. When Orton comes back from his sojourn, he will be as over as he was before he left, and it won't be because he had to miss time convalescing. IF WWE can find a way to use that to its advantage, it could revolutionize mainstream wrestling going forward in a highly positive manner.