Movie review: HBO’s Andre the Giant documentary stands tall
The filmmakers behind this HBO documentary, which begins airing on April 10 at 10 p.m. (ET), really wanted to get the story right. But it’s about professional wrestling, and one of its major stars. Wrestling is a sport that, while featuring remarkable athletes performing astounding feats — just about all of them carefully choreographed — is brimming with mythology, with tales about those performers that could never be true.
Andre the Giant was a prime example. There were all sorts of legends surrounding him: His height, his weight, how much he ate, how much he drank (and we’re talking about liquor). The filmmakers wanted to find their way past all of that, and get to the real man, to Andre Roussimoff, the French athlete whose size was due to a medical condition called acromegaly, which made him grow in irregular spurts throughout his life.
They begin the film with a small fact, but one that sets them on the right path. During his reign as “The Eighth Wonder of the World” in the 1980s, Andre the Giant was said to have hailed from Grenoble, France. Not in this film; here we get the real story, that he was from the small village of Molien, France.
Told in chronological order, from his childhood till his death in 1993 at age 46, the film presents a mix of in-ring wrestling action and a cavalcade of interviews with people who knew him. We meet his brothers — Antoine and Jacques — who talk about him being normal-sized till he was about 15, when his body began to change. We hear audio of Andre recalling playing soccer and rugby as a boy, then being turned on to wrestling by his rugby pals.
And via many different people, we get a brief history of the wrestling scene in North America when he first made it over here, as well as collections of different ring names and heights.
In his earliest wrestling days, he was Le Géant Ferré. In an interview, he bills himself as being 7-foot-1 and 376 pounds. Later he was called Monster Roussimoff, and, according to announcers, had grown to 7-foot-4 and 376 pounds. Names moved on to The Polish Giant, The Giant Frenchman, and finally Andre the Giant, even as weights grew to 390 and 415 and 507 pounds, with his height remaining at 7-foot-4.
Some will find the most enjoyable parts of the film to be the clips from Andre’s matches, where he was usually in “handicap” situations, fighting off two or three smaller (everyone was smaller) wrestlers, or in battle royals, taking on 20 or so grapplers. But of even more interest are the interviews. Vince McMahon talks about when his father — Vince, Sr. — first met Andre and helped turn him into a star. Hulk Hogan tells of still being in junior high when first seeing Andre. “I was hooked,” he says. Ric Flair, smiling when he recalls it, says, “I was with him one night when he drank 106 beers.”
There are also clips of Andre working in other areas of show business. We see his embarrassing appearance as a Sasquatch on “The Six Million Dollar Man,” and a couple of delightful scenes of — and stories behind — him playing Fezzik in “The Princess Bride.”
The film regularly points out the big man’s big smile and great sense of humor, but doesn’t shy away from the fact that he led a difficult life. He was an icon in the wrestling world, which meant constant travel and physical exertion. Think for a moment about how uncomfortable he must have been when it came to chairs and beds and airplane bathrooms that were designed for “normal” people.
Though the film eventually turns dark, focusing on Andre finding himself in constant pain, it never stops celebrating him, or making it clear that everyone talking about him is doing it with reverence. It all leads up to some footage and some surprising drama at Wrestlemania 3, the 1987 event at which Andre pretty much passed the torch to Hulk Hogan as the next big star. There’s a sad ending to Andre’s story, but that story is an amazing one.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Andre the Giant”
Directed by Jason Hehir
With Vince McMahon, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Gene Okerlund, Jerry Lawler