This was the film covering Arnold’s surprise comeback (and surprise victory) at the 1980 Mr Olympia bodybuilding contest after five years in the abyss. Stories abound about The Oak’s final appearance. He broke the rules by entering, nearly started a fist-fight backstage, and caused the retirement of Mike Mentzer, who was convinced the contest was a fix.
This video covers none of that. In fact, it doesn’t cover anything much. We have some gym footage, some contest footage, and some interviews with Arnold and his compatriots, in no particular arrangement or order.
Let’s get it out of the way that if you’re expecting a riveting clash of titans like in Pumping Iron, this isn’t for you. This isn’t about a story. You should watch Total Rebuild because it’s a slice of Arnold’s life. It seems like a more honest and “real” documentary than Pumping Iron, although maybe that’s because they didn’t have time to edit it properly. Apparently, Total Rebuild was filmed by an Australian promoter, using equipment borrowed from some friends, and as a result it has a gritty indy quality. Unfortunately, the contest footage here is the best we have of the 1980 Mr Olympia (I’ve heard that CBS filmed the entire contest at great expense, and then threw the footage away because like Mentzer, they felt the contest was clearly rigged in Arnold’s favor).
The interviews with celebrities such as Bill Pearl and Tom Platz are fascinating. Tom hero worships Arnold, while Bill gently tries to cut him down to size. Arnold is his usual Alpha Male self. This guy could start a successful cult. He injects some humor into the proceedings, too, such as when he sees a bodybuilder put a 10 pound plate on a barbell without making enough noise. “We’re on camera! You have to make it sound like a thousand pounds!”
The training scenes are lackluster. I’ve heard that Arnold suffered a shoulder injury, which restricted his training poundages. He does some smith squats and cable rows. There’s nothing as awe-inspiring or intense as Pumping Iron’s training sequences here (in the order they appear in my mind: Ed Corney’s squats, Lou Ferrigno’s military presses, Arnold’s dumbbell flys, etc).
So…was the 1980 Mr Olympia rigged? There’s no question, Arnold wasn’t as good as his previous contest appearances. But in my opinion, he still took down the other guys with his trademark Arnold body parts: big arms, big calves, huge chest. His weak points (such as quads) were his weak points in previous contests, too. It might be true that Arnold at 90% power is better than anyone else from his time period at 100% shape, weak legs and weak shoulders be damned.
So, this is very different to Pumping Iron, and mostly the bad sort of different, but it’s still well worth looking for. This is an important part of old-school bodybuilding, just like the guy who stars in it.