BUY IT AT AMAZON: CLICK HERE
STUDIO: Creative Ape
MSRP: $19.95
RATED:
Unrated
RUNNING TIME: 81 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Deleted scenes
  • Audio Commentary by Eric Anderson and Mark Robbins
  • Theatrical Trailer







Way
of the Puck
touts itself as the first and only feature-length
documentary about professional air hockey, a sport so marginalized
that there are only about 100 die-hard players, and 1,000 casual
players in the United States. Director Eric Anderson has chosen to
show us the lives of some of the major names in the sport: two family
guys–a caricaturist and a psychologist, an older man who insists on
manufacturing the tables and pucks in spite of the impending death of
the sport, and an entrepreneur who believes that he can turn the
sport into a money-making machine with the right marketing and
promotion.





Many players document every move of every opponent of every championship game.


The Gist:
The
focus of the film rests upon equal portions of the history of the
sport, preparation for the championships, and the personal lives and
histories of the individuals profiled. It’s a grown-up version of
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, which relies almost entirely
on the rivalry between the two most legendary players to tell the
story of the game. Way of the Puck covers the short-lived glory years
of the sport– from its introduction to the American public in 1973,
to 1978 when video arcade games took over the scene, and its gradual
and reluctant decline.




A goddamn pucking manufacturer shows us his collection.


Anderson
has a wonderful way of braiding the past with the present by
following the longstanding relationships and rivalries between the
players as well as helping us to see that some of these players have given their lives to this sport. One player in particular, the
wandering man who has hoarded pucks and tables in a warehouse and has
finally found a way to continue to build the tables, has been with
the sport since its inception. The history of the sport so closely
follows his personal history that it is difficult to know where one
begins and another ends. He’s the extreme case in this film, and if
extreme cases are documentary staples, then this guy is it. “Praise
the table!” he says.





Shirts. Armbands. Giant spectacles. Short shorts. You will have your fill.


Even
though the subject matter is neither political nor divisive, I still
came away from the film appreciating its unbiased nature. You never
for a minute feel as though the subjects are being made fun of. The
joke is not on them. Sure, some of these guys offer the camera a few
moments that make us laugh at them, but those moments seem
like true gifts of honesty–not carefully edited together to make the
person sound stupid or off kilter. When a few of the profiled players
decide that they have shifted focus from the sport to their families,
that part of their lives is treated with the same validity and
attention as a scene that shows an extreme passion for the sport. One
scene in particular, which you see a great deal of in the trailer for
the film shows contenders strapping on arm bands and knee pads and
stretching out before a competition as if they were about to play a
full contact sport. That would be an extreme, and Way of the
Puck
wouldn’t fail to deliver those moments either.





The guru. The one that has given his life to the table.


Instead
of creating a freak show, Anderson does a very good job of giving an
extremely small and marginalized sub culture a sociological context.
Family and family history are important. The marketing and business
development of the sport are important. Even the geographic nature of
the sport is. We follow a man on a long journey to pick up a couple
of tables before they are thrown out. The parallel history of other
arcade sports was touched on as well. By his multi-layered treatment
of the subject, the story he tells becomes relevant and keeps it from
being a story of isolation and marginalization. That being said, it
doesn’t lapse into sympathy for the air-hockey enthusiasts either.
You get your ridiculousness and you get your respect.



The ideal table-hockey physique.


As
for the pace, I never felt bombarded with facts and figures and
overly dramatized moments. If there was drama there, it was captured.
If there were moments of humanity with tears and disappointment, they
were captured. The fact that the wives were either bored or
unimpressed? It’s in there too. Anderson tells a great story. And he
continually points one back to the history, and forward to the
unpromising future of the sport, allowing sport itself taking on a
humanity and lifetime of its own that is worth telling.

Graphics
are used sparingly and when necessary. Transitions are sometimes
silent, punctuating the story better than music can. This isn’t a
documentary that tries to be something else by dressing it artfully.
And although the filmmaking and editing aren’t lazy, the medium is
never the subject. The result is a well-told story that is enjoyable
to watch, whether you are one of the 1,000 American enthusiasts of
the sport or not.




Camaraderie. Friendship. Kick-assness. Go USA. Pound those motherfuckers. Hug it out.


The Extras:

What
you get are deleted scenes, the original trailer, and commentary by
director Eric Anderson and air-hockey guru Mark Robbins who is
featured prominently in the film. This isn’t a robust package full of
bells and whistles, but they don’t bullshit you with what they do
offer.

The
trailer included on the bonus material is worth a watch and isn’t far
off from the vibe of the entire film. You can see it HERE.




THIS is the expert. THIS guy.


As
far as commentary tracks in general go, I’ve had more bad experiences
than good and often feel that my time is wasted. This one is an
exception. It makes for an entertaining second watch and packs a lot
of interesting facts, anecdotes, additional history of the sport, and
isn’t full of “ums” and inside jokes. You get a glimpse
into the beginning of this project—what was purposeful, what they
were unprepared for, what was accidental… what moments they did or
didn’t expect, and what troubles they ran into while making it,
rounding it out into a commentary about the production as well as the
film itself. Anderson and Mark Robbins work extremely well together
resulting in a commentary that feels like a natural volley back and
forth of constant added value from both perspectives. Overall, I was
pleasantly surprised.




Not pictured: beardhelmet.

I
would absolutely recommend this film if you like documentaries. This
is a great example. For entertainment value alone, whether you are
drawn to documentaries or not, this one is a safe bet and feels fun.
If you are one of the 100 people that play this sport, then you don’t
need me to tell you to see this. You are already in it.


9.5 out of 10



For more information about this film, visit the official website HERE.