Creative Ape // 2006 // 82 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 13th, 2010
A documentary about professional air hockey...really.
When I was a kid, one of my friends had an air hockey table at his house. I always assumed this meant his family was rich, because after all, only rich people could afford air hockey tables. I always liked the idea of playing air hockey better than actually playing it, as the experience would usually result in sore knuckles (and occasionally a bump on my forehead) courtesy of my entirely-too-aggressive friend. Still, the unique nature of the game continued to persuade me to keep playing it each time I would come over -- I was enamored by the idea of all these little pores keeping the table alive.
As with just about any sport or entertainment activity, there are individuals across the country who take air hockey very seriously. Way of the Puck explores the lives and motivations of such individuals. One of these people is Mark Robbins, a man who developed an obsession with air hockey when the game first appeared in the early 1970s. For a fleeting period of time, air hockey (like foosball tables and pinball machines) was all the rage, but these physical games started to die out in 1978 when people began turning their attention to arcade games. Most were content to move on and enjoy the next new thing, but Robbins refused to let his beloved sport die (even though the only manufacturer of air hockey tables in the country had announced they would stop production on the tables). He traveled the country buying every air hockey table he could get his hands on, at least ensuring that he and his friends would be able to continue playing for the rest of their lives. Fortunately, Robbins was able to persuade another company to continue developing and producing tables, reviving the sport on a small scale.
Men from a wide variety of backgrounds participate in the air hockey tournaments, but there are certainly common elements: most are single, extremely intense and obsessive, more interested in their beloved sport than any other element of their lives. "Whatever happens, air hockey still loves you," one man says sentimentally. "I've never been married," he then declares. "Well, there's the table. But I've never been married to a woman." Andy Yevish is married, but his wife doesn't seem particularly thrilled with the sport. She mostly complains about how dull the tournaments are and how little she likes the people who participate in them.
Though the sport is intensely competitive, there's something of an unspoken bond between the players: they're social misfits in love with something that most people understand. "My father never could never accept that I wasn't a normal kid," Mark says sadly. Despite the rage we witness during the tournaments, the men feel safe in this environment because they know they're around other people that accept them for who they are. Most are quite good at elaborating on their lives and feelings, particularly the philosopher Dr. Lou Marinoff.
The film also explores the turbulent history of air hockey, from its NASA-inspired creation to its brief meteoric rise in popularity to its sudden, sharp decline to its uncertain current state. It's an intriguing look at something most of us are familiar with but that we don't really think about much anymore; a unique game that has been fighting to survive for decades now. Good as this stuff is, it's the affecting look at the men who truly love the sport that makes Way of the Puck worth a look.
The DVD transfer is solid, boasting strong detail throughout. Some of the archival footage is pretty rough, but that's par for the course in most documentaries. The pacing is solid and the production is slick and polished throughout, giving the film a surprisingly professional vibe despite its obvious limitations. Audio is fine, though some of the audio during the interview sequences could be a bit stronger. Extras include a commentary with Mark Robbins and director Eric D. Anderson, some deleted scenes and a trailer.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Creative Ape
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site