By Barbara DeGrande
Director Eric D. Anderson has documented a fast-paced, quirky sport; the unique individuals who are passionate about the sport; and its questionable future.
Eric D. Anderson, himself a one-time nationally rated air hockey player, puts his experience behind the camera to use in documenting the intense, little-lauded sport of air hockey in this, his first feature film. Like the sport itself, Anderson’s film is intense and offbeat, using antique stills and videos interspersed with stills and videos of the players in their younger days, some history of the sport including its NASA origins, and scenes of video arcades filled with aging mid-lifers pursuing their youthful dreams of success in a sport of their passion.
As arcades themselves begin disappearing, losing out to the burgeoning of computer and video games, these anachronistic advocates of a dying sport look at what is possible for the future of air hockey. Anderson’s film is always respectful of the sincerity of the air hockey advocates and the sport itself, yet spares none of the troubling aspects of the sport and its future.
Those who are invested in air hockey and its tournaments are a unique group of people, many with nicknames like The Wolf, The Juggernaut, and Egyptian Magician. There appears to be a small group of dedicated international players that love something of the incredibly quick reaction time of the sport, estimated at 1/600th of a second. Many have to buck negativity from spouses; others have full support and encouragement. One man reflects of the totality of his life against the fleeting victories of the sport he loves, trying to convince himself he has the better of the deal with his family behind him. Is air hockey a child’s game or a world-class sport?
Who is to decide? There are men in the inner circle of air hockey advocates that have spent their life promoting the sport, including guru Mark Robbins, who holds much of the history of the sport. When one young enthusiast is tossed aside by his girlfriend, he is told, “Air hockey still loves you.” For some, the diversion is a welcome relief from the difficulties of everyday life. There is no misery on the table: “Praise the table!” is the refrain. The profiles of the personalities involved in the sport is part of the delicious bits of this film that need to be savored.
One air hockey tournament offers a $14,000 prize, an all-time high for the sport. As men are seen taping their fingers for the next tournament, they reflect on their attitude towards the game. Two Venezuelans attend a tournament and are later discovered to have been using an upside down kitchen table to learn to play the game. Suddenly, the minority that is the air hockey corps reels from learning they are actually the privileged group in comparison with these enthusiasts.
The film flies us from their NASA origins to gaming in Japan to an air hockey expo on The Tennis Channel. One enthusiast discusses the need for a professional promoter to save the game; another is seen traveling from one tournament to another, investing everything in keeping the dream alive — even leasing the molds from a former distributor that has long since quit making pucks for the game. Perhaps Anderson’s film will do what others have failed to do and help regenerate interest and profitabililty in this short-lived sport. In any case, it is a fast-paced look at a piece of the culture of Americana grown global. Worth a look.