Friday, December 07, 2012

DVD Review: Murderball

Murderball is an older documentary, I almost labeled this with "classics" but then decided it wasn't quite that old. It came out in 2005, and I have been meaning to watch it every since it was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards.

One thing about watching older documentaries is that there is no better way to really understand how far and how fast the technology has changed. Murderball is only seven years old, but it has that very distinctive video feel of the time. Since I've been making a documentary, I know what micro-budget docs are filming with these days and how they look, and we've definitely moved on to a slicker look.

But at the end of the day, that grainy look is part of what helps Murderball work. It's definitely a film that holds up years later because the topic is more or less timeless. It's an easy film to sum up: it's a film about the stars of wheelchair rugby and the rivalry between the US and Canadian teams.

It has all the hallmarks of a good sports film, fiction or non. The rivalry has a long history, there's a coach with a history of playing on the U.S. team who left to coach Canada after he didn't make it on the team one year. You've got the expected personalities, and even a "new kid" who is interested in the sport and wants to play. There are even groupies.

From the look of things, the filmmakers were probably filming for a little over a year on the project. So many things happen over that span, and that helps it to follow more narrative ideas as the "characters" grow and change. They reconcile with people from their past, one faces a health crisis, another deals with recovering from the accident that paralyzed him and learns about the sport for the first time.

The trick that makes this all work is that they must have had an amazing editor. The film could have been very scattered, or even very boring. But they don't spend a lot of time on the things that bog down a typical sports documentary and instead focus on the actual people, which is the part everybody cares about anyway. You get the gist of the rules, you learn a bit about the chairs themselves. But anything that you could easily learn with an internet search is left to the wayside unless it's needed to understand the people.

Overall, it was an excellent film and I think any sports fans would enjoy it. Those who like documentary will like it as well, and I think the pace and storytelling skills are good enough that even those who don't like documentaries as much should give it a try.