D3 dances around the real heart of the video game

Have you ever wondered why there has never been a film devoted to the Dance Dance Revolution [DDR] video game? Don’t worry, no one has. But now, the few thousand American teens obsessed with the DDR arcade game have a cool new movie to worship, aptly called Dance Dance Documentary [D3]. If you’re a frequent poker player, then chances are you’re infatuated with an obscure late ’90s movie called Rounders. This is the DDR addict’s version of Rounders.

The film is like a big neon answer to a question nobody’s asked, which is, “How do I find out more about this horribly expensive, but addicting game?” D3 was a joint effort by two recent USC graduates, 23-year-olds Matthew Klekner and Eric Woolery. Their directing is competent and the editing of the 78-minute film is nicely done, but the duo missed a ton of chances to go further into the subculture it exposes.

The point of this film is not to be a cheesy MTV look at a video game. Instead, it turns a group of weird Californian teens into rock stars. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is a refreshing change from most documentaries, and it certainly succeeds in educating its viewers about the game and a few dozen “big name” players near L.A..

Most of the film is split between talking-head style interviews with DDR personalities and clips from tournaments and arcades. The interviews are necessary but probably too self-indulgent for most crowds. Who really wants to listen to some high school kid talk about his passion for a video game?

Although it seems like a movie about DDR would be horribly annoying and unnecessary, D3 is surprisingly enjoyable and light-hearted. But if the filmmakers wanted more credit for their documentary filmmaking, they should have gone a lot deeper into the lives of their subjects.

If this film wanted to be taken seriously, it should have spent more time on things like this. We only meet one parent in the film and his role is basically useless. It would have been beneficial to cut some interview time and look at the players’ home lives and their relationships with parents, friends, and classmates. The film never bothers to follow its subjects outside of the arcade, which proves for a rather shallow movie.

But if the main focus of D3 was meant to be the game and not the players, then the film succeeds. The game is basically a fixture in most American arcades, even though it’s fairly young with only a five-year history in the U.S.

Basically, the console has a screen and a platform with four boxes on it. Players watch the screen and listen to one of hundreds of dance songs while they jump on the arrowed boxes in a specific order and at a certain speed. The game takes speed and accuracy into consideration before coming up with a final score for each game.

The documentary does a great job highlighting the fun and competitive nature of the game. The final showdown between two great players at a tournament is surprisingly intense and riveting. But the real story in this film lies in the players’ lives and personalities. Their exterior personas come through, but watching D3 is like driving by a really cool-looking house and never getting to see inside.