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Quantum Hoops (documentary)
By Elliot V. Kotek
Moving Pictures Magazine
February 6, 2008

The power of sporting competition as the subject of celluloid endeavors has been well-represented over the years. And basketball, conveniently contained within a court, naturally lends itself to cinema. While narrative features like That Championship Season, White Men Can't Jump, Hoosiers, Basketball Diaries, Space Jam, Glory Road and even the Beavers of Teen Wolf have parlayed the buzzer beater to the big screen (for a more complete list, check out www.sandlotshrink.com/moviebkb.htm), documentary filmmakers have also made names for themselves exploring the game in The American Game, Something to Cheer About, Glory in Black and White, Hoop Dreams and The Heart of the Game (reviewed HERE).

Faced with the uneasy task of cultivating empathy in presenting the Caltech Beavers as a struggling team despite the fact the players are over-achievers who do not rely on the game for their successes, Rick Greenwald has woven a film that sits alongside the very best in the genre's basket. That the film is also a huge amount of fun is no mean feat for a documentary generally, but Greenwald's pic truly honors the Arthur Ashe remark quoted by narrator, David Duchovny, in the opening frames: "Success is a journey, not a destination."

The documentary follows the Beavers of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) - a school that, despite a rich history, a once-winning team (mostly in the 1950s), 31 Nobel Prize-winners and alumni of the ilk of Linus Pauling, Richard Feynman, the Richter scale's original Richter and It's a Wonderful Life director Frank Capra, hasn't won a conference basketball game in twenty-one years. However, after years of flailing, the Beavers are looking better - not good, just better - and Greenwald catches them at a time when they're being only mildly beaten as opposed to their previous sound humiliations, when hope has replaced hopelessness, and, as Coach Roy Dow so eloquently puts it, it's not impossible that they'd win, only improbable.

Greenwald's mastery of this format is evidenced by not only his mixing of Ken Burns-type techniques, but also his story-telling confidence. Not only does Greenwald tell his tale in the present, featuring the current crop of players both on and off the court, but he presents a comprehensive and compelling backstory. The helmer takes into account the surroundings - the school, its traditions, its policies and its colorful academic and sporting history - and also puts the key seasons into the context of what was happening contemporaneously on the world stage. Greenwald really relates the discipline of these players to both their academic and sporting lives, and draws poignant parallels between the search for a scientific breakthrough and the repetition and resolve that is both inherent and important to a win.

You do not have to be a basketball fan to fall in love with this movie, and fans of Einstein, Stephen Hawking and the San Antonio Spurs are assured equal enjoyment. The movie allows you to root for an underdog who's simultaneously somehow both a nerd and a jock. And it's no leap to suggest that, thanks to Quantum Hoops, the Caltech Beavers may well have a full legion of fans next season.

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