Planet B-Boy (Elephant Eye Films, Unrated)

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Planet B-Boy mixes liberal amounts of dance footage with interviews with the top teams and their families, the European founders of the event, and several B-Boy legends.

 

The new documentary Planet B-Boy examines hip-hop culture against the backdrop of the 2005 break dancing world championships known as Battle of the Year. The German competition collects B-Boys, break dance artists, from all over the world to compete for the world’s top honor. Every year the small town of Braunschweig becomes the hip-hop Mecca as competitors, judges, and observers descend from all corners of the globe to celebrate the dance and culture.

Planet B-Boy mixes liberal amounts of dance footage with interviews with the top teams and their families, the European founders of the event, and several B-Boy legends. A short opening focuses on the roots of break dancing and the facets of hip-hop culture. After this slight exposition the film follows several top teams as they prepare for the big event.

The documentary quickly falls into a clichéd formula. As always the competitors are presented as struggling for more than a trophy; they are compelled to dance. Each team works through their inner demons in their art. There are enough Brent Musberger stories to go around. One dancer wants to earn the respect of his father, another dances to commune with his deceased father, one incredibly young white participant uses the dance to rebel against his mother’s racism. As the competition grows the movie plays out like an episode of American Idol with less immediacy. Eventually a winner is crowned and everyone learns something about themselves and others in the process.

Planet B-Boy does many things well. It does a great job of presenting hip-hop as a universal language, crossing cultural and national lines. The competitors do bond over their mutual love of the art, and there are greater lessons about humanity. The production values are high throughout. Several of the pre-competition dance sequences highlighting performers in their natural environment are spectacularly inspired.

But, where the film fails is by trying to follow too many story lines. Covering so many teams all over the world keeps all of the personalities and relationships superficial. There is little examination of the team dynamics and the artistic process. By focusing on the international aspect of the occasion no single team is championed and the drama suffers. 

Planet B-Boy is filled with dancing and fans of breaking will enjoy the spectacle, but there is little else for the casual observer. | Bobby Kirk

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