A fictional story inspired by the documentary Planet B-Boy (with the "B" standing for "Break") and from its same director Benson Lee, Battle of the Year follows a group of American dancers aspiring to compete for the nation in an international dance competition, held this time in Montpellier, France. Dante Blake (Laz Alonso), a champion break-dancer from the 1980s who now runs a big entertainment company, is a bit frustrated that no American dance team has won the Battle for a long time, so he enlists his old partner Jason Blake (Josh Holloway), nicknamed "WB", to coach his dancers. WB has a better idea- put together a "Dream Team" of the best dancers from across the nation. With some help from Dante's assistant Franklyn (Josh Peck), WB rounds up some potentials and keeps them in a vacated juvenile detention facility for several weeks getting them into shape and narrowing them down to the 13 best to compete in France.
Movies about modern dancing are rarely great works of art, but they're often entertaining or guilty pleasures at the very least. The Step Up movie series for example had likeable characters and incredible dancing with an energetic dance music score that had me dancing on my sofa. Stomp the Yard and How She Move on the other hand I felt were rather dull and forgettable, when they certainly didn't have to be. So what's my take on Battle of the Year? Sadly, I have to put it closer to Stomp the Yard than Step Up, although one of my reasons for wanting to see this one is that it was shot in 3D. I was only able to view the 2D Blu-Ray however (a 3D Blu-Ray is available separately, and apparently does not include a 2D presentation), so that element was lost. The other attraction of this movie, the dancing, was a bit uneven presentation-wise. The moves themselves were incredible (at least to me, as I have two left feet myself) with lots of mid-air flips and acrobatics, but a few sequences were a bit hard to follow due to quick cutting, and many dances seemed to end just as soon as they'd begun. If this were a live broadcast I would have been yelling for the director to stay on just one camera at least for more than a few seconds and not keep cutting to others. I get that quick cuts are part of the "language" of these movies, but it shouldn't get in the way of the dancing which attracted most of the viewers in the first place. There are still a couple good dance numbers punctuated with loud, bass-heavy music, but Battle of the Year commits the same sin as Stomp the Yard- setting much of the final dance-off to an orchestral score rather than anything close to what would have actually been used at the real competition! The score would have been good for a movie about a football game or martial arts tournament, but being that this was a dance competition it just didn't fit. (If anyone reading this has been to an actual dance competition and heard orchestral music used, please feel free to correct me!)
As far as the story and acting, it's almost a given that you're going to see some clichés in a movie like this, but Battle of the Year piles them on shamelessly. The Jason Blake character is a big cliché himself- his backstory is that he lost his wife and son in a car accident a few years ago, and is now a bitter alcoholic and has few nice things to say to anyone. We've got one character who starts out unwilling to sit at the same table as a gay dancer, but eventually comes around and defends him in a fight. Dialogue is filled with phrases like "bring it," and much of the movie feels like what the Wayans' Dance Flick spoofed. Plus being a Sony Pictures movie, there's a few product placements for stuff like Sony Tablets and the PS Vita, being among the most shameless product placements I've seen in a while.
The 1.85 2D presentation here is certainly nice-looking, looking close enough to film that I had to double-check to verify it was shot digitally. The color scheme is rather natural and all details are in focus. Watching this in 2D, it wasn't obvious that it had been shot in 3D and thus didn't appear to lose anything from that (aside from a couple shots where dancers shove their fists towards the camera), although I do hope to see the 3D release eventually. Step Up 3D has been among the best of the recent 3D movies, and some of the dance sequences here have potential to look good in 3D although the quick cutting is going to be even more of a distraction that way.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is quite pleasing, with music and ambient sound occupying the surround channels for most of the running time. The music during the dance sequences is quite loud with the volume adjusted to keep the dialogue scenes at a normal level.
A 2-channel descriptive video track is included where a female narrator describes what's happening onscreen including a play-by-play commentary on the dancing, and there is also a French dubbed 5.1 track in DTS-HD Master Audio and Spanish in 5.1 Dolby Digital. Standard English and Spanish subtitles are included, along with English subtitles that mimic the style of traditional closed-captions, describing off-screen sound effects as well as dialogue and shown as white text on a black background.
Three extended dance sequences are included, which allow a little more time and should have been kept this way in the actual movie. "This is Planet B-Boy: Inside the Culture" has the cast and director talking a bit about the evolution of the culture, "The Art of B-Boying: A Guide to Breaking" talks more about the dance moves (and no, watching this won't make you an expert dancer), and "Preparing For Battle: Training and Rehearsals" gives a brief look at the movie's production, including how the final competition was shot at the real Battle of the Year in between dances.
A slightly-dated Blu-Ray promo spot and trailers (all in HD with 5.1 sound) for Insidious Chapter 2, White House Down, After Earth, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, and You Got Served: Beat The World (which looks very similar to Battle of the Year) open the disc and can also be accessed through the menu.
There are good dance movies and not so good ones. Battle of the Year has some great dancing which will make it worth checking out by those who are into that, but the one-dimensional characters don't really work in the movie's favor and make one wonder if this was meant to be a satire or not. This has potential for a fun 3D experience, but viewing the 2D version doesn't show a whole lot left with that element removed.