In August I read and reviewed Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis, a nonfiction, memoirish book about the world of competitive Scrabble. I loved the book, so when I heard there was a documentary about a similar topic, I started to look for it. I came across it at the video store yesterday and jumped at the chance to see some of the most interesting Scrabble players in the flesh, so to speak.
Word Wars, a 2004 documentary directed by Eric Chaikin and Julian Petrillo, follows four of the top Scrabble players as they prepare for the 2002 National Scrabble Championship. The four players — Joe Edley, Matt Graham, Marlon Hill, and G.I. Joel Sherman — are prominent characters in Word Freak, and it was fun to see them on screen.
I have to say, I liked Word Freak better than Word Wars, but that’s not because there is anything wrong with the film. In fact, I was really impressed with how well the documentary touched on the major controversies and quirks of the competitive Scrabble universe.
I watched the movie with a friend who hadn’t read the book, and he never seemed confused with what was going on. I, however, spent the whole movie wanting to fill him in on the other background I knew from reading the book that the filmmakers had to leave out. Word Wars (the film) ends up being more about the characters who play Scrabble; Word Freak (the book) is about the game of Scrabble, incorporating history, controversy, and characters together.