The Film: 3.5/5
Stacy Peralta’s critically-acclaimed 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys recounted in detail through the eyes and voices of those were there a watershed moment in the evolution of skateboarding into a globally popular activity and the birth of extreme sports. He later adapted the doc into a feature screenplay entitled The Lords of Dogtown, and it kicked around Hollywood for a few years before going before the cameras under the direction of former production designer and future Twilight overseer Catherine Hardwicke. Before she signed on to the project, one of the names floated as possible director was David Fincher; he remained onboard as an executive producer, as did his Fight Club producer Art Linson.
Lords was released theatrically in the summer of 2005; audiences that had already seen Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith at least once were getting primed for Batman Begins and Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. The $13 million worth of American ticket sales proved that blockbuster season was no place for a fact-based drama set in the world of skateboarding during the 1970’s – not even with a cameo appearance from Johnny Knoxville as an additional selling point. Thanks to DVD and cable, Hardwicke’s film has garnered enough support from viewers in the mood for something a little different to keep from sinking into complete obscurity in the twelve years since it flopped at the box office.
Played by John Robinson (Elephant), Peralta is one of the three principal characters in this outrageously true story, part of a trio of surfers living in the Dogtown neighborhood of Venice Beach in Los Angeles who skateboard as a means of getting from one place to another. His compadres are Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch) and Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk), and they all defer to the dazed but rarely confused leadership of local surf shop proprietor and fellow wave rider Skip Engblom (Heath Ledger). Skateboarding becomes a new way of life for Stacy and the guys the day that boards start being equipped with urethane wheels that grip and allow their controllers to make hard turns as if they were surfing.
A water drought in L.A. leads to a citywide conservation effort that results in a lot of empty swimming pools that the boys soon turn into makeshift skate parks they use to hone their skills and become pros on the boards. Skip turns them into a team to represent his shop and the local heroes over time morph into national sports superstars. The rapid skyrocket to fame inevitably goes to their heads and the team splits up. Observing quietly from the sidelines are their concerned, struggling parents, like Jay’s mother Philaine (Rebecca De Mornay) and Tony’s father (Julio Oscar Mechoso), while influential figures on the skateboarding scene like the slick entrepreneur Topper Burks (Johnny Knoxville) tirelessly exploit the Dogtown boys for all they’re worth.
The Lords of Dogtown is far, far, FAR from a great movie, but I mostly enjoyed it for the youthful exuberance and determination that Hardwicke injects into what is an otherwise stale collection of one-dimensional and sports/music biopic narrative conventions. The skateboarding sequences, shot up close and often with handheld cameras and edited to put the audience in the action and feel the adrenaline instead of leaving them confused, are the highlights of the film, mini-masterpieces of documentary-style staging and execution for which Hardwicke and her cinematographer Elliot Davis (who also shot her directorial debut Thirteen and would later reteam with her on The Nativity Story and Twilight, not to mention Steven Soderbergh’s classic crime drama Out of Sight and Andrew Dominik’s western masterpiece The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) should be commended. They alone make Lords seeing at least once because those set-pieces capture the devil-may-care attitude and adventurous spirit of the young men piloting those skateboards.
Future filmmaker Chris Gorak’s (Right at Your Door) production designer skillfully recreates the hazy, ramshackle authenticity of the Venice Beach community and makes each set and location achieve an ideal lived-in personality, aided by Davis’ grainy, 70’s-style cinematography. Few performers in Hardwicke’s ensemble stand out, but the late Heath Ledger (channeling late period Val Kilmer, perhaps unintentionally) gets top props for his portrayal of the empathetic Engblom and really shines in the few onscreen moments he is allowed to dominate. Hirsch is good as Adams, likewise Robinson as Peralta and Rasuk as Alva, and together they make a believable team whose eventual split gives Lords of Dogtown what little emotional core it has.
The supporting cast is thick with smaller but no less winning turns from Michael Angarano (Red State), Elden Henson (Daredevil), and Vincent Laresca (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) as the Z-Boys’ compatriots, and the aforementioned De Mornay and Mechoso as their supportive (to a point) parents. Hardwicke also crams in single scene appearances from Sofia Vergara, America Ferrera, Ned Bellamy, Joel McHale, Alexis Arquette, Shea Whigham, the late stand-up comedian Mitch Hedberg, and an uncredited Jeremy Renner. The real Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva show up in cameos that you’ll miss by blinking, as does another skateboarding legend, Tony Hawk, as an astronaut who attempts to skateboard in moon boots with predictably amusing results.
Note: The packaging lists the film’s running as 107 minutes, but it in fact runs 110 minutes, which indicates that this is the unrated extended cut of Lords first released on DVD back in September 2005 and not the shorter theatrical cut which was released with a PG-13 rating.
Dude, Eureka brings The Lords of Dogtown to Region B Blu-ray with a vibrant, filmic 1080p high-definition transfer correctly framed in the film’s proper 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. This is one fantastic presentation, bro, with bold but balanced colors, an authentic and nuanced grain structure, and consistent black levels. The only audio option is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and it’s a damn fine replication of the original sound mix, a wall-to-wall sonic experience with Mark Motherbaugh’s low-key score performing well alongside an endless supply of FM rock classics and dialogue and ambient effects coming through clear and without overlap or disruption. English subtitles have also been provided. Sound cool with you?
Bro, those dudes at Eureka packed a bunch of extra shit on this Blu-ray and it all seems to have been ported over from Sony’s 2005 Region 1 DVD. First, we get a nice introduction from director Hardwicke in which she explains some of the differences between the unrated extended cut and the cut released to theaters with a PG-13 rating. Next, she is joined by actors Hirsch, Robinson, and Rasuk for an “uncensored” audio commentary that plays more like a hangout session with the participants. Man, there’s a very loose and laidback atmosphere on this track and the players offer the occasional nugget of relevant info.
The disc also features a 30-minute promotional documentary, six shorter featurettes, a storyboard-to-screen comparison for several key sequences in the film, deleted scenes (19 minutes), a gag reel (4 minutes), a music video for “Nervous Breakdown” by Rise Against, and a pair of theatrical trailers. A DVD copy is also included, dude.
Dude, the world didn’t need The Lords of Dogtown since Stacy Peralta already made Dogtown and Z-Boys, but it exists and Catherine Hardwicke did an excellent job bringing this buried key moment in modern sports history to celluloid life with an eye for keeping the real-life characters and the Southern California environments that forged them front and center in the narrative and skateboarding sequences that crackle with punky energy and filmmaking ingenuity. A solid effort that fans of period youth dramas should have no problem enjoying. The film and Eureka Entertainment’s excellent Blu-ray/DVD set come recommended, bro.