'Lords of Dogtown' [Blu-ray]
(Heath Ledger, Emile Hirsch, Victor Rasuk, John Robinson, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (2005) 2018 / Mill Creek Entertainment)
Overview: 'Lords of Dogtown' tells the radical true story of three teenagers from California who took skateboarding to the extreme and changed the sports world forever. Stacy Peralta (John Robinson), Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk) and Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild) are the Z-Boys, a bunch of nobodies until they join board designer Skip Engblom (Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight) to create a new style of skateboarding that becomes a worldwide phenomenon. But when their hobby becomes a business, the success shreds their friendship.
Blu-ray Verdict: The Z-Boys were a group of Venice Beach teenagers who, in the 1970's, pioneered a whole new style of skateboarding that is still popular today and which earned the boys status as instant international celebrities (at least within the tightly circumscribed world of skating).
In 2001, one of the original members of the group, Steve Peralta, wrote and directed a documentary on the boys entitled "Dogtown and Z-Boys," which featured interviews with many of the original members of the group. Then, in 2005, a "fictionalized" version of the story came along, 'Lords of Dogtown,' also written by Peralta, but this time directed by Catherine Hardwicke.
It's understandable that in her approach to the material Hardwicke would want to preserve as much as possible the roughhewn, documentary flavor of the original. Thus, virtually the entire movie has been shot on grainy film stock using a hand-held camera, which creates a sense of immediacy and spontaneity, and nicely approximates the look of the time period in which the story is set.
The best scenes involve the boys performing harrowing, death-defying stunts, as they glide through and around pedestrians and vehicles along the traffic-clogged streets of their Southern California neighborhood.
However, this impressionistic style also means that the narrative is often diffuse and unfocused, making it hard for us to distinguish one character from another and to know just who we should be concentrating on at any given moment.
The ostensible protagonist seems to be Peralta himself, although it is roughly 45 minutes into the film's running time before even that simple fact becomes apparent. However, about halfway through the film, the dramatic elements finally begin to come together, we get to know some of the boys as individuals, and the movie ends on a genuinely touching note.
In the rare moments when the camera actually manages to settle down and an individual scene is allowed to play itself out, we begin to sense that some of the boys playing the skaters may actually have some real talent as actors (we can certainly see that they are damn fine skaters), and a few of them I suspect we will be hearing from again in the not too distant future.
In a non-skating role, Heath Ledger plays a sort of mentor to the boys and the owner of the surf shop which served as the launching pad for the movement. Unfortunately, with his half-hearted attempt at mastering a slacker/stoner persona and accent, Ledger seems to be merely marking time in this film, counting down to that moment when he would stun the world with his soul-shattering performance in 'Brokeback Mountain.
Who could have foretold from his work here that he had THAT up his sleeve? In closing, and here on this brand new Blu-ray release of it via Mill Creek Entertainment, 'Lords of Dogtown' is moderately informative to those who know next to nothing about the history of skateboarding, but I imagine it is the true aficionado of the sport who will get the most enjoyment out of the movie. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.