Lords of Dogtown Review

Lords of Dogtown finds Stacy Peralta continue his current phase of self-mythologizing. Returning to the subject of his fine 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, and therefore his own life, this time around it gets the fictional treatment perhaps with the aim of attracting a wider audience. As such we once again get the story of how Peralta and his buddies (primarily Jay Adams and Tony Alva) revolutionised skateboarding with a more aggressive, more physical approach, but here it’s augmented by a more human angle. As well as the feats of athleticism we also find time for personal rivalries and family crises.

In this respect Catherine Hardwicke’s instalment as director would appear to have been the right move. Having previously helmed the coruscating teen movie Thirteen, she makes for an appropriate choice; someone who’s able to retain the naturalism as well as the gritty edge. Indeed, for all the wall-to-wall familiar accompaniment from the likes of Bowie, Hendrix and Black Sabbath, Lords of Dogtown is never able to descend into your standard glossy exercise in nostalgia. It may not quite plumb the same nihilistic depths of the best proto-punk movies (Dennis Hopper’s Out of the Blue, say), but Hardwicke’s recreation of the wasteland that was mid-seventies Venice Beach utterly convinces.

The same is also true of the leading performers. Using relative unknowns (though teen movie aficionados may recognise the odd face) Lords of Dogtown is able to maintain its more naturalistic qualities. They’re low-key, youthful to the right degree, but also in possession of the charisma which belies their otherwise ordinary characters. Moreover, they seem all the more impressive when contrasted with their older colleagues. Only William Mapother really convinces, but then he’s made a career out of similarly underwritten TV appearances and minor roles. Otherwise we’re faced with Heath Ledger coming across as far too affected (it’s the kind of oddball performance than only someone such as a younger Mickey O’Rourke or younger Nicholas Cage might be able to pull off), whilst Rebecca DeMornay can only do the barest with his one note alcoholic single mom.

The blame for this must lie in Peralta’s screenplay. Despite living through all of this, the human elements are simply too flimsy to convince. Time and again we find these elements either resolved with amazing simplicity or merely ditched when something more interesting comes along. Even more damaging is the fact that the female characters – as well as DeMornay there are the boys’ various girlfriends plus a love triangle which runs through the narrative – are especially lightweight in spite of Hardwicke’s presence. Meanwhile, the fact that her lead and co-writer from Thirteen Nikki Reid occupies one of the key roles only serves to enhance this further.

The other problem is that Peralta seems uneasy in making the shift from documentary to narrative cinema. Whereas the former allows for progressions and developments to be dealt with relatively easily (voice-over narration, say), to do so in a similar manner here only comes across as unnecessarily clunky. Indeed, when faced with dialogue such as “I think we should start a skateboard team” or “Hey, there’s money in this, man!” it only serves to undo much of Hardwicke’s efforts. Moreover, it also questions why we couldn’t simply have made do with Peralta’s original doc. Dogtown and Z-Boys had a great energy, some fine footage and input from all the players which made it really come to life. Quite frankly, the better film has already been made.

The Disc

Whatever my misgivings on the film itself, there can be no complaints over Sony’s handling of the disc. The presentation is utterly superb, retaining the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio (anamorphically enhanced of course) and coping ably with the grainy, textured look. The colours are sufficiently bright when they need be, the clarity and sharpness never once falters and only the intermittent appearance of edge enhancement lets thing down. Otherwise, there’s much to be impressed by and the same is true of the soundtrack. Here we get the original DD5.1 mix and once which handles both the dialogue and the music with continual ease. Certainly, there are no discernible problems to speak of whilst English hard of hearing subtitles are also an option (amongst numerous others of course). Note also that we are getting a longer cut of the film than appeared in the cinemas, hence the rating switching from 12A to 15. As Hardwicke notes in a brief introduction this add various “kinda wild” footage – there are additional swear words and antics, plus a whole new scene.

As for the extras, Lords of Dogtown comes packed with additional features though some deserve their inclusion more than others. The major disappointment is the commentary, one which finds Hardwicke teaming up with three of her leads. Though chatty and relaxed, it also finds the quartet spending too much of their time on uninteresting subjects. Time again we here “this scene is cool” or “that was funny”, but without anything to back it up – after a while you get the impression that you’re eavesdropping on their conversation rather than listening to something which has been recorded for an audience.

Thankfully, the ‘making of’ featurette takes us right through the film’s production. We begin with a potted history of the Z-Boys before moving onto the actors’ surfing and skating boot camps, discussions of the film’s authenticity and demonstrations of how the various skate scenes were captured. Bolstering this up we also have conversations with the major players and real-life characters, all of which amounts to a comprehensive, but swift little documentary.

Elsewhere the disc offers up a host of other featurettes, though these are considerably more lightweight. Averaging a minute in length these focus on the more irreverent aspects of filming, such as the skateboarding dog or the various tumbles which occurred. In a similar vein we also have four minutes worth of outtakes and goof ups, a brief piece on the cameo appearances made by Peralta, Alva and Tony Hawk, and a music video by Rise Again consisting mostly of footage from the film.

The only other piece of note is the collection of deleted and alternative scenes. It’s easy to understand why the trims were made as these additions concentrate more on atmosphere and character padding than they do the plot, but then this only makes them more interesting. Certainly, they wouldn’t make a great deal of difference had they been reinstated, but they’re worth a look nonetheless.

Also present on the disc are a series of storyboard comparisons, plus cross-promotional trailers for other Sony releases.

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Last updated: 14/07/2018 08:39:33

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