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LORDS OF DOGTOWN
Unrated Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Emile Hirsch, Victor Rasuk, John Robinson, Michael Angarano, Nikki Reed, Heath Ledger, Rebecca De Mornay, Johnny Knoxville
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Sony Home Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 110 Minutes
Release Date: September 27, 2005

“SURF IT LIKE A WAVE, MAN!”

Film ***

In the mid 70s, three young boys were about to revolutionize the world of competitive sporting in a way never before seen. Jay Adams, Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva, better known to the masses as The Zephyr Boys, ignited a nationwide phenomenon with their innovative skateboarding stunts. Lords of Dogtown is an account of the boys’ rise to the top.

Peralta himself went onto become a filmmaker, and put his own life on film in the highly acclaimed 2001documentary, Dogtown and Z-Boys. Now Peralta has written a fictionalized version of the events that he, Adams and Alva experienced as the three became renowned as the pioneers of professional skateboarding. I never saw the documentary, but I can certainly say that this movie is exceptionally good to the point that I’m now eager to check it out.

The film, directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen), has a terrific sense of its time and place. The story begins in 1975, where Adams (Emile Hirsch) and Alva (Victor Rasuk) are shaped and molded into perfected skateboarders by Skip Engblom (Heath Ledger), the stoned owner of the Zephyr surf shop. He eventually becomes the boys’ sole sponsor, providing the boys with the first ever type of skating wheels that grip and add traction.

At first, Peralta (John Robinson) isn’t completely part of the Zephyr team, as his surfing abilities leave a sour impression on Skip in the opening scene. However, his unique skating techniques do catch their eye. Before long, Peralta joins the Zephyr team, and the Z-boys are soon winning competition after competition in the Venice Beach area.

The boys don’t just showcase their abilities in front of the crowds. Because of a drought resulting in many empty swimming pools, they come up with a technique that would eventually end up as traditional ramp skating. This innovation didn’t come without repercussions, as the first attempts on the swimming pool result in bruising wipeouts.

But once the Z-boys hit the fame market within the California circuit, the lure of money and fame threaten to separate them. Sleazy promoter Topper Burks (Johnny Knoxville) grabs hold of Tony, who seems consumed by the thought of being on top of the skateboarding world. Stacy remains a Z-boy, while Jay, who only got into professional skating to help his mother out with rent, seems to venture out of the professional circuit entirely.

There are three things that make Lords of Dogtown an enthralling piece of cinema. The first is director Hardwicke’s dead-on vision of California in the 1970s. This is perhaps the first movie since Boogie Nights to capture the all around feel of what times were like in that period. The parties, the surfing, the skating and the music are all captured wonderfully.

The second element is the blazin’ great soundtrack. Like Boogie Nights and Dazed and Confused before it, this movie is filled, scene after scene, with classic 70s tracks. It opens with a live recording of Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” and the play list just gets better with every scene. Any movie that’s got Nazareth’s “Hair of the Dog” and Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin” has to be given credit alone for including those two rockin’ tracks.

The third element is an astonishing performance by a completely unrecognizable Heath Ledger. With a set of fake teeth, a pure stoner hair do and a pair of sunglasses on his face in nearly every scene, Aussie Ledger amazingly disappears into the role of Skip. At first, I seriously thought I was watching Val Kilmer doing a riff on his own Jim Morrison performance, but once I realized it was Ledger, I found it nothing short of riveting.

Lords of Dogtown is an engaging chronicle of a time when extreme sports was officially born by three young pioneers, each of whom is still heavily engaged in the sport to this day. If you possess any love for the sport whatsoever, you should not hesitate in checking this movie out.

BONUS TRIVIA: Pro skater Tony Hawk has a very funny cameo as an astronaut who poses for a picture with one of the Z-boys.

Video ****

Sony’s anamorphic handling of this film is top notch and most outstanding. Catherine Hardwicke has given the film a razor sharp vision of California in the late 70s, and that, mixed with the energetic cinematography by Elliot Davis, who also shot Hardwicke’s Thirteen, blend to make one visually stunning presentation, which consist of great detail, terrific coloring and flesh tones, with no detectable image flaws whatsoever.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix is quite effective for this sports drama. The great soundtrack is the pure highpoint of the presentation, as each of the tracks explode beautifully through the speakers. The opening surfing scene will blow you out of your seat, and the skateboarding sequences, especially the competitive ones in front of crowds, also sound fantastic. This is one sound mix that really delivered more than I expected.

Features ****

Sony has loaded this Unrated Extended Cut release of the movie tremendously well. The theatrical version is available separately, but this is the one you’ll want to seek out because of some exclusive bonuses. Among the exclusive extras, there’s 4 minutes of New Footage, a Gag Reel, 2 commentary tracks, one with the Director and Cast Commentary, the second with the Original Z-Boys, a featurette titled “Dogged on Dogtown”, Alternate $#%@! (Scenes), and a Music Video for "Nervous Breakdown" by Rise Against.

Additional features include the featurettes, “Making of Lords Of Dogtown", “Bails and Spills Featurette”, “Extended Pool Session” and “Of Course We Want A Skateboarding Bulldog!”. Lastly, there are Deleted and Extended Scenes, The Ocean Washes My Hair and Make-up Test, The Making of Pacific Ocean Park, Dogtown Cameo Featurettes, Storyboard Comparisons and Bonus Previews.

Summary:

Lords of Dogtown is a most entertaining period sports drama. The performances, the music and the atmosphere blend together to make a fascinating account of The Zephyr Boys, the original innovators of professional skateboarding. This Unrated Extended Cut is a terrifically packaged release from Sony!

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