Judge Gordon Sullivan still has childhood traumas.
Our review of Skateland, published October 2nd, 2011, is also available.
It was a time when life was easy…in a place they thought would never change.
The poet W. H. Auden once said, "The so-called traumatic experience is not an accident, but the opportunity for which the child has been patiently waiting. Had it not occurred, it would have found another—in order that its life come a serious matter." Depending on how loosely we translate "traumatic experience," this statement could apply to everyone. For some that trauma might include death or other serious loss, while for others the shock of a first job out of college can be sufficiently traumatic. In any case, there is a precipitating event for the transition from adolescence to adulthood. This is significant because so many teen movies (at least on the dramatic side) take a look at these moments that lead to adulthood. It's becoming—if it wasn't already—a self-conscious marker of teen-oriented drama. In that context, Skateland mirrors the turmoil of its young protagonist with real-world changes. Although it works on paper, the actual effect of the film is a bit of a letdown.
It's small-town America in the early 1980s, and Ritchie (Shiloh Fernandez, Red) is a young man content to skip college in favor of working at the local skating rink. He appears to have it all—good friends, a good job, and a happy family. However, when he learns that that rink is closing, his parents are divorcing, and he has feelings for one of his friends, his life begins to get out of control.
Chances are, if you're reading this, you either have gone or are going through the kind of life transitions depicted in Skateland. That's both a boon—we can all relate because we've been there—but also a danger; we've all been there, so the film has to do something special to keep our attention. Most successful films about the teenage experience go one of two ways. Some rely on fantasy (think Buffy The Vampire Slayer and its numerous metaphoric stories where monsters replace the horrors teens usually go through), but just as often they rely on evoking a specific time and place, focusing on a group of tight, well-drawn characters. Think American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused.
It's obvious from its teenage characters and 1980s setting that Skateland is trying to fit into the latter category. It's an admirable aim, but the film doesn't have the chops to play in the big leagues. The first problem is the focus on a single character. Ritchie is likeable enough, but it's so easy with a character of his type to move from sympathy to boredom with his plight. Not that his situation isn't bad for him, but that we've seen it before, so often, that the impact has been blunted. That's where having a large cast helps. In Dazed and Confused, we're never allowed to feel sorry for the conflicted "Pink" Flloyd because the rest of the cast keeps our attention on other things. Not so much with Skateland. Sure, there are other characters, but Ritchie takes center stage. Consequently, the other characters don't feel nearly as complete, making it harder to connect with them when Ritchie's story gets a bit much.
To be fair to the film, it's fairly ambitious (which is appreciated in an independent drama like this), and it's well-acted. Shiloh Fernandez has to carry much of the movie, and he's up to the task. The rest of the cast—despite their seemingly underwritten parts—are convincing in their roles as friend, love interest, or distant adult. With the right script this cast could have made a classic coming-of-age drama.
Despite the problems with the film, Skateland makes an impressive Blu-ray debut. The 2.35:1 AVC encoded transfer is superb for a film of this budget. Detail is strong throughout, and colors have a warmth that perfectly matches the film's end-of-summer vibe of the film. Black levels are consistent throughout the picture, though shadows do get a bit noisy during some of the film's darker scenes. It's not quite a reference quality disc, but this is the level that lower-budget features should aspire to. The DTS-HD surround track is equally impressive. This isn't a massively busy mix or anything, but there is some directionality in a few scenes, and most importantly dialogue is clean and clear throughout the film. The extras are limited to 34 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes. There's not much to say about them other than there are a few extra moments that don't add that much to either the characters or the plot.
Skateland is an okay, though not great, coming-of-age story. It wins points for ambition in its early 1980s setting and a strong cast, but loses points for having very little new to say. The strong audiovisual presentation makes this one an easy recommendation for rental, but the lack of extras and the so-so story make it hard to recommend for purchase.
Skateland may need to grow up, but it's not guilty.
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