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Case Number 15660

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The Skulls Trilogy

The Skulls
2000 // 107 Minutes // Rated PG-13
The Skulls II
2002 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
The Skulls III
2003 // 103 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Released by Universal
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // February 10th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Gordon Sullivan once joined a secret society. He dropped out because he couldn't find their meetings.

Editor's Note

Our review of The Skulls, published October 24th, 2000, is also available.

The Charge

"A Skull above any other."

Opening Statement

"Every year at certain Ivy League colleges, an elite group of students is chosen to join Secret Societies. Unlike fraternities, these Societies conceal their actions as they mold the leaders of the future. At least 4 U.S. Presidents are known to have been members. The most powerful society has always been…The Skulls."

Facts of the Case

The Skulls Trilogy houses all three Skulls films on two discs.

The Skulls

Lucas McNamara (Joshua Jackson, Urban Legend) is a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Thanks to his talents in academics and rowing (not to mention student loans), he's about to graduate from Yale. During his senior year he hopes to be tapped by the elite secret society The Skulls because he's heard they'll pay for graduate school and Lucas has his sights set on Harvard Law. He's tapped, and as he descends into the high-octane lifestyle of the well-heeled Skulls, friction develops with his journalist roommate Will (Hill Harper, CSI: NY). When Lucas finds Will hanging from a beam in the school paper's offices, he becomes involved in a conspiracy within the Skulls to cover up what Will was hoping to uncover before his death.

The Skulls II

Ryan Sommers (Robin Dunne, Species III) is a legacy, and therefore a sure pick with the Skulls. However, when he accidentally witnesses what appears to be a death on Skulls ground during his initiation, he decides he has to get to the bottom of the situation. As he gets closer to the truth he discovers that he can't trust any of his friends.

The Skulls III

Taylor Brooks (Clare Kramer, D.E.B.S.) wants to be the first female Skull, but once she's in, she's appalled by the tactics of the organization's membership. When she's framed for murder she knows she has to uncover the truth.

The Evidence

Fear of the unknown seems to be one of the most deep-seated fears in the human psyche. Therefore it's not surprising that people are very unsure when it comes to exclusive organizations, whether it's the CIA, the Vatican, or the local fraternity house. Because their activities are secret, and therefore unknown, the human mind tends to fear the worst from these groups. It's no surprise then that a filmmaker eventually turned to one of the most secret (not to mention prestigious) secret societies, Yale's Skull and Bones, as inspiration for a thriller, The Skulls from 2000. What is surprising, though, is that the film spawned two different sequels in the next three years.

The original Skulls belongs to that awkward crop of films that announced the Dawson's Creek crowd was ready to move to the world of cinema and included films like Disturbing Behavior and Urban Legend. Looking back almost a decade later, Skulls stands as a barely better-than-average thriller buoyed by veteran director Rob Cohen's direction and competent performances by both the young cast (Joshua Jackson and Paul Walker), and the older (Craig T. Nelson and William Petersen). There are narrative holes you could throw a skull through, not to mention a pretty standard rise-and-fall storyline, but overall the film moves along briskly, never taking itself too seriously. The fact that the whole production feels a little threadbare (by Hollywood standards) mirrors the underdog nature of the events on screen, reinforcing our sympathy for Luke's predicament. I doubt it's in anyone's Top 10, but Skulls makes for a decent viewing on popcorn night. I wish I could say the same about the sequels.

The Skulls II is essentially a retread of the first movie. A death on Skull ground causes a new recruit to question the organization, leading to paranoia and dangerous consequences. However, there are a few differences this time around. First, the new recruit is a spoiled rich kid who's also a legacy, removing much of the "fish out of water" story of the first film. This is replaced instead with a hackneyed "older brother trying to replace a dead father" storyline that just doesn't cut it. Also missing this time out are all the excellent older actors who played the Skulls' elite senior members. William Petersen brought quite a bit of charm to the first film, and it's sorely missed here. Finally, this installment feels quite a bit more threadbare than the previous film. Instead of a host of new cars for the Skull initiates, our hero gets a new motorcycle. Although it's a nice motorcycle and I'm sure it cost the production plenty, it feels much smaller in scale than the previous film's extravagance.

The Skulls III could have been the best of the bunch. The twist of having a female Skull is just good enough to keep the film from being tired, and Clare Kramer's performance is much better than the material warrants. However, this is also the most poorly written of the three films. The Skulls have transformed from movers-and-shakers into petty boogeymen who, rather than using their power to help each other out as with previous films, are obviously cutting one another's throats, taking away any possible appeal the group had built up in previous films. The plot that makes Taylor suspicious of the Skulls is simply too outlandish, even for this franchise. Finally, the dialogue is just bizarre. For instance, Taylor has friction with her father because her older brother didn't make it into the Skulls and killed himself. Instead of creating tension (and writing realistic dialogue), the screenwriter has Taylor say something like "Dad, I know there's tension between us because my brother killed himself trying to live up to your standards and I know I'm not him but can you still love me?" The dialogue has the kind of openness we might wish people had, but it's so blunt and emotionally honest it strains the bounds of credibility (not to mention subtlety).

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Amazingly, all three films feature strong female characters in a genre where the women often cling to a man for protection. Although a female doesn't become the center until Skulls III, both the first two films feature interesting female friends for our male protagonists who don't take any guff, and that's nice. It also helps that they're well-acted. In fact, Lindy Booth's performance in Skulls II was the only highlight, and Clare Kramer's in Skulls III made the outrageous dialogue tolerable.

This is a pretty decent package for fans of the films. The Skulls gets the same disc that was released by itself several years ago, while the two sequels are presented on a disc together. None of the films look great, but they all seem to have been taken care of in the compression stage so that even the two films on one disc don't look overly compressed. All three feature 5.1 surround audio mixes, and the second film even features an utterly superfluous DTS mix as well. Dialogue was clear on all three films, and the overall audio quality was acceptable, although not outstanding. Extras on The Skulls include the previously released making-of and commentary from Rob Cohen (who may be more entertaining than any of these films). There are no extras for either of the sequels.

Closing Statement

The original Skulls was a decent little popcorn flick with just enough competence to be compelling. The two sequels are more interesting as train wrecks than serious viewing and I can't recommend them in good conscience. This release of the Trilogy provides decent audiovisual presentations, but the lack of extras for the sequels might be a deal breaker. Obviously if you've got the previous Skulls disc, then this set is only worthwhile if you have a burning need for the sequels, since it appears to be the exact disc that was previously released.

The Verdict

I hope the Skulls aren't watching, because The Skulls Trilogy is guilty of beating a good idea into the ground.

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Genre

• Thriller

Scales of Justice, The Skulls

Video: 89
Audio: 85
Extras: 75
Acting: 80
Story: 70
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, The Skulls

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Subtitles:
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks, The Skulls

• Commentary
• Deleted Scenes
• Featurette
• Production Notes
• Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, The Skulls II

Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 0
Acting: 75
Story: 60
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile, The Skulls II

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles:
• English (SDH)
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, The Skulls II

• None

Scales of Justice, The Skulls III

Video: 80
Audio: 80
Extras: 0
Acting: 75
Story: 78
Judgment: 78

Perp Profile, The Skulls III

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Subtitles:
• English (SDH)
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks, The Skulls III

• None








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