Judge Daryl Loomis is the proud owner of over a dozen GWAR masks.
Take a trip behind the mask.
Picture a Venn diagram with three circles of fandom. The first represents professional wrestling, the second roller derby, and the third live-action role playing games. At the intersection of all three is something called "Box Wars." Developed in Australia, it's a strange little activity in which participants build suits of armor and giant weapons out of cardboard and engage in faux combat, the winner being the last person standing with their armor still partially intact. If you've never heard of it, neither had I, but apparently it has a niche large enough to support chapters in a number of countries. Greg Sommer heads the Canadian chapter and he's an interesting character to say the least. With Skull World, director Justin McConnell (The Collapsed) details the ambitious nut known as "Skull Man."
For more than two years, McConnell followed Sommer through the odd events in his life. In his mid-30s, Sommer lives in his mom's basement, and works at a graveyard. He's also a video technician and an ambitious public access producer/director who likes to rock out, don cardboard armor, and smash some like-minded compatriots.
At first, our hero seems like your basic aging meathead who never grew up, complete with long hair and receding hairline. Upon further inspection—credit McConnell for digging deep, sometimes against his subject's wishes—Sommer is a nuanced human being, full of loyalty and good spirits, completely supportive of the wealth of friends around him. Though his obsession happens to be as unique as it could possibly be, his dedication to this art form is admirable…and something I really want to sign up for.
Sommer's commitment takes him to television studios where he pitches a Box Wars series (still in negotiations), and to Australia where he's treated like a genuine celebrity of cardboard combat. Not just anybody can say that, but despite all the attention Sommer remains humble.
Skull World isn't a terribly artistic documentary and its audience appeal may be narrow, but McConnell's humanizing portrayal of Sommer and his world makes the experience much more interesting and far less ridiculous than anyone would guess. I don't find it as valuable as McConnell's first documentary, Working Class Rock Star, but he has most certainly exposed me to a world I've never before encountered. If you're intrigued by fools running around in cardboard smashing each other, Skull World is the documentary for you.
It's not the greatest disc Indican has ever released, but the DVD is technically solid and stocked with extras. The standard def 1.78:1 widescreen image is mixed. Filming took quite some time and, during that span, McConnell upgraded equipment at least once, so the earlier footage is of much lower quality. Likewise, the Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix is non-descript. Made up primarily of interviews and fight noises, underscored with the occasional moments of hard rock, it does the job just fine.
Bonus features begin with two commentary tracks. The first finds McConnell and Sommer talking technically on the making of the film. McConnell has a good attitude about filmmaking, something we saw in his previous film, and he's a great advocate for independent production. He's also able to reign in Sommer, which is something desperately needed in the second track, where Skull Man talks about his love for rocking out. Unless you're truly enamored with Sommer, you can skip this experience. The feature package is rounded out with more than an hour of deleted and extended footage, giving us more time in this bizarre world; a photo gallery; and a trailer.
At first glance, Skull World seems like a complete joke, but McConnell does a nice job of painting Sommer in a wonderful light. He's unique and eccentric, but also someone with a huge heart. That might not be enough to make Skull World the most compelling documentary, but it's interesting enough to warrant a recommendation.
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