Adapted from the novel Skellig by David Almond, 'Skellig the Owl Man' didn't win any awards, unlike its 1998 penned source material. In fact, the film didn't earn theatrical distribution, either. There's a reason for that, and a damn good one, aside from the fact that it was designed to be a direct-to-video feature for British channel Sky1. Simply put, this is a film that doesn't know what it wants to be, or who it wants to appeal to. Too adult for children, and too childish for adults, 'Skellig' takes after its titular character in his first appearance on screen: drunken, disoriented, and covered in his own filth.
Michael (Bill Milner) is your ordinary young boy, going through a move due to his family expanding past the point where their current lodging would accommodate them. The middle class family moves to the home of a deceased old man, replete with its bug-riddled filth and a toilet in the middle of the room: definite Feng shui failure... even if it does tie the room together. Next to a nasty, animal laden garden on the property is a rickety old shed, and in it...well, there's some nasty filthy stinky dude (Tim Roth) who eats bugs and acts like a near-death wino. Of course, young Michael doesn't tell his parents about his new "friend," or even call the police. Instead, he brings him food out of the trash can (still a step up from bugs) and alcoholic beverages.
'Skellig the Owl Man' is a creepy, disturbing little piece of childhood fantasy that goes too far in some areas, stretches reality in others, and tries to be as innocent as possible. Sure, the old man is "magic," as he does have a set of haggard wings beneath his stinky, grimy coat, but in order to get to that, we have to ignore the following:
1- Michael has to find the bum and not tell his parents or friends that there's some drunk dude laying near death in his shed. The escrow company had to have never gone to said shed, nor could have Michael's father (John Simm). Everyone would have to imagine said shed never existed in order for the plot to be plausible.
2- Michael doesn't alert authorities, when the man could be mentally unstable and/or near death, where intervention could save his life. The dude is eating bugs. Seriously. If this film weren't PG, he'd probably be recycling his food, too, if you catch my drift. We're talking about a man acting truly insane, yet the kid is just like "hey cool! I'll feed you out of the trash can and you can be my new pet!"
3- Michael gives the pissed off bum alcohol out of the fridge, leading to his father eventually confronting him as to why there's liquor missing, and that drinking is not the solution to his problems. Seriously. His father is telling him to not drink his childhood problems away. What kind of ridiculous upbringing did the screenwriters and novelist have that this is normal conversation? What if Skellig asked for heroin, would Michael still be such an enabler? How would that conversation with his father go down?
Sure, this is a story about faith, in a sense, an obvious yet somewhat oblivious look at the angels around us, the friends we'd never know we had until we gave up pretenses, as well as the acceptance of death. Only, not so much. When Michael's mother (Kelly Macdonald) has her baby girl, and it is sick, probably to the point that it will not survive, you know what is going to happen. After all, it turns out that Skellig is magic. I mean, isn't that convenient, that the drunk creep passed out in your shed covered in bugs that you didn't call the cops on can magically cure your near death baby sister?! Isn't it always a rule in family films that any tragedy is averted by the weirdo in the other narrative of the film?
The only saving grace here is Roth's performance, as we truly believe him in the part, even if he doesn't wet himself like any self respecting wino would. He's genuinely creepy and weird, and the actor's talents help make the role believable in an otherwise completely unbelievable story. The constant creepy crawlies will scare or disturb children (especially the scene where Michael goes to sleep and wakes up covered in spider webs), while the lack of any coherent thought or interesting characters will anger adults. Simply put, 'Skellig' is a film that didn't even deserve to be put direct-to-video.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Skellig the Owl Man' arrives on Blu-ray on a Region A locked BD25 disc, in a standard keep case with no packaging variations. There are no annoying pre-menu trailers, just company credits.
Image's 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is almost spot on, a superb transfer for a none too superb film, that almost makes the film a joy to view.
Skin tones are always spot on proper, while the picture boasts great detail levels, superb depth, wonderful textures (including on the Skellig makeup that is constantly changing, really giving the character a believable look), and very bright, vivid colors. It's almost photo-realistic, a beautiful film with some gorgeous moments, settings, and scenes.
Sadly, there is also a little bit of black crush on top of some random edge enhancement that keep this from being demo-worthy material. I'm still pleasantly surprised, but it's slightly disappointing that this brilliant transfer fell just short.
'Skellig the Owl Man' has a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that is not bad at all, especially for what is akin to a direct-to-video feature.
Sure, range is somewhat limited, but room dynamics are accurate as can be, dialogue is never lost in the mix, and rear activity is surprisingly high, being fed both a score bleed and some random ambience, including some sweeping movement in the opening, as well as some gusts in the final act. Bass levels are very light, but are hardly needed in a film of this sort.
All in all, good enough for a film that just ain't great.
The supplemental package for 'Skellig' is hardly extensive. In fact, it lasts a whole forty six seconds.
'Skellig the Owl Man' didn't impress me. In fact, it creeped me out. It's wrong, on a few levels. It's too scary and messed up for kids, and it's too formulaic and ridiculous for adults...not to mention the completely, horribly inappropriate relationship between Michael and Skellig being a major point of concern. Ah well. Image's Blu-ray release has solid presentation qualities, and nearly non-existent extras.