One of the most difficult — and equally most important — choices to make in life is deciding what to do after high school. There is, of course, the option of putting off the decision and keeping things just the way they are, hanging out with friends every night while working at a low-paying menial job. But in reality, that can only last so long. After some time, the momentum will slowly start to fade and the original choice resurfaces. In 'Skateland,' this is the dilemma facing 19-year-old Ritchie Wheeler, played convincingly by a still-emerging Shiloh Fernandez. While the world around him rapidly changes — or to be more accurate, falls apart all at once — he must decide between being nothing and doing something.
It's a universal story moviegoers have seen countless of times, the end of one stage confronted by the beginning of another, often taking place around high school or soon after. It's also what makes 'Skateland' such a predictable quandary, because it's well told and feels accomplished, a low-budget independent film simply asking to be loved by an audience. Coming from newcomer Anthony Burns, who makes his directorial and writing debut with this feature, the movie does surprisingly well capturing the tone and atmosphere of early 80s teendom. The problem is that it's far too conventional, with an ending that's easy to predict within a matter of minutes. Even certain plot points can be foretold long before they happen, making this teen drama a total bummer.
It starts with everything being totally cool. Working at the local roller rink allows Ritchie enough freedom to work on his writing, which others claim he's good at, but we'll never know since we're not given the opportunity to read his stuff. We just have to take everyone's word for it. Added to that, the place where he works is aptly named Skateland, yet it's also the one area we spend the least amount of time in. Almost every night is filled with girls, partying, and booze with best buds, Brent (Heath Freeman) and Kenny (Taylor Handley). Ritchie and Brent's younger sister, Michelle (Ashley Greene of 'Twilight' fame), begin exploring new territory together, and like clockwork, the two are clearly not on the same wavelength. Nor for that matter, neither are we.
With all the pieces in their proper place, we essentially ride through the typical motions of wanting the present to last forever, realizing that it won't ever happen and finally . . . Well, you can pretty much guess it. Actually, this wouldn't be such a bad thing if only the ride were better and the company more fun to hang out with. But honestly, these people are a total drag, spending half of the time talking about boring nonsense. Some of the conversations have little or no relevance to the overall plot, though Burns clearly wants us to think they're purposeful and possibly even insightful. Moreover, he takes the phrase "when it rains, it pours" a bit to the extreme, having Ritchie's life quite literally fall apart in the span of what seems like less than a month.
We can also sense that filmmakers would love their project to be seen as an 80s version of 'Dazed and Confused.' If the editing and some of the camerawork isn't enough to get the idea across, then the soundtrack and the carefully-chosen song selections should be the dead giveaway. Like the much-loved Richard Linklater favorite, the music plays a key role in the movie as well as in the lives of the characters it tries to depict, with Blondie, New Order, and Flock of Seagulls being most prominently featured. I'm definitely the last person to complain as I enjoyed listening to the tunes. Unfortunately, they come in at very convenient points in Ritchie's young adult life, and it seems as if more time was put into selecting each song than at actually developing an engaging story.
It's all a shame really, as the mood and atmosphere feels just right, and the performances from the young cast are strong. Fernandez has this great Joaquin Phoenix swagger about him and knows how to act, but the kid really needs to find good material because he has yet to do anything of real note. There are very few good movies with roller skating as a central theme — 'Whip It' being arguably the best thus far — and regrettably, 'Skateland' goes down as another "crash and burn" skate movie, joining the likes of such disasters as 'Xanadu,' 'Roller Boogie,' and 'Solarbabies.' Don't forget to wear your helmet and pads before watching.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment debuts 'Skateland' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD25 disc housed inside a blue eco-case. At startup, we're greeted with a couple of trailers, followed by the usual main menu selection with music and full-motion clips.
Arriving to Blu-ray for the first time, 'Skateland' doesn't quite have the chops for dancing circles around other, newer releases. Presented in 2.40:1, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, a good chunk of the picture looks rather ugly.
There are scenes with a bit of softness to them and light sometimes comes with that sort of 80s glare, which can take away from some of the finer details. Then there are scenes that are terrifically sharp and nicely defined, reminding viewers they are watching high-definition video. The palette places more attention on the secondary hues, presumably as an attempt to recreate the look of the era, but overall, colors are clean and accurately saturated. Contrast is a tad wishy-washy, ranging from spot-on to flat and lifeless, dulling the image significantly in most places. Brightness levels appear to be on the same boat as blacks can be excellent and deep one minute and then murky and terribly drab the next. Several interior sequences with poor lighting and lots of shadows tend to be the worst.
In the end, we've seen worst, but we've also seen much, much better.
Thankfully, the DTS-HD Master Audio track picks up the slack with this happening and very enjoyable sound design.
The music and song selection are, of course, the clear winners here and provide the system with the most activity. Tunes spread across the entire front channels evenly with splendid fidelity and a great deal of warmth, creating a wide and welcoming soundstage. Side speakers are only used for some very light bleeding to give places a better sense of space, like the roller rink or house parties, but such moments sound good. The one moment of action does show some convincing movement with a sharp, detailed dynamic range. Vocals are cleanly intelligible and never drowned out by the music. Low-frequency effects are generally reserved to provide songs some gravity and impact, which is quite nice.
Overall, it's a satisfying lossless mix for a movie with plenty of good 80s tunes.
The only special feature available is a collection of ten Deleted Scenes (SD, 34 min), which add nothing to the movie.
Coming from newcomer Anthony Burns, 'Skateland' is the coming-of-age tale of a small-town Texas teen discovering the speed at which life rapidly moves. Set in the early 80s, and featuring a great soundtrack, the film comes with the right tone and atmosphere, but not really the sort of insightful or meaningful story it clearly aims to portray. The Blu-ray arrives with decent video, better audio, but a poor collection of supplements. A rental at best.