Publicity Stills of "Lords of Dogtown"
(Courtesy from Columbia TriStar)

Genre: Drama/Comedy
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Victor Rasuk, John Robinson, Michael Angarano, Nikki Reed, Heath Ledger, Rebecca De Mornay, Johnny Knoxville
RunTime: 1 hr 47 mins
Released By: Columbia TriStar
Rating: PG (Clean)

Release Date: 22 September 2005


The tough, gritty streets of “Dogtown” in Venice, California didn’t look like much to outsiders, but to a handful of teenage surfers (Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva and Jay Adams) in the 1970s they were the hard, winding, sloping inspiration for a revolutionary style of skateboarding. Transferring the aggressive wave-riding moves to concrete from their death-defying surfing skills at the Pacific Ocean Park pier, the Z-Boys – mostly kids with rough home lives and rougher attitudes – became sensations, local legends. They were freestyle wizards on urethane wheels, turning empty pools into arenas of wild, beautiful athleticism, the genesis of today’s “extreme sports.” Skating competitions didn’t know what to make of them, girls threw themselves at them, and suddenly marketers and promoters wanted to grab a piece of them and what was fast becoming a worldwide counterculture phenomenon. But would the friendships of this tightly knit group last as a teenage pastime turned into big business, and energetic personalities became out-of-control celebrities?

Movie Review:

It's easy to classify this film under the "(extreme) sports" genre meant strictly for fans, but it'll be doing the film a great injustice. It's more than just a film about surfer dudes bumming around and finding that big break. Rather, it touches you on the human drama which unfolds amongst friends. This film has heart.

Transporting the audience back to the 70s with the tune of Jimmy Hendrix's Voodoo Chile Blues, Lords of Dogtown tells the tale of four friends from a poor and hard neighbourhood in Venice, California, who sparked a revolution in the sport of skateboarding by adapting moves learned from surfing the Pacific Ocean waves.

Tony Alva considers himself the best amongst the Z-boys, with a cocky attitude to boot. Stacy Peralta's competitive streak and natural flair makes him Tony's number one peer. Jay Adams, credited with creating the innovating slick moves from imagination and countless practice, somehow remains nonchalant about competition, and remains the underachiever of the group. Sid, on the other hand, is a rich kid but a mediocre skateboarder, the punching bag for the group, basking in the glory being friends with and associated with the Z-boys.

With their aggressive streak and defiant, rebellious attitude, the youths get shown some direction and were mentored by a small surf shop owner Skip Engblom, played to surfer dude perfection by Heath Ledger. Realizing the boys' potential and forecasting the fortune that they could bring to his business, he embarks on a quest to manage the Z-boys under his own brand and company by enrolling into various state competitions, and tried being the father figure to them all.

I'd like to bring particular attention to the first competition, because though what we see today are comparable or even higher standards than those in the film, bear in mind that this was the group credited for being the forefathers of the stunts of today. Competition standards prior to the Z-boys were plain, ordinary, following standard formats without much excitement. Experiencing the initial shock and reaction of the audience and judges when the Z-boys unleash their act, and the events aftermath, was one heck of a ride.

And so too is the discovery of a new way to practice - in empty private swimming pools. Watching them practice is a joy, and you'd wish you could be out there doing the same too!

However, this film also explores the realities of the competitive sport business. Poaching of star players are the norm, and we see the lure of fame and material wealth biting the hand that feeds. It's nothing personal really, just business, but questions are looked into, if these are more important than loyalty and friendship. And what makes this a complex study, is that we see it from both perspectives, as each of the boys have different agendas and motives, like Jay's need to pay the bills and his filial piety in wanting to bail his mom out of hardship and suffering.

With numerous photoshoots, magazine spreads, women offering themselves to the boys, we see the corruption of fame and fortune, and the slow erosion of their friendship, especially when they can't resolve their differences and at times, become rivals in both matters of the heart, and on the sporting arena. We also see the fickleness of fame, in one moment you could be on top of the world, and in the other, you're in the doldrums with no one the wiser who you once were. When you're down, injured, or just simply lost "it", all that is material and fluffy, will disappear as easy as they came. That's the nature of the business, and of sponsorship.

But true friendship is one that will withstand even the most turbulent of times. We are brought to
remember their roots and the days when things were more carefree, and everything was done in free spirit and in the name of fun. The ending is one of the more touching moments in the film, wrapping up and coming full circle to how the boys begin with, bringing them back and reminding all how it all began.

Casting a relative group of unknowns as the main leads was an outstanding move, as the group doesn't bring along past baggage into their roles as surfer teenagers. Heath Ledger totally chewed the scenes he was in, and you feel pity for his character Skip as he tries really hard to combat the bigger organizations vying for his team's attention, and that his lot isn't made any better by having work partners with surfer attitudes, who fail to see the boys' potential like he

For skateboarding fans, this could be the film you're waiting for, to learn a bit more about the history and the phenomenon of the sport. However, some might need some time to adjust to the uneven camera motions that this film employs.

Inspired by the true story, stay during the end credits where you'll see the real Z-boys in action,
way back during the time when they were practising in empty pools, and we're also informed of the current lives of the group of protagonists.

Movie Rating:

(Lords of Dogtown successfully fuses extreme skateboarding action with human drama - a gem for fans and non-fans alike!)

Review by Stefan Shih


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