I know what you’re thinking; another coming-of-age story set in the 80’s, how original. Skateland is another entry in the popular genre, but it has the least going for it. Anthony Burns makes his directorial debut with Skateland and while he shows his skills as a director and producer, he still has some work to do as far as the writing goes. Skateland does an excellent job in recreating the 80’s, with its music, setting and general free flowing characters, but it has problems focusing on what it’s trying to achieve.
Ritchie (Shiloh Fernandez) is a young kid that doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. He’s a manager at the local roller-skating rink called Skateland. Besides that, he spends most of his free time hanging out with his best friends Michelle (Ashley Greene) and Kenny (Tyler Handley). When his friend Brent (Heath Freeman) comes back to town after doing a stint in motocross, life starts to slowly unfold for Ritchie and his friends as they deal with certain dramatic events.
Skateland‘s strongest trait is also the one that holds the film down. It’s a good dramatic take on a genre that is usually heavy in the comedy. While the film spends a lot of its time in a relaxed manner, with parties constantly happening it still manages to anchor itself into some serious situations. Skateland is closing down and Ritchie has to deal with the uncertain future. Along with that are family problems at home and relationship problems with close friends. The film does a good job in making the characters feel real and sincere, but it often feels like a drag that takes its time figuring on what it wants to be.
Certain characters are initially the main focus of the film, but then it drops them for a good portion of the film while only focusing on Ritchie. Later, they come back into the film and are given added depth. The film is strongest when it focuses on its two leads and their relationship as it slowly builds to the next level. Actor Shiloh Fernandez originally comes off as a complete idiot, who doesn’t know what he wants to do because of his short attention span, but as the film progresses, so does his character. Ashley Greene plays the best friend/love interest in a calm manner. Her character is given a lot to tackle and Greene for the most part handles it well.
The most important character of the film is Brent, played by Heath Freeman. The whole return of Brent really puts everything in perspective for Ritchie. Everyone has their sights set on getting out of the small town and moving onto bigger and better things while Brent has already done that and realized that the best things in life are at home, in the small town, with friends and family. Ritchie and Brent have a very strong bond that helps the film establish its more serious agenda during the last part of the film.
Skateland works on most levels, but still feels faulty on a few. It’s nowhere near the same quality as American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused when it comes to great coming-of-age tales, but it holds up fairly well as a drama. The 80’s setting never feels too forced and instead acts as a backdrop for the whole story, with the occasional obvious song being injected to remind you of the 80’s. Skateland starts out kind of fuzzy, but then it establishes itself later on in the film and becomes engaging towards the end.
The weakest part of the film is the fact that it takes too long to become interesting and because of that it can be easily shrugged off by most people that have already seen better coming-of-age films. It deserves credit for sticking to its guns and successfully being a drama, but the acting sometimes comes across as questionable and the story can feel pointless at times.
I enjoyed Skateland more than most because I’m a sucker for these particular films, but that doesn’t mean I can’t spot its problems. Most people who are looking for a good coming-of-age story will be underwhelmed with Skateland. It’s a good film, but it’s been done before and done much better. Even Take Me Home Tonight, another coming-of-age story set in the 80’s managed to work better than Skateland, but that’s mainly because of the balance of comedy and drama. Skateland focuses more on drama and results in something that would work fine as a rental. Fans of the genre should check it out because it does have redeemable traits if you’re willing to look past some of the more amateur flaws.
Fox provides Skateland with a very natural looking 1080p transfer. The Blu-Ray preserves the soft, warm and grainy look of the 80’s just fine. The film was shot on 35mm and it looks pretty impressive for a low budget independent film from a first time director. The image is clear and sharp for the most part with occasional noise during some of the nighttime scenes. The transfer seems like a great representation of the style and look director Anthony Burns and cinematographer Peter Simonite were looking for.
Skateland‘s 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is equally impressive. The film is dialogue heavy, so don’t expect much loud channel activity, but the film still features ambient party effects like chatter, movement and music. I find these types of films really fun to listen to on Blu-Ray because of the more quiet and subtle effects. It really helps you bridge the gap from watching the party to being at the party. Dialogue is clean and easy to understand while music and other sound effects come across just fine. This isn’t anything impressive in terms of action, but it works for this particular film.
Special features fans might be disappointed with the Blu-Ray for Skateland as it only includes 34 minutes of deleted scenes, presented in standard definition. The scenes are alternate takes and extended cuts to scenes already in the film, so they don’t really add much of anything. I’m happy with the cut we were given for Skateland, but these scenes do give you an idea of how many cuts the film probably went through before they settled on the final version.
If you’re looking for a more serious coming-of-age story that takes place in the 80’s then Skateland might be for you. It’s not as good as the recent Take Me Home Tonight, but it works fine as its own little drama. The characters are interesting enough to warrant a rental, but most will probably be satisfied with skipping spending money on Skateland and waiting for it to pop up on television.
Skateland isn’t an exciting film, but it’s definitely one that people can relate to. It tackles everyday problems like the feeling of uncertainty, accepting change and just appreciating what and who you have. Skateland was made with care, but not with precision.
Skateland captures the look and feel of the 80's perfectly, but it gets bogged down with its lack of focus and dragging story.