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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Dogtown and Z-Boys: SE (2002)

"There was so much aggression; they were more like a street gang than a skate team."
- Kurt Lederman (Skateboarder Magazine, 1975)

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: November 20, 2002

Stars: Sean Penn (narrator), Tony Alva, Jay Adams, Stacy Peralta, Wentzle Ruml
Other Stars: Skip Engblom, Bob Biniak, Nathan Pratt, Jim Muir, Shogo Kubo, Peggy Oki, Paul Constantineau, Craig Stecyk, Tony Hawk, Henry Rollins
Director: Stacy Peralta

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and some drug references
Run Time: 01h:30m:53s
Release Date: August 06, 2002
UPC: 043396079038
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-B+A- A-

DVD Review

During the vicious droughts that struck Southern California in the early 1970s, water rationing forced homeowners to drain their backyard pools. This action opened the door for young skaters to originate a new type of vertical element to their sport. The agile boys (and one girl) of the Zephyr Skateboard Team spent these long summer days perfecting moves unknown to the current prominent skaters. They performed a type of "concrete warfare" and eluded the cops while taking advantage of short windows of opportunity. Not realizing its cultural significance at the time, the Z-Boys stretched the limits of skating and set the foundation for its rapid growth.

Dogtown and Z-Boys is a compelling exploration of the surfer culture and brash personalities of an inventive group of young skaters. Directed and co-written by insider Stacy Peralta, this documentary includes contributions from nearly everyone involved with the renowned Zephyr team. Many of them have settled into more conventional family lives now, and they warmly recount the hijinks of their youth. Several members, most notably Tony Alva and Peralta, earned national recognition in the skating ranks, but they each showcased unique talents. While the intimacy of its creators with the culture may add a self-congratulatory air to the film, it also helps to paint a more comprehensive picture of the Southern California community.

The story begins with narrator Sean Penn describing the original environment for the opening of the Zephyr surf shop. Once a haven of amusement parks on the level of Coney Island, the waterfronts of Dogtown, located near Venice and Santa Monica, had become a bleak wasteland of seediness and disarray. The pilings from old roller-coaster tracks stood vacant amid the dirty and debris-infested waters. These images reflect the lost American dream of the 1950s, and provide a perfect setting for the rise of the Z-Boys. Surfing enthusiasts Skip Engblom and Jeff Ho used this area to open their shop, and a small gang of talented kids spent their days surfing and hanging around it. These segments highlight one of the main reasons for the documentary's success. Instead of quickly glossing over the early days, co-writers Peralta and Craig Stecyk clearly explain the prevailing environment and its tough inhabitants.

Another informative segment concerns the history of skateboarding, which uses video footage to quickly cover its early progression. This portion appears as an interlude in the middle of the film and showcases the ingenuity of Paul Crowder's editing. Much of the energy stems from the lively construction of scenes that never veers towards mundane documentary territory. The history does not directly relate to the lives of the Z-Boys, but it is a refreshing necessity to understand their importance. The Zephyr team took up skateboarding as a hobby during breaks from surfing, and it became much more essential. In essence, they were emanating the moves of groundbreaking surfers like Larry Bertleman in a concrete setting.

The original Zephyr skating team almost all provide numerous observations about their past exploits (one member was last seen in Mexico and never found). Shot in black & white, the interviews occupy a decent space of the film and enjoyably describe each event. The biggest name to non-skating enthusiasts is Tony Alva—the "Chuck Berry of skating"—a dreadlocked, tough-looking guy who admits that he was very arrogant in the early days. Peralta also steps in front of the camera and discusses the past in the same fashion. Particularly memorable are the interviews with Wentzle Ruml, Skip Engblom, and Jay Adams. Ruml epitomizes the laid-back surfer attitude even today and has fun throughout the feature. Engblom is a very straightforward figure who has a biting personality that works nicely here. The most saddening tale concerns Adams, possibly the most talented kid in the whole group. Unfortunately, problems with drugs and partying eventually brought down his career. Still dressing with a punk-rock look, Adams courageously discusses his past and reveals the other side of becoming a skating celebrity.

Much of the Z-Boys' attention focused on skating with considerable style, and this film nicely matches that success. Rocking tunes from Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, David Bowie, the Stooges, Led Zeppelin, and other classic bands play loudly over footage of impressive skating moves. Few shots appear in a simplistic fashion, and plenty of cool techniques complement the material. Dogtown and Z-Boys often conveys a youthful innocence about the monumental breakthroughs of its subjects. However, it also reveals the commercialism that must arise when a sport reaches new heights. Quickly following their appearance in professional competitions, the Zephyr group was broken apart by business figures hoping to make money. While many skaters have gained remarkable success, the tremendous energy of the early days in the empty pools was never matched again.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Dogtown and Z-Boys utilizes an effective full-frame transfer that showcases images of varying quality. Much of the material is home video footage from the 1970s, so it will not be pristine. However, the colors are surprisingly bright and the pictures often contain only minor defects. The interviews appear in black & white footage that is usually clear and conveys an impressive style. Considering the limitations of much of the material, this transfer works very well and provides an enjoyable presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This release features a 5.0-channel Dolby Digital audio track that generates a raucous atmosphere. Numerous classic songs by Hendrix, Zeppelin, Aerosmith and others blare from the speakers and raise the energy of the skating scenes. While much of the activity remains in the front with the considerable dialogue, the music does spring nicely from the entire sound field. The conversations are always easily understandable, and everything remains top-notch for the entire running time.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Grateful Dawg, Groove, XXX
1 Alternate Endings
Production Notes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Stacy Peralta and editor Paul Crowder
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Freestyle Experience (Raw footage)
Extras Review: This special edition of Dogtown and Z-Boys features an insightful commentary from co-writer/director Stacy Peralta and editor Paul Crowder. In similar fashion to his statements during the film, Peralta speaks with a nice conversational demeanor that keeps everything down-to-earth. Instead of simply doing a scene-by-scene discussion, they veer into different territories and provide interesting material. Both of them convey plenty of tidbits that add even more background information. While I would have liked to hear even more details, that obstacle is almost impossible to overcome. No matter how many items Crowder and Peralta include, they could never cover the entire wealth of possibilities available for commentary.

We also may view a three-minute alternate ending that showcases Tony Alva skating in a pool in 2000. It is cool to see him still doing well in the sport, but the original conclusion is much more effective. Another worthwhile bonus is a seamless branching option of viewing extended raw footage. During the film, an icon will appear that leads to even more videos of the skating talents.

The remaining supplements include production notes on the case insert and several theatrical trailers. The previews available cover the rave film Groove, Vin Diesel's action hit XXX, and Grateful Dawg—a documentary starring Jerry Garcia and David Grisman. A very energetic trailer for the main feature also appears and utilizes the 2.35:1 widescreen format.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

I possessed virtually zero knowledge of the Z-Boys' contributions to skating before viewing this film. However, everything is presented in such a clear and entertaining manner that I had no problems following the story. Few documentaries of recent years have so perfectly combined both enlightening stories and a great time. Stacy Peralta's insider status in the Zepyhr group may slightly skewer the presentation, but it also raises the enthusiasm to a remarkable level. This excellent release earns a very high recommendation.


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