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Skellig: The Owl Man DVD Review

Skellig: The Owl Man DVD cover art - click to buy the DVD from Amazon.com Skellig: The Owl Man
Movie & DVD Details

Director: AJ Jankel / Writers: David Almond (book), Irena Brignull (screenplay)

Cast: Tim Roth (Skellig), Kelly Macdonald (Louise), Bill Milner (Michael), John Simm (Dave), Skye Bennett (Mina), Jermaine Allen (Leakey), Eros Vlahos (Coot), Edna Dore (Grace), Alexander Armstrong (Mr. Hunt), Navin Chowdhry (Mr. Singh Watson), Nickie Rainsford (Mina's Mother), Tameka Empson (Nurse 1)

Original Air Date: April 12, 2009 / Running Time: 104 Minutes / Rating: PG

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish; Not Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled
DVD Release Date: August 17, 2010 / Suggested Retail Price: $27.98
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($29.98 SRP)

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Skellig: The Owl Man is adapted from a 1998 children's novel by British author David Almond. The book won multiple awards and in 2007 was chosen as one of the ten most important Carnegie Medal-winning works published in the previous seventy years. You'd think that Almond's text would be tapped for film treatment, especially with world cinema being so friendly to fantastic novels in recent years.
Instead, after being turned into a play and an opera in England, Skellig came to life as a television movie for the United Kingdom's Sky1 channel. Sixteen months after airing there and in Ireland, and almost as long since a couple of isolated European theatrical screenings, Skellig now comes to DVD and Blu-ray in North America with little fanfare or awareness.

In Skellig, 11-year-old Michael (Son of Rambow's Bill Milner) moves to the countryside with his expecting mother (Trainspotting's Kelly Macdonald) and father (John Simm, hero of the UK "Life on Mars"). The family's new home is a filthy fixer-upper, full of creepy crawlies in the wildly unkempt grounds. Out in the garden shed, Michael meets a dirty bug-eating stranger he reasonably takes for a derelict. The squatter (Tim Roth) isn't friendly or approachable, but Michael takes sympathy on him, bringing him leftover Chinese food and, as requested, bottles of brown ale.

Lonely neighbor girl Mina (Skye Bennett) becomes Michael's confidante and companion in the arrangement he otherwise keeps secret. The two kids help the barely mobile mess settle into a tree tower after Michael's father burns down the garden shed.

Michael (Bill Milner) picks up a sledgehammer to pitch in with the many renovations his family's new home needs. As Skellig, Tim Roth spends much of the film in shadows, in pain, and on an incline.

Clearly made with the small screen in mind, Skellig assumes relaxed pacing that's more acceptable on television. It is downright sluggish.

Michael's newborn sister faces some life-threatening conditions, which repeatedly brings him and us to the hospital, where he befriends a kindly, old arthritic woman (Edna Dore). A high-diving classmate (Jermaine Allen) fluctuates between best friend and bully to Michael. More importantly, there is the task of determining the exact nature of that drifter, with his multiple eyelids, scaly cheeks, and strange physicality.

That his name is Skellig removes much of the mystery, in light of the movie's subtitle. The cover art also suggests that I'm not spoiling anything by telling you that he is eventually revealed to have wings. Some kind of ancient immortal, Skellig carries heavy angelic overtones and his function becomes clear to us sooner than it does for his young abettors.

There is something sweet, appealing, and exciting about the story, but it's hard to make out in this largely lifeless adaptation. Some of the family stuff works nicely and the scenes with Michael in focus tend to be good. On the other hand, the Skellig bits that should be the main attraction do drag. From a purely audio-visual standpoint, they're dark and not especially lucid. Roth avoids any temptation to go too big with his characterization, but in doing so, he robs the eponymous enigma of any color or wit. The more accessible turns of Milner, Bennett, and Simm serve the production well, but there's too much time apart from them and just too much time overall for the movie to hold us captive. I can't really see children or adults warming to this, at least not coming to it without an appreciation for the book.

Home-schooled Mina (Skye Bennett) welcomes Michael, the closest neighbor she now has. Father (John Simm) and son (Bill Milner) take a look at their family's newest member, a baby girl incubated for her health.


Skellig looks and sounds like a modern British television production, one into which much time and over $5 million has been poured. The DVD's clear, sharp 1.85:1 widescreen picture is spotless and showcases production design and cinematography that isn't far from cinematic fare.
Even the few visual effects rank above the typically unsightly work that TV budgets require.

The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is as satisfying, supplying nice atmosphere and a few welcome touches of directionality. English subtitles are provided and rarely are they as useful as they are here. That's not because the dialogue recordings are insufficient (although perhaps they are a little lacking), but because, as something made foremost for UK audiences, the thick English accents and rhythms are often tough for an American to decode.


The only extra is a 45-second trailer for the movie, which clearly seems to be a non-specific TV promo.

After a short introduction, the disc's main menu plays a tinted montage behind Tim Roth's cover art pose.

The Eco-Box keepcase's one insert promotes the book and others by David Almond.

Tim Roth plays Skellig, the strange noodle-loving drifter whose slowly-revealed wings and mysterious powers echo the movie's subtitle "The Owl Man."


Most of the enjoyment I got out of Skellig was from seeing how the Brits do a family TV movie these days. Despite a promising start and some fine acting, this stagnant filming of David Almond's novel drags and dulls. I'd only recommend a viewing for those familiar with and enamored by the book. Even then, you might be underwhelmed.

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Reviewed August 10, 2010.

Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2009 The Wales Creative IP Fund, British Sky Broadcasting, Limelight,
Feel Films, Taking a Line for a Walk Productions, Grace Films Limited, and 2010 Image Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.