Minding The Gap – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

One of the most celebrated documentaries of 2018, let alone the past decade, Minding the Gap is a wonderful chronicle of friendship, society, and skateboarding. I was excited when The Criterion Collection announced their plans to release the film last year, and this Blu-ray did not disappoint. As a debut feature, director Bing Liu manages to accomplish so much with a 90-minute period, and it all extends from wanting to explore the lives of himself and his friends as they all enter into adulthood. Now there’s this wonderful release, presenting the film as effectively as possible, with a great collection of extras to further expand on how the film was made and the effects it has had.



Set in Rockford, Illinois (part of the Rust Belt of America), Bing Liu and his two friends, Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan, are connected through their passion for skateboarding and have issues to sort out regarding the abusive homes they grew up in. As the film unfolds, we see footage of them from their younger years to the present, where they’ve become adults reckoning with the lives they now lead. While Keire is looking to further continue his education and better himself, Zack is dealing with being a father and bringing the abuse he suffered into the family he is now a part of.

There’s an inherent amount of tragedy when looking at the basic summary of the story unfolding in this documentary. That is a part of it by design, as we are watching multiple subjects reflecting on memories that are informed by darker aspects of their young lives. At the same time, this is also a film about friendship, let alone dig into the positive memories that have come out times from the way back for these guys.

Balancing something like this take a level of skill, and Liu was able to center in on all the areas that truly mattered to making this story resonate. Honestly, it’s not too different from something like Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, with an exception coming in the form of how clear Bing, Zack, and Keire all have significant issues they are reckoning with. While the Linklater film had a focus on one life and events that are not always significant in the grand scheme of things as opposed to being an experimental character study, Minding the Gap is a look at real life, where issues big and small play a role in how these people were shaped.

The environment is a part of it. While the film is not entirely focused on exploring the socio-economic status of the Rust Belt, one cannot avoid seeing how racism, the economy, and the role drug abuse has (including alcohol) is a factor in the upbringing of these kids, let alone what continues to affect them in the present. It also helps provide further context on the people they grew up with, including their parents. Even as the film heads to deeper levels on an individual level, it’s seeing a picture of where certain struggles come from that only add to the effectiveness of telling a story of these guys.

Of course, the film is also about skateboarding, the thing Bing, Zack, and Keire initially bonded over. While becoming an adult means it’s not as much of a priority for some of them (Keire is notably the best skater and the one who takes it the most seriously), there’s something about this sport that holds these guys together, let alone works as an interesting symbol for various aspects of their lives. As the film finds ways to draw out parallels between the lives of these guys, it is also worth noting that the footage of them skating works as both a to see clarity for them in certain moments and at other times a way to release pressure (even if it comes out as anger).

The importance of showing these guys as human also plays well with this doc. It’s one thing to have these guys recognize the issues they have, but it’s another thing to see them in action. In particular, Zack has some major problems involving physical abuse and alcohol, and the film does not push that to the side. Keire deals with the prejudices he sees and what to make of the difficulties he’s had involving his absent father. And Bing also has issues to work out when looking at what his mom has suffered from.

Grappling with these problems, editing together these stories effectively, and coming out with a film that still manages to be about the move from adolescence into adulthood made for a terrific feature. Minding the Gap was one of the best documentaries I had seen in a long time, and that comes from just how effective it is from a filmmaking perspective, in addition to the substantial drama that is delved into creatively and authentically. Not bad for a group of skateboard kids.


Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC 

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Details: The film was shot primarily between 2012 and 2017 on digital video cameras. It was completed in a fully digital workflow, and this HD digital master was approved by Liu.

Clarity/Detail: For a documentary like this, there’s only so much to do to improve upon how good it can look. As it stands, Minding the Gap looks excellent in its current HD presentation. In particular, the interview segments have a sleek look that can easily show a level of detail for the individuals presented, with a lack of additional distractions due to background action. Simultaneously, watching the guys on the streets or at parks with their skateboards, there is still plenty of detail to enjoy, given the reality presented. Even the older digital footage is clean enough to never have much, if any, issue about how good it all looks.

Depth: As the film presents real life, it is easy to see the presentation doing the job to keep the proper level of dimensionality in focus. Nothing is ever coming in flat here.

Black Levels: The black levels are great. Indoor and nighttime scenes play well, thanks to how the film handles the different settings. Plays well with shadow too. No signs of crushing.

Color Reproduction: Given the film’s style, the colors come through as strong as necessary and are generally vibrant and natural. Looking at things like Kiere’s tie-dye shirts, there’s plenty of moments where you can really see color pop in the film.

Flesh Tones: The detail level seen in the actual characters is impressive.

Noise/Artifacts: The film looks nice and clean, with the appropriate amount of grain.



Audio Format(s): Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Subtitles: English

Details: The original 5.1 surround soundtrack was remastered from the digital master audio files using Avid’s Pro Tools and iZotope RX.

Dynamics: The audio track does a fantastic job of capturing all that’s needed to be heard in this film. This 5.1 track has a great level of clarity, letting all the information come through as needed. The great music also shines in its presentation here.

Low-Frequency Extension: As a documentary focused on the life of a few people, there’s only so much to work with as far as the sub-woofer is concerned, but there are areas where the film shines when it comes to the skateboarding scenes and the music.

Surround Sound Presentation: Strong and center-focused, but enough is going on in the sound design to apply the supporting channels when needed. Things like ambient noise come in the right way, while the music manages to wash over the whole setup as needed.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is heard loud and clear.



Criterion does not disappoint with the set of special features they have put together for this release. Everything I could have wanted as far as dissecting Minding the Gap is present here, which is pretty great as far as learning about the making of the film and where everyone is now.

Features Include:

  • Audio Commentary with Bing Liu, Keire Johnson, and Zack Mulligan – Recorded in October 2020, the great thing about this track is that it serves as a semi-sequel. Hearing from these guys three years after the movie stopped filming means having them reflect on their experiences since and going over what’s happening in their lives now (Zack has a second child, for example). It’s also fun to hear these friends go over watching themselves on screen. Great commentary.
  • Audio Commentary with Bing Liu – As a single commentator, this is a more technical track, compared to the anecdotal emphasis of the first commentary. That said, Liu does all he needs to expand on the production of the film, some of his additional impressions, and more.
  • A Very Tricky Balance (HD, 33:14) – A nice behind-the-scenes look at developing the film, featuring Bing Liu, executive producer Gordon Quinn, and producer Diane Quon. It’s interesting to watch, as you get an understanding of how documentaries like this can come together. A great tidbit – there was originally another main character who was eventually edited out to put a greater emphasis on Zack and Kiere, as the story flowed better when it was less spread out.
  • Nina and Bing (HD, 16:48) – A new interview, filmed in 2020, focused on Nina Bowgren, who featured heavily in the film and had a difficult relationship with Zack. She discusses how her life has been since the film, as well as her heritage, and the relationship she had with Zack versus the one she has now.
  • Tony Hawk (HD, 11:42) – The skateboarding legend adds his two cents about the film, particularly noting his appreciation for an actual skater to have been the one to film this story and how that plays into capturing the guys on their boards and using that as a way to invite viewers in to see more.
  • Outtakes (HD, 20:58) – An entertaining collection of unused material making up four scenes, each with an introduction from Liu.  
    • Nina and Zack Go to the Hospital
    • Rick and His Son, Max
    • Keire Leaves Rockford
    • Keire in Denver
  • Nuoc (HD, 23:07) – A short documentary directed by Liu. This 2010 film follows two Vietnamese immigrants as they go over their experiences in America and their challenges.
  • Trailer (HD, 1:36)
  • PLUS – Essays by critic Jay Caspian Kang



Minding the Gap is a terrific documentary that relies on skateboarding as a backing to a film that has so much to delve into as far as the lives of this set of people dealing with growing up. The Criterion presentation does proper justice to the film’s look and sound, with a healthy set of extras to really fill out the package. Any fan of a good drama, doc, or the world behind skateboarding would do themselves a service checking out this film.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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