“In a time before many can remember, our planet faced its greatest challenge. A warlord named Piccolo came from beyond the stars, bringing darkness and chaos to our once peaceful world. Aided by his disciple Oozaru, the evil pair brought the human race to the brink of annihilation. Cities and countries crumbled beneath them. Countless lives were lost, but finally a group of brave warriors created the Ma Fu Ba, a powerful enchantment that imprisoned Piccolo deep with in the Earth. With his master captured, Oozaru disappeared and balance was slowly restored to our world. And so it has remained for thousands of years…until now.”
Let me begin by stating that I have not had more than a passing exposure to the hugely popular Dragonball anime works. I suspect that this film bears little resemblance to that material, again from what little I had seen of it. That likely means there are more than a few angry fans out there. I won’t be offering any comparisons. I will merely review this film as a standalone production, as it was apparently intended to be, which in itself might have been a mistake.
The film follows a character named Goku (Chatwin). He lives with his grandfather (Duk Kim) who appears to have incredible powers, very much like you’ve seen inside The Matrix. These powers emanate from an inner force known as a ki (pronounced key). Grandpa has been training Goku, and now it’s Goku’s 18th birthday, the day he’s been promised he’ll learn everything. As a gift he receives a fiery ball with 4 stars circling about within. He’s told that it’s called a dragonball. It seems there are 7 of these balls in total. The person who possesses all 7 will be granted “one perfect wish”. Unfortunately, Goku isn’t going to get the rest of the lesson. While he sneaks out to attend a party thrown by a girl he just met, Chi-Chi (Chung) assassins from Piccolo (Marsters) visit his grandfather to obtain his dragonball, which Goku has taken with him. He returns to find Grandpa dying. Here’s where we get the old dying breath wisdom: With great power comes… wrong film. Goku is admonished to seek out the Grand Master Roshi (Chow) and stop Piccolo from obtaining the 7 dragonballs, or he will destroy the planet. The group picks up stragglers along the way which include Chi-Chi. The group includes another girl whose father was killed for a dragonball. She’s developed a dragonball tracker and has some rather remarkable technology. The band tries to track down the remaining balls and keep Piccolo at bay with mixed results.
The film attempts to combine a Japanese and American story here, randomly mixing elements of both. This amalgam doesn’t really end up satisfying either audience. Even the stellar names in the cast like Yun-Fat Chow and James Marsters don’t seem to be able to find solid enough footing here. The rest of the cast is absolutely horrible, almost to a fault. It’s almost as if these characters were intended to be caricatures and not really to be taken seriously. There are far too many clumsily inserted one liners that only serve to add to the awkward feel of the entire movie. The journey is also an uneven one. There are moments that approach genuine drama, but the movie loses that momentum with some cartoon style stunt or depiction. The CG is at times breathtaking and others so obvious and silly that it belongs in a cheap spoof of these kind of adventure films. While the danger might be built up with all of that “end of the world” stuff, the film just can’t be taken seriously enough for any of that to matter. I don’t know when I’ve seen a more uneven film. There’s a lot of unevenness in the writing. In one scene, the balls are stolen by the bad guys. If these balls can bring about the destruction of the planet, you would think they wouldn’t leave them just sitting around unguarded in Goku’s bedroom.
It tanked at the box office, most definitely losing money with its just over $9 million domestic take. In less than two weeks it was already gone from most megaplexes. And that was in April, before the onslaught of blockbuster films has even started. The movie obviously didn’t appeal to that many people; I’m not sure it can be expected that even a high definition Blu-ray would do any better. This one’s doomed to the bargain bins for sure.
Dragonball Evolution is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/Mpeg-4 codec. The print is certainly in excellent condition, and there are moments when the superior detail of this rather good video presentation can be captivating. Blacks are particularly rock solid. The rest of the image can be uneven, but more because the CG is not consistent. Colors are pretty good. There are some wonderful starbursts of color, particularly blues and reds. Unfortunately this good image can work against the film. The makeup on Marsters is actually really nice from a distance. Up close you completely see the outline of the actor’s unmistakable features underneath all of the paint and prosthetics. The rear projection and digital insertions are also very obvious at times. There’s one particular scene where Goku is hopping across some bad guy bodies to traverse a pit of lava. It’ll look so bad you’ll laugh so hard you’ll cry. When the picture is completely based on realistic terms, it’s very solid. Flesh tones are reference and detail is impressive. Unfortunately it’s a tale of two images, best of times, worst of times kind of stuff.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is pretty solid. I was impressed with sub levels and sound placement overall. I’d say it is here that the film excels the most. Sounds are wonderfully placed, and the f/x add a good deal of realism to often sub par visuals. The music is energetic but never steps on the dialog or action. Some of the characters do not project very well, so when dialog is lost it’s mostly weak character voice work.
Goku’s Quest: This is a treasure hunt style game. You are challenged to find the 7 dragonballs while you watch the film.
Deleted Scenes: There are 8 with a total 11:10 running time. You can use a play all option. Most are extended or alternate scenes.
Goku’s Workout: (4:50) Work along to the regimen that the actors were given to prepare for the role.
Music Video: (2:23) Brian Anthony’s Worked Up.
Gag Reel: (2:23) Lots of goofing around.
Fox Movie Channel Presents: Making A Scene (9:07) and Life After Film School (24:57) These are the only standard definition extras. The first looks at the duo Chi-Chi fight while the second features film students interviewing Justin Chatwin.
I know the anime fans will really want to check this out, but hopefully the word has already circulated that this film has some serious problems. It’s really Transformers light, but more like a Power Rangers movie. It must have cost a good deal of money, so I’m sure the box office is a big disappointment and likely means the end of the film franchise. There is a mid credit scene that sets up a sequel that I doubt very much will see the light. With banter lines like “prepare to eat dirt”, the film is too childish for adults and too involved for children. It’s not the first time a hugely famous franchise has produced such a lame film. “Human power has failed before.”