Starting off with a poignant quote from the Chaos Theory relating how something as simple as the flutter of a butterfly can ripple into a typhoon, The Butterfly Effect is an interesting little thriller that takes a look at just how every action really does have an equal and sometimes very opposite reaction.
Hunk of the month and Mr. Demi Moore himself Ashton Kutcher (of That 70s Show and Dude, Where's My Car? plays Evan Treborn. Evan grew up in a small town with a close group of friends but had the distinct and unusual habit of blacking out anytime something really stressful happened to him. When things get ugly, such as when a local boy kills his dog or when a prank involving a stick of dynamite goes horribly wrong, he blanks it out from his memory. He comes by this trait honestly though – his father, Jason, had the same problem due to a brain hemorrhage and was eventually driven insane by his condition.
As Evan gets older, he realizes that by rereading his old journals he is able to go back in time and not only relive the events, filling in his memory gaps, but also alter them. Seeing as he now thinks like the adult he is as opposed to the child he was then, this causes things to change quite drastically, especially in regards to his relationship with Kayleigh, his childhood sweetheart.
As Evan develops this ability he relives all of the traumatic events from his childhood, and in turn, drastically tries to reshape the world he lives in now for the better. This isn't going to be easy though and he learns that what may, on the surface at least, seem ideal is in fact just as bad if not worse than the reality he knows.
Those who, like myself, were skeptical of this film based on Kutcher's casting have nothing to fear. He's about as far removed from Michael Kelso in this film as you can get and he turns in a pretty solid performance that shows that he can handle a serious role just as well as a comedic role. He's sympathetic and believable in the part and while it did take me awhile to disassociate him with his better known television character, once I overcame that personal bias I was able to really enjoy the film.
Aside from Kutcher, there's a solid supporting cast here as well. Amy Smart is very good in what is actually a few roles combined into one character, and Eric Stoltz as her pedophile father is just sleazy enough to make us hate him without going over the top and coming across as camp. What is interesting though is how many different child actors are used in the film, and used effectively at that. Whereas with most films, child actors can really pull you out of a movie and into the land of disbelief, here the kids all turn in admirable efforts and deliver their dialogue naturally and without the common hesitation that can be associated with this type of casting.
The filmmakers have also done a nice job with the look of the film. Where a lot of times CGI can really and truly suck, here it is used pretty effectively to emulate what Evan sees as he's going back in time. It works well without resorting to a cliché version of him seeing his life flash before his eyes or anything like that. Instead it's almost frightening in its intensity and from a purely visual standpoint, quite eye catching. There is one stand out moment the computer-generated effects are obvious, a scene where Evan wakes up and finds that he has physically changed, but aside from that, the movie looks very nice. The cinematography is slick and effective with plenty of interesting eye catching angles and colors used throughout, and the soundscape, which plays a pretty important part in the overall feel of the film, is well designed and atmospheric.
Both the 113-minute theatrical cut and the 119-minute director's cut are included on this DVD. The key difference between the two is the alternate ending that finds Tommy deducing that his relationship with Kayleigh isn't the problem after all, it is in fact something completely different. It is, in my opinion, a bleaker but better ending that suits the tone of the film better. There is also quite a bit of character development in the first third of the film that fleshes out the storyline quite a bit better. The key point though is the ending, which completely changes the tone of the film when compared to the rather syrupy theatrical ending that New Line chose to use instead. Six-minutes of running time may not seem like an awful lot of difference, but believe me, the ending is far more appropriate and changes what is basically an average quality film into a much better, albeit darker, thriller.
One single layered side of the DVD has the theatrical cut, and the second side, being dual layered, contains the director's cut as well as the extra features and a DTS track. Regardless of which cut you check out, the bit rate is pretty high on both of them, and they are both presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.85.1 and enhanced for anamorphic television sets. Both cuts have been transferred to DVD very nicely. Compression artifacts are non-existent and edge enhancement is never an issue. Some of the whites look just a tad washed out but other than that the movie looks great. There is a very fine sheen of natural looking grain evident in a few of the darker scenes but its never distracting. Colors are nice and robust, skin tones are natural looking and dead on, and black levels are deep and ominous looking without ever breaking up or pixelating. The level of detail is consistently high and the picture remains sharp from start to finish.
The theatrical cut of the film has your choice of a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix or a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround Sound mix. Clarity is fine throughout with a nice use made of the rear channels for certain moments in the film. The subwoofer will get a decent workout as well, adding some nice bass to the film.
The directors cut, in addition to the 2.0 and 5.1 mixes, also has a DTS 6.1 ES Surround Sound mix that makes much better use of the lower front end in the mix and is overall considerably more aggressive sounding than the 5.1 mix. Bass response is lively and very active and again, the rear surround channels are used quite effectively. The only complaint with the DTS mix is that there are one or two moments in the film where the dialogue is a wee bit too low in the mix. Aside from that though, this mix is top notch and adds a nice air of atmosphere to the film, heightening the experience considerably.
Both cuts of the film include English closed captioning.
As is typical with New Line's Infinifilm series of DVDs, The Butterfly Effect has got a pretty substantial amount of extra features hidden amongst its fancy animated menus.
The All Access Pass, which is exclusive to the director's cut of the film only, begins with co-directors/co-writers Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber giving their thoughts on the director's cut via a screen specific commentary feature. Their enthusiasm for getting their preferred version of the film out to the public is quite endearing and it's interesting to hear what they went through to make it happen. They give a lot of detail about pretty much all aspects of making the film, from effects work, pre and post production, working with child actors, studio headaches, and more. They also go into a bit of detail about the editing and cinematography choices used in the film. While at times they are a bit too self congratulatory, overall this is a mighty interesting listen not only for fans of the film but for those who dig on behind the scenes info like I do.
Beyond The Movie is broken up into two segments, the first of which is Psychology Of The Chaos Theory (9 minutes), which takes a look at the writings behind the psychological premise that the film is based on. The second portion is entitled The History And Allure Of Time Travel (13 minutes) and takes a look at exactly what it sounds like – time travel. Both pieces are a little dry in that they take a rather scientific approach to their subjects. While this is good in that it provides some nice information, the presentation comes off as too cold for its own good. Regardless, the content works nicely in the context of the film which makes this featurette worth glancing through at least once.
Two making of featurettes can also be found here: The Creative Process and Visual Effects. The Creative Process (18 minutes) is an interesting look at what the two men went through getting the film into pre-production. They worked long and hard on this project before anything came of it and this piece documents their struggle in a way that is both informative and interesting. The Visual Effects (16 minutes) piece is, no surprise here, a peek at the way that the time travel effects were handled in the film. Most of the work was done with computers but this is still a pretty interesting feature with some good information in it.
A collection of eight deleted scenes is compiled for this release that are available with or without commentary from Bress and Gruber. Most of these are just added bits of dialogue here and there that don't add much of anything to the film that we didn't get from the director's cut. There is a third ending in here though, that the pair of filmmakers justly realize was a pretty bad idea and it's nice to hear their honesty in saying so on the commentary track.
An anamorphic widescreen trailer rounds out the DVD video features, but those with DVD-Roms will find quite a bit more if they pop the disc into their computers and take a look at the wealth of extra features found here as well.
First up is a Script To Screen option that once again exclusive to the director's cut of the film. What this allows you to do is access either specific scenes or the entire script and jump to that scene on the DVD. It also allows you to print it out if you want. It's a simple but interesting feature and New Line has done a good job of laying out the interface making it both visually attractive and very easy to use.
The Commentary Digest is an interesting option that allows you to, while perusing the director's cut with the commentary track turned on, access some of Bress and Gruber's notes that provide even more information on whatever specific aspect of the film is being discussed at the time that couldn't be worked into the commentary track itself. You can watch it in sequence or jump straight to specific scene to get details on shot setups, cast and crew information, camera angles, blocking, storyboard info, and more. There's a huge amount of information contained in this feature and it's very cool to see New Line include it here.
A Still Gallery of just under eighty images can also be found in the DVD-Rom features, and it includes all manner of production, advertising, behind the scenes and promotional stills in slide show format. Finally, the Scene Medley option gives you a chance to watch specific scenes in whatever order you want in quick succession. It's an odd little feature but kind of fun to play around with.
I'll admit, The Butterfly Effect took me by surprise. I half expected it to suck horribly and am happy to report that it didn't at all. The movie is well thought out, and although the premise isn't all that new, it gives a few interesting spins on it that make it worth checking out. New Line has done an excellent job on this DVD release with solid extra features and top notch audio and video quality, so it's easy for me to stamp this puppy with a much deserved "Highly Recommended."
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.