Somewhat critically savaged, seemingly largely because star Ashton Kutcher attempted to play something aside from an idiot, "Butterfly Effect" still remains - in my opinion - one of the years most underrated films. While unrelentingly (and surprisingly) grim and dark, what makes "Effect" watchable is its unpredictability, along with very good performances.
The film stars Kutcher as Evan Trebhorn, a 20-something student who has gone through a lot of emotional suffering in his lifetime, from abuse by a family friend to a prank gone terribly wrong to having his father being taken away due to mental illness. As Evan becomes older, he realizes that he can use the journals that he wrote when he was younger to transport himself back to moments where he'd blacked out due to emotional stress and not only see what he'd missed, but try and re-work those missing minutes.
While he believes that he can make his life better through changing those early mistakes or tragedies, he finds that things don't go exactly how he planned: one aspect of his life may be fixed, but another is sent into disarray. Sometimes, Evan is effected, sometimes, its his friends - or the girl he's always loved, Kayleigh (Amy Smart). The less given away about the results of Evan's changes, the better. This is certainly a film where it's better to go in cold.
The performances are surprisingly good. Kutcher, who plays dumb better than most, turns in a sympathetic and, dare I say - moving performance as the troubled Evan, who struggles desperately to change the past, not knowing if it will all ever work out in his favor. Amy Smart, despite having a somewhat limited role, is also excellent - especially in a couple of key scenes between her and Kutcher.
Written and directed by J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress (who previously wrote "Final Destination 2"), "The Butterfly Effect" remains an pleasingly ambitious, thought-provoking work, even if there are some plot holes and quirks that are never quite worked out, although they probably won't bother most until they reflect on the film later. Gruber and Bress also get fine performances out of their cast, while building tension through subtle twists, turns and pretty decent, although not remarkable, character development.
Certainly, this remains one of the most surprising films I've seen this year. It is remarkably dark, saddening and emotional at times. While I suppose it heads in the generally expected direction, the twists and turns in the path to the ending remained unexpected. The film also looks terrific, despite a low budget (I'm guessing the low budget allowed the filmmakers to head into the kind of darkness they do). Overall, a very good film.
The DVD contains both the 113-minute theatrical cut and the 119-minute director's cut. The main addition to the director's cut (which is also rated R) is a saddening alternate ending, as well as another scene mid-way through the film that sets up the alternate ending. Additional alternate endings are available in the deleted scenes section.
VIDEO: "The Butterfly Effect" is presented by 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by New Line. Despite the disc being something of a packed house, the film still - as nearly every transfer by New Line has in the past - looks terrific. Sharpness and detail appeared impressive throughout the entire picture, with no apparent softness or inconsistency.
Flaws were few-and-far-between. Some light grain appeared in some scenes, but I'm guessing that's an intentional element of the cinematography, as it was visible when I saw the film theatrically, too. The print otherwise looks fine, with no specks, marks or other issues. Edge enhancement is not a concern here and only a tiny bit of compression artifacts appear. The film's color palette changed often, but remained accurately rendered here. Another excellent transfer from New Line.
SOUND: "The Butterfly Effect" is presented by New Line in Dolby Digital 5.1-EX and DTS 6.1-ES. The DTS track is only present on the director's cut. The film's soundtrack is not particularly aggressive during most of the film, but the flashback sequences do provide a very impressive and enveloping series of sound effects. The back surround does do a lot of work doing these scenes, so those who can enable a back surround will find it adds greatly to the scene. Audio quality was terrific, with clean/clear dialogue, score and effects.
EXTRAS: Co-writers/co-directors J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress provide a very good commentary for the film. The two provide a very enjoyable discussion, chatting about how they went about getting a lot of the choices they wanted for the look of the film and the story, as well as casting and location shooting. Although they get caught up in watching the movie and narrate a couple of scenes, they are otherwise funny and informative.
The DVD includes many other features, such as a pair of featurettes. "The Creative Process" is a very good 17-minute piece that provides a great overview of the film's production process. Interviews with the director, Kutcher, the crew members and producers are included. The piece provides us with information about the dynamic that existed with two directors, trying to cast the film, the passion that the director/writers had for the screenplay and how the look of the film was decided upon.
A 16-minute visual effects featurette provides interviews that discuss the pre-visualization process for the film, as well as some of the elements that went into the visual effects shots. What was nice about this featurette is that not only does it discuss the process of creating the effects, but it also offers the viewer a lot of the back-and-forth discussions about visual effects tone and what were early concepts for scenes. The film also did not have a large budget, and effects had to work hand-in-hand with accurate camera work.
Moving on, the extras section also includes a large storyboard gallery and deleted scenes section, which includes 9 scenes (w/optional commentary). Two of the scenes are additional alternate endings. Finally, we also get the film's theatrical trailer, in Dolby Digital 5.1.
Ah, but that's not all. The "Beyond the Movie" section holds featurettes on "The Science and Psychology of the Chaos Theory" and "The History and Allure of Time Travel". There is also a fact track that can play along with the movie. These two featurettes are, as per usual for New Line's "Beyond the Movie" pieces, well-produced, interesting and informative.
Once again, New Line offers the Infinifilm feature here. This allows viewers to skip to relevant information about the scene or overall movie with a click of the button. This is an optional feature and the film can be watched without the prompts to skip - only momentarily, as the viewer is brought back once they are done - to the other features.
DVD-ROM features include script-to-screen viewer, image gallery, theatrical/DC comparisons, web-links and more.
Final Thoughts: A genuinely creepy film that somehow manages an undercurrent of hopefulness in the darkness, "The Butterfly Effect" is a saddening, involving and generally very well-done thriller. New Line's DVD edition provides plenty of supplements and excellent audio/video quality. While the film may not be for everyone, I'll still recommend it.