Dragonball: Evolution
Fox // PG // $39.98 // July 28, 2009
Review by John Sinnott | posted August 5, 2009
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Graphical Version
The Movie:
 
As many of you know, Dragon Ball started out as a comic (manga) in Japan, and went on to be a world-wide phenomenon.  Translated into several languages the manga has sold over 150 million copies and the anime adaptation of the series has been broadcast in dozens of countries.  The writer and artist of the series, Akira Toriyama, is widely cited as a major influence by the current generation of manga artists including Masashi Kishimoto (Naruto) and Eiichiro Oda (One Piece).  Okay, what I'm getting at is that, good or bad, the original story is very, very, popular.  Which begs the question:  Why was most of that thrown out for this movie?  I mean they even got the name wrong (it is two words, "Dragon Ball".)  For whatever reasons, in the 2009 movie Dragonball Evolution the story that entranced a generation was discarded, the character's personalities were changed, and just to make sure they alienated everyone, they made the story confusing to those who weren't familiar with the manga or anime.
 
Goku (Justin Chatwin) is a nerdy high school student who is constantly bullied by a gang at school.  What makes this so infuriating to the young man is that he's actually a fantastic fighter, trained by his grandfather Gohan (Randall Duk Kim) who also made him promise never to battle bullies.  (For heaven's sake why?!?)  On his 18th birthday, Gohan gives Goku a very special present, a Dragon Ball.  There are only seven in the world, and when they are brought together the Great Dragon, Shenron, may be summoned and he will grant one wish. 
 


Unfortunately, there is someone else who knows about the dragon balls and their power, the evil alien Piccolo.  He attacked Earth 2000 years ago and was only defeated when 7 mystics sacrificed their lives to seal the alien away.  Now he's escaped (they never say how) and he wants to use the seven balls to become ruler of the world.  Somehow knowing that Gohan has a dragon ball (again, it's never made clear how he knows.  Magic I guess.) Piccolo attacks and kills Goku's grandfather, only to discover that the ball is not with the old man.  (Goku took it to a party of all things....)
 
When Goku gets back home, he discovers his father dying.  With his last breath, he tells Goku to seek out Master Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat) for more training and then to find the dragon balls, since their wish is the only thing that will stop Piccolo.
 
Along the way Goku teams up with an assortment of friends including Bulma (Emmy Rossum), an electronic genius who wants to use the dragon balls as a source of energy, Chi Chi (Jamie Chung), a hot high school babe who dates the biggest bully in the school and is secretly a martial arts expert, but has trouble opening her locker at school, and Yamcha (Joon Park) a common thief.  Together this rag-tag band has to stop the evil alien from taking over the world.
 


Where to start?  There is so much wrong with this film that it's hard to get all the complaints organized.  For the Dragon Ball novice, this film will be rather hard to follow.  They establish at the beginning that the story takes place on Earth in the present day, but Earth they show is nothing like the one we inhabit.  With futuristic machines and strange cities, the planet doesn't look like Earth, and what about Piccolo attacking at the time of Christ?  Surely someone would have noted that. 
 
For fans of the series this movie is just a huge disappointment.  Not because the story has been changed, that was just dumb since they couldn't come up with something more entertaining, but because they changed nearly everyone's personalities.  Goku is the biggest offender.   Dragon Ball is a character driven piece and the star is Goku.  In this movie he's not the happy, upbeat, inhumanly strong person he was in the manga.  In this movie he's awkward, afraid to talk to girls (Goku, afraid of something??), wants to be accepted by his peers at Unitech High School, and doesn't know how to handle bullies.  That's the exact opposite of what he should be.  The same goes for most of the other characters.  None of them have the charm or appeal that made the original series so successful.
 
Okay, so how about we forget that this is based on Dragon Ball and look at it just as an action movie?  It still sucks.  From the opening shot of a close up of Goku's face, with sweat dripping off and cannon-like sound effect dubbed over it, you know this is going to be a painful affair.  Every thing is overdone: The sound effects, the visuals, and especially the acting.  Most of the main characters need to turn it down a notch or two, especially Justin Chatwin.  (He should take some Karate lessons too.)  Chow Yun-Fat, normally an excellent actor, phoned this one in and looked embarrassed to be in the film at all. 
 


The dialog is horrible, laughable at times.  I mean really, really, bad.  Here are a few of the choice lines from the film, you can judge for yourself:  "In order to defeat you, I must be one with myself.", "With this Dragon Ball, I take my vengeance... upon the Earth." and my favorite "Prepare punk, for your clock is going to be cleaned!"  Wow, what is that, straight out of a 80's cop show??
 
One of the biggest offenses is that the fight scenes, something that you'd think they'd put a lot of time into, are very lame.  They are really, incredibly bad for a major Hollywood studio production.  The battles looked more like the fight scenes from a 30's Western than a modern movie.  They lacked excitement and drama, and very few of the actors looked like they had ever practiced martial arts before.    Added to that was the grand finale that was very unimpressive.  Even when the Great Dragon is summoned at the end it is small and wimpy, that was a huge disappointment.  The cartoon version was much more awe-inspiring!

This movie opened to negative reviews, but I though that was just because the writers didn't 'get' the movie.  It takes some time to enjoy the anime, so I was hoping that the critics were wrong.  They weren't.  This is a bad film.
 

The DVD:

   
Audio:
 
While the film itself left a lot to be desired, the presentation was pretty good.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix was very nice which made good use of the entire soundstage.  The rears got a lot of action, especially during the fight scenes.  The dialog was clean and clear and the sound effects were crisp.  Over all this audio track did a fine job. 
 
Video:
 
The MPEG-4 AVC 1080p disc preserves the original aspect ratio of 2.4:1 and looks pretty good, I have to admit.  The colors are bright and warm and the level of detail is excellent.  There are several scenes that pop well, such as when Piccolo is watching the glowing orange Dragon Balls float just before he attempts to summon the dragon.  There was a bit of digital noise in some night scenes, like when Goku is going to the party at Chi Chi's house.  There was some barely noticeable banding too, but aside from these minor quibbles the disc looks great.
 
Extras:
 
Since I didn't like the movie, I was excited about wading through the bonus features.  Luckily there aren't that many.  We start off with Goku's Quest Game is a very simplistic game (you press a button whenever a dragon ball appears) that has no entertainment value.  There are 11-minutes worth of deleted scenes, none of which really add much to the story.  I can understand why they were cut.  That is followed by the five-minute Goku's Workout which illustrates some of the moves from the movie.
 
The Fox Movie Channel was kind enough to plaster their name over the next two featurettes:  Fox Movie Channel Presents: Making a Scene and Fox Movie Channel Presents: Life After Film School with Justin Chatwin.  The former is a nine-minute look at how they shot the fight scene in which Chi Chi battles a doppelganger.  Eh.  The latter is a nearly half-hour discussion between some film students and star Justin Chatwin. 
 
The disc wraps up with a music video and a fairly lame gag reel.  There is also a second disc that contains a digital copy of the movie.
 
Final Thoughts:
 
Incredibly predictable (with a final scene stolen from Rocky III), poorly written, badly acted, and nothing like the anime or manga that it was taken from, this movie is just a waste of time.  There wasn't any aspect that I thought was well done.  Even if you're a fan of the original material, stay away.  Skip it.
 


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