Dreamworks // PG-13 // $26.98 // December 26, 2001
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted December 21, 2001
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The Movie:

"Evolution" is one of those films that, while not entirely painful to sit through, not only offers nothing new, but it doesn't even deliver what it promises: humor. I found maybe two or three laughs in the film's running time. The film almost signals a de-evolution in the comedy genre, as the movie takes pieces from other sci-fi pictures and slaps together a few very stale fart jokes and decent special effects, pairs them with some mis-cast actors and calls it all a day.

David Duchovny, who still manages to occasionally turn up on TV's "X-Files", stars as Ira Kane, a professor at a small Arizona community college. It's obvious from the get go that Kane doesn't really have much of an interest as he gives all but two members of his class an A. When a meteor crash lands in the desert, he's called in with fellow professor Harry Block (Orlando Jones) to find out what happened. What was originally just a side-trip to take a peek turns a little more interesting when samples of the meteor reveal that the rock is actually made up of tiny creatures that are evolving at an unbelievably rapid rate. At the opening, once the creatures are fully grown into various weird alien forms, they can't adapt to our atmosphere and are stuck in the cave where the rock crashed. As the hours pass though, they're constantly evolving - and with the network of caves, it's only a matter of time before they rise above ground and find ways to adapt to our planet.

In the meantime, the army crashes the party. A general (Ted Levine) accompnied by a CDC employee named Allison Reed(a badly mis-cast and underused Julianne Moore) keep the two professors out of the area, even going so far as to go to court in an unnecessary scene that reveals Kane's past and a few stale bathroom-style jokes (what would a scene in this film be without them?). It's dull scenes like these that have no payoff whatsoever that really make "Evolution" suffer tremendously; the pacing is way off, the comedic timing is nearly non-existent, and I found a decent joke every 25-30 minutes. I've heard reports that "Evolution" was originally intended to be a drama when it was in development and, if so, the translation to comedy has failed greatly.

If you've got a bad screenplay - and "Evolution" has a simply abysmal one - at least have actors who are willing to sell the material for all its worth to at least mine a few laughs. David Duchovny, with his deadpan persona, is not the right choice. With a perfect partner in Gillian Anderson, and better material on "The X-Files" that persona has created one of the more entertaining characters in recent television. With bad material, Duchovny not only is boring, but looks bored. The only funny line from the actor, which jokes about his "X-Files" career ("No government. I know those people.") was already in all of the trailers. Moore doesn't fare any better - a one joke character (she keeps falling down - wow...how hilarious.), the actress deserves a whole lot better and is completely wasted here. The other two actors work a whole lot better - Orlando Jones actually puts forth some energy towards the lines and a few obviously improved moments are some of the few bright spots. Seann William Scott, previously of "American Pie" and "Dude, Where's My Car?" takes his stoner persona and recycles it for one more outing. He does get some of the better lines, though, although in "Evolution" that's saying very little.

Last, but not least, in one of what has to be the most random scenes of the year, the group sings "Play That Funky Music" in their jeep as they go to check out the aliens. The unenergetic tone of the movie (and the fact that it's been done millions of times before) makes this painfully unfunny and weirdly placed in the film. If the movie wasn't taking itself seriously and just having fun, maybe this would seem at least slightly more acceptable, but no one in "Evoltion" seems to be enjoying themselves. None of the characters really seem to care about what's happening all that much, nor is the outcome of the movie ever in question. Look for the cliche army general who has the wrong idea and won't listen to the people with the right idea, the senator(Dan Ackroyd) who just wants to get the problem solved even in the wrong fashion, etc. Reitman simply takes parts and pieces from other pictures - his own "Ghostbusters", Barry Sonnenfeld's "Men In Black", "Tremors" and quite a few others, but doesn't bring a whole lot of anything new to the party. The creatures are decently done special effects, but there's so little of interest going on in the movie that even the more interesting effects were met with a yawn.

At the core of it all rests the same problem as many films lately, whatever genre they are - no one seems to have read the screenplay before laying down tons of cash to actually make the film - and in the case of "Evoltion", two studios worked together to bring us this alarmingly dull feature. Even after a second attempt to view it, I still find "Evolution" to be one of the year's worst films.


VIDEO: "Evolution" is presented by Dreamworks in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. It is also, in my opinion, the worst transfer the studio has released. Given the fact that this is also the worst movie that they have ever released, it seems sort of fitting. While certainly not a total loss, the presentation simply suffers from more flaws than usual for a release from the usually reliable studio. Sharpness and detail are noticably inconsistent throughout the movie; while a good deal of the film looked at least crisp, other scenes are wanting in definition and sharpness. Darker scenes looked murky, as well.

Aside from some noticable softness, there are some other issues to contend with. Edge enhancement does turn up, if only mildly, in several scenes. Some light pixelation and grain also show up during a few scenes, as well. Print flaws are a bit more apparent than most fairly new releases, as minor specks and a mark or two were briefly spotted.

Colors are generally well-rendered, looking nicely saturated and without smearing or other problems. Flesh tones looked accurate and natural, as well. While the film itself is was already not visually stunning when I saw it in the theater, the additional flaws apparent here didn't help matters. Certainly not terrible, the disc simply suffers from more concerns than a usual new release from Dreamworks.

SOUND: "Evolution" is presented in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. The film's soundtrack was nothing that I would consider outstanding, but there were several elements that I found above-average. The fun and enjoyable (and deserving of a better movie) score by John Powell is really highlighted throughout the film, delivered by all 5 channels with spirit and energy. On the other hand, surrounds were not used that heavy for effects or other sounds besides the score. This being a comedy (well, at least that's what I was told it was), the majority of the audio sticks to the front speakers. The final battle sequence does bring out a more agressive audio assault with some considerable low bass, but prior to that, this presentation isn't anything too remarkable. Audio quality is satisfactory, as Powell's score sounded superb, while effects and dialogue came through clearly and cleanly. Both the DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks deliver fine presentations, but the DTS soundtrack edges in the lead by a bit, delivering a slightly crisper soundtrack that delivered a bit stronger bass.

MENUS:: A suprisingly elegant animated main menu with the score in the background. Warning: while the main menu does not, some of the sub-menus give away scenes from the movie, since they play in the background.


Commentary: This is a commentary from director Ivan Reitman and actors Seann William Scott, Orlando Jones and David Duchovny. Strangely, this is called "A Conversation With" on the box, but it's actually a full-length discussion. Frankly, it's also far and away funnier than anything in the picture itself. Reitman seems to try and ruin the party now and then by trying to keep things serious, but the actors keep coming up with terrific jokes about each other and the movie they're watching. Duchnovy is easily the highlight of the track, consistently poking fun at the movie and even asking Reitman why an alien is named what it is - to which Reitman replys, "um, uh...I don't know". There's also a moment where Duchnovny asks for an apology from Reitman for making him wear a purple sweater. Jones and Scott also contribute some humorous moments and it seems as if the three actors got along wonderfully. There's not much in the way of technical comments about how the film was made, but it was decidedly more entertaining and funny than the film itself.

Deleted Scenes: Six deleted scenes, presented in anamorphic widescreen and including audio intros from Reitman, are offered here. A few of the scenes are rather funny, including an alternate ending that should have been under more consideration to include in the film.

HBO First Look: 15 minutes of pure promotion, as the actors and filmmakers chat about what you'll find in the movie that you've probably just seen if you've watched this DVD.

Storyboard Selection: Viewed as either storyboard-to-scene comparison or storyboards only: Opening Scene, Class Trip To The Cave, Wayne Gets Attacked by a Dragonfly, Attack at the Golf Course, Valley of the Dead Birds, Mall Bird Attack.

Visual Effects: This is a 10 minute featurette that offers the thoughts of the visual and physical effects artists. There's some interesting information offered, as we are shown some of the creatures brought to life on computers that are probably unbelievably expensive.

also: Photo gallery, cast/filmmaker bios, production notes. Strangely, no trailer.

Final Thoughts:"Evolution" is a failure in almost every regard; there's mis-casting, some painfully poor humor and considerably slow pacing. It's a film that has easily earned a spot on my "worst of 2001" list. Dreamworks has produced a fairly good DVD for the title; although the image quality is unexpectedly rather subpar, the audio is quite good and there are some strong supplements. I personally wouldn't recommend the film in any form, but those still interested might want to try a rental.

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