Dragonball: Evolution Blu-ray Review
It doesn't make any sense to a superfan, so good luck to the rest of you...
I became a Dragonball fan waaaaay back in my middle schools days, somewhere in the 94 - 95 school year, by way of some crappy VHS fansubs I bought at DragonCon in Atlanta. Shortly thereafter, the show began running in Cartoon Network's Toonami programming block. I still remember that time like it was yesterday; racing home at 5:30 to see the terribly dubbed, chopped up first two seasons. Skipping ahead 14 or so years to the present, I'm still a huge fan of the series - so much so that I spent almost 85 hours under the needle to have all my favorites tattooed on arm into a full sleeve (Note: I have since bought my membership to Anime Weekend Atlanta for '09, so I've been getting a few touch-ups in preparation I'll be at around 100 hours before it is all said and done).
Like most hardcore fans, I wasn't exactly thrilled with the American live-action adaptation of the classic manga, called Dragonball: Evolution. It didn't do too well at the box office, and thus it's being released on DVD and Blu-ray less than five months after it was in theaters. If you haven't seen the film, I'd be willing to that bet you've at least heard that it is the worst film ever. Well, if you're still on the fence about the whole thing, I'd wager that my opinions carry a bit more weight than the average non-tattooed message board-posting Dragonball fan. Want fanboy hysterics from American loyalists who think Goku sounds stupid in the original Japanese version of the show? Or Japanese-only fans who scoff with imagined elitism and superiority at FUNimation Dragonball releases and solemnly swear they will never, EVER see this film (Or watch the dubbed version of the anime? Or be pleasant and interesting to talk to?)? You can read any other review online; there are a lot of 'em. Want an honest review from a die-hard, yet extremely cynical fan willing to give the movie a chance? Then this review is for you.
Being such a huge fan, it is almost impossible to review this Blu-ray without slipping into a diatribe of nerd complaint after nerd complaint. Of course you'll get a few of those before it is all said and done, but let's keep the mainstream, non-Dragonball fan in mind for this first little bit.
Dragonball: Evolution tells the story of Goku, a teen with some bizarre fashion priorities and dirty, greasy-looking hair. He lives with his Grandpa Gohan, who is both a skilled martial artist and an unintentional (I hope) nod to Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid. In between training sessions, Goku attends high school with a cast of characters so contrived and recycled that they should rename said school "Boring Clich High School." "Boring Clich High School Football Rules!" After a series of events pilfered directly from the Spider-Man movies, it becomes apparent that Goku's destiny is to save the world from the Demon King Piccolo, not to make an A in Honors Biology. Guess what? Goku wins. Big surprise.
Aside from not being faithful to the manga or anime, the worst aspect of the film is the acting. Goku (Justin Chatwin) looks exhausted - and possibly high - throughout most of the movie, and his delivery isn't much better. The desert bandit Yamcha (Joon Park) gets through his lines slightly better than Chatwin, but his inane dialogue makes him supremely annoying. I haven't heard "Dude" and "Bro" used in conversation in quite some time, and it is every other sentence with this guy. All three of the female leads - Bulma (Emily Rossum), Chi-Chi (Jamie Chung) and Mai (Eriko Tamura) - are all essentially worthless, with only handful of lines between the three of them. The only interesting and well-acted characters are Master Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat) and Piccolo (James Masters); and they won't be winning an Oscar for this one. They, too, could have been terrible, but when held up against Goku and Yamcha's performances, these fan-favorites look like the greatest actors in the history of cinema.
So things aren't exactly going Dragonball: Evolution's way, and the discussion of the Blu-ray itself isn't going to stem the tide of complaints. The picture and sound are fairly decent when viewed in a home theater-like environment (or really anywhere for that matter), but that is when the good news ends. For a Blu-ray, this one has a pitiful amount of actual content. A few featurettes, a commercial or two and a music video do not a great disc make. It would have been better to skip these extras altogether; the Blu-ray would have appeared less rushed and cheap. Blu-ray technology affords so much more than the standard DVD format, so it is always a shame to see it go to such a waste. (Note: I've since purchased the film on DVD as well - superfan, remember?- and the Blu-ray and DVD have the exact same special features. What a ripoff.)
Without a doubt, the disc's worst feature isn't really a feature at all, but it does appear in both the DVD and Blu-ray editions. Apparently, accordingly to the packaging, this release is the "Z Edition" of the film. Dragonball: Evolution Blu-ray? $30. PS3 with which to watch it? $400. Trying to drive up sales of a DVD or Blu-ray by borrowing the namesake of the series that this film almost ruins? Priceless. Underhanded, but priceless nonetheless.
So neither the film nor the Blu-ray have much of anything going for them. It's a crying shame; all the filmmakers would have had to do is listen to the fans and we may have gotten a movie worthy of the title of Dragonball. They went the opposite route, rewriting Dragonball history to suit their needs and completely losing focus on what the whole story is about. You guessed it - we're now at the superfan diatribe portion of this review. Strap yourself in and get ready to feel the nerdiness.
For brevity's sake, I'm only going to touch on two or three nerd problems, but just because it isn't mentioned here doesn't mean it isn't a complaint. First off, Piccolo was in the movie for all of 30 seconds. Ok. Maybe like 3 or 4 minutes, but not enough. Marsters proves during his miniscule screen time that he was, in fact, the best part of Dragonball: Evolution. On top of that, he doesn't have more than a handful of spoken lines. So the best thing about the film is the very thing we see the least of. Makes sense to me.
This one is a little nerdier. Mai, Piccolo's enforcer and companion, had nothing to do with the green guy in the original Dragonball anime/manga. Instead, she and a talking dog named Shu acted as henchmen for Emperor Pilaf. I certainly wasn't expecting to see Pilaf or Shu in the movie, but it makes no sense to reassign a character simply for reassignment's sake.
I saved the nerdiest for last. When Goku transforms into his Oozaru (i.e. giant monkey) form, he is about 1/10 the size he is supposed to be. The Saiyan transformation is supposed to result in an 800-foot monster, not a guy who has slightly more hair than Robin Williams and is only about 8 or 9 feet tall. And speaking of the transformation, it occurs when the light from a full moon reacts to a gland found in all Saiyans' tails. Guess what - Goku has no tail in the movie. The whole thing makes about zero sense.
There are a few concessions made for fans, though; Bulma clearly identifies herself as "Bulma Briefs" and states that her father founded the Capsule Corporation. The attack that was able to trap Piccolo eons ago is correctly called the "Mafu-Ba." And Chow Yun-Fat's Master Roshi is acceptably goofy and perverted, matching his personality in the source material. These little things don't make up for the botched handling of the manga and/or anime that is Dragonball: Evolution. It is a weak film, accentuated by a very weak Blu-ray release and topped with the soul-crushing "Z Edition" claim printed on the package. No matter what kind of Dragonball fan you are - a casual who enjoys not having to read subtitles, a hardcore snob who won't ever be satisfied with anything done with the franchise or an all-encompassing fan, like myself, who loves it all - this film isn't for you. I really tried to give Evolution the benefit of the doubt, but there is so little redeeming value that it is tough to even encourage a trip to Blockbuster to rent this one.
Transmitted: 10/6/2015 2:14:57 PM