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
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.
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.