Case Number 04907


New Line // 2004 // 114 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // August 2nd, 2004

The Charge

Change one thing, change everything.

Opening Statement

After toiling away in sophomoric comedies like Dude, Where's My Car?, My Boss's Daughter, and Just Married -- as well as his starring role on the hit TV show That '70s Show and hosting MTV's Punk'd -- Ashton Kutcher (AKA Mr. Demi Moore) attempted to make a leap into dramatic fare with the thriller/drama/sci-fi flick The Butterfly Effect. While not a smash hit the size of Spider-Man 2, The Butterfly Effect made a good chunk of change at the box office and proved that while Kutcher is no Robert De Niro, he's...well, he's also no Al Pacino, either. The Butterfly Effect is now on DVD care of New Line Home Entertainment.

Facts of the Case

Ashton Kutcher is Evan Treborn, a college student who finds that he has a unique ability to travel into his past and alter prior events, thus enabling him to rearrange his future. The story opens in childhood with Evan (played by John Patrick Amedori) and three friends -- Lenny, Kayleigh, and her brother, Tommy -- getting into lots of mischief and, frighteningly, avoiding being videotaped naked by Kayleigh and Tommy's drunken, sadistic father. It also doesn't help that Evan draws weird pictures, scares his mother with kitchen knives, and experiences frequent blackouts. A psychiatrist suggests that Evan keep a daily journal of his activities, and as the weeks and months pass so does the size of Evan's journal collection. When a childhood prank by the four children goes horribly awry, it changes the course of everyone's collective destinies.

Flash forward to present day and we find Evan an honors student in college and seven years free of any blackouts. But running into Kayleigh (Amy Smart, Rat Race), who works as a waitress and has an otherwise abysmal existence, restarts Evan's condition. When Evan finds out that she's killed herself, he attempts to head into the past to save Kayleigh from her fate. Thus begins a weird, strange adventure as Evan maneuvers his past and present in a desperate bid to make everything right again.

The Evidence

Just the other day I was driving in my car to the middle of nowhere on business (because, really, when else do you ever need to drive into the middle of nowhere?), and I was thinking about my past. I began thinking about some of the choices I've made, and how they've collectively affected where I am today. I started imagining different scenarios played out in my head -- what if I'd have decided to go to a different college? What if I had decided not to move to Los Angeles? What if I hadn't have had Mexican for lunch that day? (This, I quickly realized, would answer itself in a matter of hours.) Yes, the whole trip into the middle of nowhere was just me pondering "what if?"

If you've ever done that exact same thing (pondered "what if?" not eaten Mexican food), you'll most likely get a kick out of the 2003 hit The Butterfly Effect. The film is part thriller, part science fiction, and part comedy (Ashton Kutcher trying to emote is funny no matter what movie he's in). The film asks the question, "what if you could go back and change your past?" and then answers it in a series of scenes that range from tragic to humorous to just plain odd.

I have to admit that I was immediately sucked into The Butterfly Effect, even if the whole thing is pretty hokey stuff. I'm a sucker for time travel movies, even if the time travel is only inside one character's head. The premise of The Butterfly Effect -- change one thing and you change everything -- isn't especially new (one funny Simpsons episode featured Homer traveling back in time, stepping on a butterfly, and completely rearranging his future). What is new is...well, actually not a whole lot.

This doesn't mean The Butterfly Effect isn't a good film -- on the contrary, I had a lot of fun watching it. While The Butterfly Effect doesn't break any new ground, what it does it does well with decent performances (okay, so Ashton isn't that bad), good effects (New Line Cinema always seems to go balls out with these types of flicks), and effective storytelling.

The acting in The Butterfly Effect ranges from good to not so good, depending upon which scene you're watching. Ashton Kutcher isn't going to win any Oscars, or even community college awards. However, he does what's needed in the role, and that counts for something. The character is a brooding college kid, which pretty much sums up Kutcher's personality. Amy Smart is given little to do as his love interest, often spending much of the movie smiling, frowning, or covered in make-up to produce a drug-addled effect. Elden Henson gives the worst performance of the film as a psychotically screwed up childhood friend, though one seemingly can't blame Hensen -- the script only requires the character to act like an insane weirdo, which is exactly how the actor plays it.

Writer/directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber are able to infuse the film with lots of action and intrigue. By the last third of the film the gas begins to drain as the story begins to feel like the writers ran out of any new places to take the characters (and to divulge anymore of the plot would be a sin). Yet even with its flaws, The Butterfly Effect is goofy, fast-moving, potato chip munchin' entertainment that is worth a rental at the very least.

The Butterfly Effect is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Both the director's cut of the film and the original theatrical cut look great -- in fact, I will admit that I found hardly any fault with this film's transfer. The colors and black levels are all solidly rendered without any major defects in the image. Grain and dirt are noticeably absent while flesh tones are represented accurately. Overall The Butterfly Effect has been given grade-A treatment by New Line, and it shows.

The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 6.1 DTS (available only on the director's cut of the film) and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX, both in English. Both the DTS soundtrack and Dolby 5.1 EX mix are in great working order. There are many instances during the film where directional effects come into play (as when Evan is thrust back into his past), and all of the speakers are gleefully engaged throughout. I didn't listen to the entire DTS mix, but from what I heard it sounded as good if not slightly better than the Dolby 5.1 mix. Fans of the film will most certainly be happy with how The Butterfly Effect sounds. Also included on this disc is an alternate Dolby 2.0 soundtrack in English, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.

The Butterfly Effect is part of New Line's "Infinifilm" line, and features a nice array of extra features. Aside of the director's cut (which features an extra six minutes of footage that is darker in tone, and a slightly different ending), The Butterfly Effect sports two featurettes: "The Science and Psychology of Chaos Theory" and "The History and Allure of Time Travel." Both of the featurettes are short (the first runs nine minutes and the second 13 minutes) and include various folks who worked on the film -- as well as science folks and psychotherapists -- discussing the appeal of the film and some of the ideas behind how time travel works. I can't say I was all that excited about either of these shorts. Hardcore fans of the film may feel otherwise.

Next up is a subtitled "Fact Track" that includes info on the movie, the ideas presented in the film, and other tidbits on all things Butterfly Effect. This is a nice way to view the movie as well as get the inside scoop on the flick.

A screen-specific commentary track with writer/directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber provide viewers with more information about the film, including casting, directing, the story, the special effects, and lots more. Other featurettes include "The Creative Process," which gives viewers a look at what it took for Bress and Gruber to get their vision from script to screen, and "Visual Effects," which takes a brief look at the time travel special effects.

Finally there is a collection of about nine deleted scenes from the film (presented in anamorphic widescreen) and a theatrical trailer for the film.

Closing Statement

The Butterfly Effect was much better than anticipated -- it's a fun twist of the time travel theory. And hey, at least Ashton Kutcher is better than Demi was in Striptease! New Line's work on this Infinifilm title is great -- the video, audio, and supplements are all nicely produced.

The Verdict

The Butterfly Effect is worth flapping your wings over.

Review content copyright © 2004 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 95
Audio: 92
Extras: 89
Acting: 85
Story: 85
Judgment: 86

Perp Profile
Studio: New Line
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* DTS 6.1 ES (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)

* English
* Spanish

Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Director's Cut and Original Theatrical Version
* "The Science and Psychology of Chaos Theory" Featurette
* "The History and Allure of Time Travel" Featurette
* "Fast Track" Subtitle Commentary Track
* Commentary by Writer / Directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber
* "The Creative Process" Featurette
* "Visual Effects" Featurette
* Nine Deleted Scenes
* Original Theatrical Trailer

* IMDb

* Official Site