Cinema Epoch // 2009 // 101 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 13th, 2009
She was his first love. He was her killer.
Phillip Pullman will probably always been known for his trilogy of books under the moniker His Dark Materials, and the first book of that series did a decent amount of business in the world so it's no surprise that the second big-screen adaptation is not that far behind. Although he might be famous for his fantasy literature, The Butterfly Tattoo is a contemporary story in the mold of Romeo and Juliet rather than a mythical romp through a strange new world. Sadly, instead of capturing the feelings of first love, Butterfly Tattoo turns into a bizarre crime story that doesn't satisfy.
The film tells the story of Chris Marshall (Duncan Stuart), a middle-class boy contemplating college who rescues a young woman at a dance where he is working. Although she slips away, she leaves behind a dress which Chris uses to track her down. Arriving at her flat, he discovers her name is Jenny (Jessica Blake, The Bond), and she's squatting with a couple of mates because she had to leave her abusive home. Although their young love blossoms easily, it's torn apart when a criminal comes back to haunt Chris and his boss.
I generally hate the marketing hogwash on DVDs, but it is rarely so silly as the line on the back of The Butterfly Tattoo that reads "A teenage romance thriller in the tradition of Twilight." That's wrong on so many levels it's hard to know where to start. First, this film is based on a novel that is several decades older than Stephanie Meyer's vampire tale, and there's no cinematic contamination because this film was apparently completed before Twilight got to the screen. I'll certainly give them the "teenage romance thriller" part, but unlike the "introduce me to this new world of vampires" mishmash that was Twilight, but the film ultimately owes more the Romeo and Juliet than anything else.
If I'm feeling generous, the only connection between Twilight and Butterfly I can find is that neither quite manages to successfully blend the thriller and romance parts of their stories into a satisfying whole. In the case of Butterfly, the opening is promising enough, with Chris' rescue and the bit about the dress, but once the relationship between the leads is firmly established, the film switches to "crime film" mode to bring about the doomed nature of their relationship. This transition is not helped by the awkward use of flashbacks that often confuse as much as they enlighten. It also doesn't help that the lovers aren't very well fleshed out here either beyond a few stereotypical details.
Although the whole doesn't quite work, the individual pieces are well crafted. Director Phil Hawkins has an eye for interesting compositions, and the slightly dingy quality of the picture enhances the feel of the film. The actors, most of whom are unknowns, are also generally effective in bringing their characters to life.
The film is also interesting because its budget was raised by selling shares in the film, and the director insisted on filming in Oxford, which is the setting of the novel. Most of the film takes place in recognizable locations, and a scene in a bar includes actual local musicians. This is a trend I hope other independent productions follow.
On the DVD front, The Butterfly Tattoo offers a decent presentation. The transfer is generally good, although a bit soft in places, but for a film with so many dark scenes blacks hold up well. The audio is a simple mix that keeps the dialogue audible. However, the actors have their genuine accents, and the lack of subtitles might make it difficult for some to make out all the dialogue.
Extras are mainly comprised of extra bits of the film, starting with outtakes. These are typical gaffs and mistakes, no doubt amusing to some. Then there are a couple of deleted scenes with forced commentary by the director. There's also an extended version of the club scene, and the discs ends with the film's trailer.
Those looking for a little doomed romance in their crime flick might enjoy The Butterfly Tattoo, but the generally inconsistent nature of the picture makes it hard to recommend to anyone. Although the DVD is solid, it's probably only worth a rental for most.
The Butterfly Tattoo is guilty of mixing crime and romance.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Epoch
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes