Judge Steve Power is wondering when they'll get to adapting an anime property he does care about!
Our review of Dragonball: Evolution (Blu-Ray), published August 5th, 2009, is also available.
"In an ancient time, Earth was nearly destroyed. Not by man, but by Gods from the sky. Seven mystics banded together to fight the invaders. They created the Dragon Balls."
The well-loved, long running animated series Dragon Ball Z makes the transition to live-action…and the results are pretty much exactly what you'd expect.
Facts of the Case
Goku (Justin Chatwin, War of the Worlds) is about as typical an average white teenager with the name Goku would be, which is to say he's a socially awkward putz. He also happens to be some kind of kung fu, or karate, or kwan fan do prodigy. When green skinned alien badass, Piccolo (James Marsters, Buffy The Vampire Slayer) shows up looking to nuke the planet, Goku has to track down his grandfather's master (Chow Yun-Fat, Hard Boiled), find seven magical orbs called Dragon Balls, and kick Piccolo's ass. Along for the ride are Bulma Briefs (Emmy Rossum, Mystic River) and Yamacha (Joon Park).
It's been a long time since Speed Racer and Star Blazers spearheaded the charge of Japanese animation into American culture. Yet, in spite of some mainstream success, Hollywood has remained pretty diligent in keeping big screen versions of these anime series out of theatres, though not for lack of trying. The most successful effort to date has been the aforementioned Speed Racer, and we all know how well that turned out.
Enter Dragonball: Evolution, built upon the Dragon Ball Z animated series, which in turn is based on a Japanese Comic Book (Manga) by artist Akira Toriyama. Where anime fans are concerned, you typically fall into one of two camps: those who've seen and adore DBZ, and those who feel it signifies everything negative about the art form. The 8467½ episodes of the series comprise a complex and sprawling martial arts epic, with monkeys, Super Sayiens (whatever those are), some guy with spiky hair and blue/orange karate duds, and a villain named after a tiny wind instrument. Shoehorning all of this into a film that both pleases hardcore fans and makes sense to the uninitiated was a total impossibility. Thankfully, the creative team—spearheaded by producer Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle) and Director James Wong (Final Destination)—didn't even try. Instead, they tossed out all but the base elements, and managed to craft a lean, kid-friendly action adventure film that vomits all over the hardcore fanbase, while still managing to make no sense whatsoever.
Writer Ben Ramsey's screenplay takes us all over the map in such rapid fire fashion that you may be looking for the OnStar button to ask for directions. One minute you're in what looks like your typical California high school, then you're in the desert in a flying Hummer. There's no sense of time or place, and the technology is way out of whack, with space age handguns and suitcase motorcycles crossed with tricked out Dodge Chargers and Shaolin temples. Everything moves from destination to destination—picking up hitchhikers at each stop along the way—at such a relentless pace, the funny names and completely ridiculous events all start to blend together. The final act is just a mishmash of CG and action that is so unintelligible even those who did manage to latch onto the first 45 minutes of this "road" picture will be thrown completely for a loop. The titular Dragon Balls don't even factor in until the end where they appear briefly for plot convenience before being lost again.
In spite of some considerable effort from Justin Chatwin (who has charisma to spare) and Chow Yun-Fat (who's clearly having a ball), the performances are pretty terrible across the board. James Martsers seems like he's in a different film altogether, and the dialogue doesn't do him any favors, providing little if any overall presence until the final beatdown. The less said about Emmy Rossum's horribly named tough girl and her woefully underdeveloped Desert Bandit boyfriend, the better.
Wong shoots well enough, with some competent fight choreography and wire fu on display. Goku's classic blue and orange getup makes the live-action transition quite well. This is all backhanded praise though, as the emotional vacuum generated by the acting and script suck all of the life out of the action.
Fox has seen fit to stack Dragonball: Evolution with a considerable set of extras, but there are really no surprises. The deleted scenes are more like alternate takes, and I turned off the music video about 45 seconds in. Goku's Workout is a hilariously bad short, featuring two of the fight choreographers from the film. I'd probably be less embarrassed if my wife walked in on me watching My Little Pony. Rounding out the offerings are two specials from the Fox Movie Channel: one is a puffy promo making-of piece that's as vapid as the film itself, and the other is a horribly scripted Life After film School segment with Justin Chatwin, where he uncomfortably charms his way through a gaggle of fluffy questions from three USC yuppies. There's also gag reel, but it sucks.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The disc is as good as one would expect a 2009 release to look. The sound is decent with some great separation and appropriate bombast. While the extras don't sound like much, they'll probably entertain the pre-teen set the film is aimed at.
Considering the source material, it's amazing Dragonball: Evolution came out as well as it did. That's not to say it's watchable or anything.
Better than your average videogame adaptation…that's not saying much.
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Scales of Justice
• Deleted Scenes'
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