Dragonball Evolution (DVD)

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Dragonball Evolution (DVD)

James Wong adapts the rich myths of the DRAGONBALL manga saga, with this 20th Century Fox production starring Justin Chatwin. The plot revolves around...

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Review of "Dragonball Evolution (DVD)"

published 03/11/2009 | afy9mab
Member since : 11/07/2000
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All of my DVD reviews are film only, so do not include pricing information. If you have time, please read and rate my Batman V Superman review.
Pro Chow Yun-Fat understands the provenance of the movie...
Cons but none of the other players or the director do.
very helpful
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"A Load of Old Dragonballs"

Thousands of years ago, seven mystics created the dragonballs in order to defeat Piccolo and his demonic henchman. But now a solar eclipse heralds the villain’s return and if he gets hold of the orbs he will be able to make one perfect wish to destroy the earth. It is up to Goku, the young owner of one of the spheres to find the others and prevent Piccolo’s nefarious scheme. With the help of gadget-girl Bulma and his mentor Master Roshi the race is on to find them and save the world.

I was surprised by the range of viewers at the showing I went to see – everyone from little kids to guys in their thirties and forties. Still I suppose the movie has wide appeal considering it’s based on a popular range of manga novels that have spawned a cartoon series, computer games and an animated film. But James Wong’s live-action version shows the problems inherent in trying to translate comic books and cartoons to the real world. There’s so much more you can get away with in drawings and animation. For instance, slapstick violence works better because you aren’t bound by the laws of physics. While in this instalment, the wirework required to keep people in the air that fraction longer and the copious use of slow-motion during the fights looks laboured. You can also tell where the actors end and their stunt doubles begin from the choppy editing. The choreography is unoriginal and you don’t get the ‘ouch’ factor that makes really good fight. The comedy also suffers; the abrupt shifts in tone to allow sudden bouts of hysterical laughter or background pratfalls jar with the reality of the movie. Not to mention how it makes the pacing stutter. But it’s not the only aspect that makes the film feel episodic. We’re constantly cutting away from Goku and his friends to see what Lord Piccolo and his henchwoman are after, stopping the action dead. The bad guys are undermined by a consistent lack of menace, so you’re never scared of them (illustrating the perils of the PG certificate on storytelling). Meanwhile the goodies are never developed beyond pale cartoonish stereotypes, making it impossible to care about them. Plus the director doesn’t really help his actors, presumably asking them to make everything big, so every exchange looks fake.

The film looks like it’s been made on a shoestring budget, thanks to the sets that are clearly made from polystyrene and plasterboard (especially the volcano and Chi Chi’s house) and the dodgy effects. It really doesn’t take that much effort to matte players onto a background so it looks like they’re travelling through it and Piccolo’s airship looks like a cheap knock-off of Boba Fett’s Slave One. Then there are the guys in rubber suits, who look like they’ve wandered away from the “Power Rangers” set and James Marsters pouting away under two inches of latex. To be fair though, there is a pretty cool dragon…And the film has pace, though that’s largely due to the lack of story and the gaping plot holes. The end result is an eighty-four minute nonsensical mishmash of styles and TV series’ production values that may well entertain under-tens but has little to amuse adults.

The screenplay by Ben Ramsey doesn’t bother itself with trifles like a coherent narrative, logical progression or character development. He’s trying too hard to catch the essences of manga; the weird mix of slapstick, violence, mythology and dubious sexuality. But he fails by dumbing the film down to appeal to kiddies. So he constantly repeats the myth of the dragonballs and the film’s motto “never forget who you are”. The simple quest narrative is hampered by myriad plot holes, as new characters are accepted into the group without question and Piccolo finds the missing orbs too easily. It makes everything seem to facile and removes any possibility for tension. The humour is limited to unoriginal slapstick that misses the mark on almost every occasion.

The slim running time leaves no room for character development. So Goku is a bland hero-type, his grandfather and Master Roshi fortune cookie wisdom-spouting old-timers, Bulma is a limp attempt at a kick-ass heroine, Chi Chi the winsome but feisty love interest and Yamcha the slapstick stooge. On the other side of the fence are Lord Piccolo and his henchwoman Mai, both of whom are faceless baddies without any real menace – I mean, they don’t even kill anyone! The dialogue is stilted and exposition heavy, thus flopping dead out of the actors’ mouths.

Justin Chadwick doesn’t bring enough personality to Goku to sell the character to the audience. He’s straight off the non-threatening boys’ production line. He takes the role too seriously, playing it as if it was an action movie rather than a comic book outing. He’s also too old to play a high school student and he fluffs all the comic moments (mainly by gurning inappropriately) and doesn’t share any chemistry with his on-screen love interest.

Hong Kong action veteran Chow-Yun Fat seems to be the only actor that knows the provenance of the movie and goes at Master Roshi with cartoonish glee. But his performance is too way-out to work most of the time and only hits the right note with his laconic attitude. I know James Marsters (of “Buffy” and “Angel” fame) can be menacing and funny, but as Piccolo, he’s smothered under so much bad make-up, the only expression we can see is his distinctive pout. He doesn’t even sound like himself, thanks to an excess of digital tweaking. Jamie Chung appears to be the only cast member with real martial arts skills, so it’s a shame we don’t see more of her as Chi Chi, who is less of a stereotype than Emmy Rossum’s husky-voiced Bulma. She’s also rather less wooden. Randall Duk Kim, who plays Goku’s grandfather looks like he’s having great fun and sells the fights well. Meanwhile Joon Park, who plays Yamcha is left straggling behind the others as a superfluous slapstick stooge more noticeable for his California surf-dude accent and bleached blonde hair than his acting.

The original music by Brian Tyler barely gives the viewer a moment’s respite with his overly loud arrangements. If it isn’t dark cellos and chasing strings with pounding percussion, it’s rock guitar and drums or tense brass and strings. It’s too big a score for the accompanying action, overwhelming it rather than highlighting the action.

“Dragonball Evolution” will find its niche with pre-pubescent fans of the cartoon series. For those hoping for something a bit closer to its manga origins, you’re likely to be disappointed. The movie is marred by poor production values, a disjointed directorial style, paper-thin plotting and performances that are either anodyne and/or wooden. There’s a distinct lack of thrills and spills, not to mention story. If your little ones are already fans, then they’ll probably love it, but you might find yourself nodding off.

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Comments on this review

  • catsholiday published 03/11/2009
    Won't be rushing to see this thanks
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Product Information : Dragonball Evolution (DVD)

Manufacturer's product description

James Wong adapts the rich myths of the DRAGONBALL manga saga, with this 20th Century Fox production starring Justin Chatwin. The plot revolves around Goku (Chatwin), Earth's greatest champion, who must defend the planet against an invading race of alien warriors hell-bent on dominating the universe. Wong directs from his own script, with KUNG FU HUSTLE's Stephen Chow producing. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER's James Marsters co-stars as the film's villain, Piccolo, with Jamie Chung playing Chi Chi and Emmy Rossum portraying Bulma. Hong Kong legend Chow Yun-Fat rounds out the cast as Master Roshi, Goku's mentor in the film.


Listed on Ciao since: 09/03/2009