Kayarath’s Adventures in Evolution

Posted on Jul 12 2012

A selfless warrior once said, “You don’t care, I can see that! Their lives mean absolutely nothing to you! You’re not in the least bit sorry!” I think that describes how the viewers of licensed movies feel. It’s encapsulates our opinions about the people who take our beloved franchises and burn them in the bowels of the Hollywood machine. Perhaps the greatest example of this would be Dragonball Evolution, the American live action movie “inspired” by the beloved Dragonball franchise. Oh God.

Ever since I saw a used copy of it in a local convenience store (you think I would pay full price for this type of movie?), I knew I had to review it. It’s like how The Angry Video Game Nerd looks at a video game he knows is horrible but decides to play it anyway because he has to experience the horribleness for himself. The dread of having to watch it lingered over me whenever I saw it. Friends and family warned me how terrible the movie was. Yet I didn’t let their warnings deter me from watching it.

I should have. The first scene of the movie told of how an ancient evil almost destroyed the world but was sealed away. The second scene had Goku spar with grandpa Gohan and receive the four star dragonball. Those were actually okay. Then Goku went to high school. I literally could not watch that. To bear witness to an iconic character like Goku getting subjected to every high school outcast movie cliché was overwhelming. If a Dragonball fan wanted to experience agony equal to Negi Springfield’s dark magic trial, then watch the first twenty minutes of Evolution. It’s only a fifth of the movie but it manages to single handily destroy the entire film. I hate to have been one of those people who couldn’t fast forward past that.

If you do manage to get through that, the movie actually picks up. Grandpa Gohan gets killed by the villain Piccalo to both move the plot forward and provide the required “losing a loved one” drama. Then Bulma appears, meets Goku and they go off on adventures! They find Master Roshi, recruit Yamcha, find a few dragonballs, and do the obligatory training scenes. To tell the truth, my copy was sort of busted and wasn’t able to play about 20 minutes of it, leaving me in the dark about a few plot points. However, I don’t think that will get in the way of me understanding it. I also don’t feel the need to go into detail about the plot itself.

I could have scanned this for a better picture, but I wanted to show myself holding a physical copy of it.

What I do feel the need to detail is why the movie is reviled as much as the 4Kids One Piece dub. Like the 4Kids One Piece dub, adherence to the spirit of the original was somewhere between “token” and “blasphemy.” To their credit, they do manage to pronounce the names of the characters correctly (this isn’t The Last Airbender movie!). The Dragon Balls will summon the mighty dragon who will grant a wish. Piccolo was green, Yamcha is a bandit found in the desert, you can get a motor vehicle from a capsule, and Goku uses the Kahamahaha to save the day! But why is the Kahamaha called “air bending (again, this isn’t The Last Airbender movie!)?” Why does Yamcha have a surfer accent? And why would Bulma believe that the Dragon Balls can be used as a source of infinite energy? On second thought, wanting the Dragon Balls to use as a source of energy is more plausible than gathering the Dragon Balls in order to wish for a boyfriend.

I understand that franchises tend to get altered when getting updated or made into a movie. When Battlestar Galicitica and Star Trek got rebooted, liberties were taken and things were changed. However, the overall result for those was a good series/movie. That was not the case with Dragonball Evolution. The movie is half built on clichés. Besides the dying loved one and high school outcast bits I already mentioned, there’s the classic “ancient prophecy of a returning evil to destroy the world,” and the required crammed in romantic subplot that’s there because there has to be a romantic subplot. If you’re gonna make a Dragon Ball movie, it should be full of Dragon Ball clichés, not generic movie clichés. Instead we get a Dragon Ball flavored generic action movie. If I wanted a generic action movie, I watch a generic action movie!

The worst part of the whole thing is how they mangled Goku’s character. That’s not to say they got everyone else right either. Bulma being turned into an action girl and Yamcha becoming money grubbing don’t exactly hit the mark either. However, no character is ever completely disassociated from their original. It’s not good but it’s generally bearable; with the exception of Goku. The Evolution Goku is nothing like the Goku we all know and love. Instead of the innocent martial arts master who will always help out people in need, we get some average teenage doof who has to develop into a decent hero; and goes to high school.

Before I mentioned how bad the high schools scenes were. Those parts are so terrible I feel the need to further emphasize how terribly, awfully bad it is. I said it was comparable to Negi Springfield’s dark magic trial for a Dragon Ball fan. I was wrong; it is worse. It’s more like getting subjected to Itachi Uchiha’s Tsukuyomi. The basic idea is that it traps you into an illusionary world, disables you, and then stabs you repeatedly for days on end. Since it’s an illusion, you don’t die, and have to feel every stab. It’s perhaps the most horrible torture ever to be conceived in a shonen work (if I’m wrong, please don’t correct me with examples!). Any Dragonball fan simply can’t withstand those high school scenes. How Goku is portrayed in those scenes is just so wrong. It is nothing like the anime/manga Goku. It simply can not be forgiven.

Okay, there are some things even I won’t review…

If only those high school scenes weren’t there! Then it would be a good movie! Okay, it still wouldn’t be a good movie; but watching it wouldn’t be torture at the very least. The fight scenes and special effects were generally fun to watch. The subtle use of computer-generated computers (or using CG to generate computers within the movie’s world) created the impression that the Dragon Ball world is a bit different from our own (although with the continuing rise of smart phones, this is becoming less so). When they actually used the special effects, it was actually special. Bikes coming out of capsules, flying jeeps, and giant dragons are generally enjoyable to watch. The only really bad use of special effects was during the final battle. When you’re getting attacked by multiple energy blasts, you can’t avoid them all just by walking forward slowly!

If you’re like me and got the “Z” edition on DVD, you’ll be able to “enjoy” the various special features that came along with the movie. There’s deleted scenes and a gag reel along with a “Goku’s Workout Featurette” which shows you the physical actions for the Kahamahaha (the fact that it was all done with a green screen was very obvious). There was also two Fox Movie Channel programs about the movie. In terms of special features, it’s actually a good haul if you enjoy that type of thing. It still doesn’t redeem the movie. The most out of place special feature was the Brian Anthony’s “Worked Up!” music video. How did a dance music video get in there?

The question I have is how to rate the movie. At its best, it’s a generic action movie that’s not horrible. At its worst, it’s an abomination that spits in the face of everything that is Dragon Ball and it should never have been made. I think the best comparison is with the process of Human Transmutation from Full Metal Alchemist. The end result is something that is quite similar to what you wanted along with some cool power ups. However, it’s also missing something fundamental, something that makes it real, leaving you with a pale imitation of the real thing. That is what Dragonball Evolution is; a film that lacks real soul, and even evolving through four forms can’t save it. All a Dragon Ball fan can do is “Live with the shock. Keep it bottled up inside you. Silently.”

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  • Kanashimi July 12, 2012 at 9:49 PM

    I still enjoyed this movie. I’m not changing my opinion!

  • @chiefjon66 July 13, 2012 at 9:49 AM

    me and my friends (all of us being die hard Dragonball/dragonball z fans) watched the king piccilo saga then decide to rent evolution, and I can’t agree with you more, it was terrible, its not something that americans should have made, we shoulda told japan to make it.

    • Kanashimi July 13, 2012 at 9:58 AM

      Eh, this is kinda debatable. Japanese live action can be just as cheesy if not more so. It also really depends “who” in Japan made it, not whether they’re a US company for a Japanese company. I dunno, I can’t see it being anymore amazing if done by Japan.

      • @chiefjon66 July 13, 2012 at 2:55 PM

        fair enough the Jpanese films are pretty cheesy, but when it comes to action movies I usually prefer asian ones to the american, esspecially when it comes to martail arts, cause lets face it the only skilled martail artist we ever put in movies are chuck norris and john saxson, were as there are many asain martial artists so I think at least the action scences will be better

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