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Dragonball: Evolution - Z Edition DVD Review

Dragonball Evolution movie poster Dragonball: Evolution

Theatrical Release: April 10, 2009 / Running Time: 85 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: James Wong / Writers: Ben Ramsey (screenplay), Akira Toriyama (novel)

Cast: Justin Chatwin (Goku), Chow Yun-Fat (Master Roshi), Emmy Rossum (Bulma), Jamie Chung (Chi Chi), James Marsters (Lord Piccolo), Joon Park (Yamcha), Eriko Tamura (Mai), Randall Duk Kim (Grandpa Gohan), Ernie Hudson (Sifu Norris), Texas Battle (Carey Fuller), Megumi Seki (Seki)

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By Kelvin Cedeno

Digging into the well of popular properties to turn into feature films is common practice in Hollywood. Both comic books and animated series have been used lately as springboards for motion picture ideas, so it comes as no surprise that a franchise already represented in both mediums would be tapped next. In this case, it was the globally popular Dragonball series, created first as a manga and becoming, most notably to Western audiences, an anime series. Talks about a live-action feature had been rumbling for years, and one finally came Easter of 2009 by way of Dragonball: Evolution.

The story is centered on Son Goku (Justin Chatwin), an awkward teenager who can't find self-confidence in either his martial arts training or his high school life. With a rare solar eclipse fast approaching, the evil Lord Piccolo (James Marsters) seeks out seven magical orbs known as Dragonballs. These instruments will help him unleash a savage beast and conquer the world. Already in possession of one, Goku sets out to find the rest with the aid of Bulma Briefs (Emmy Rossum), Master Mutem Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat), and Yamcha (Joon Park).

The big reveal of Goku (Justin Chatwin) in his classic costume is decidedly low-key, but this is soon offset with some cringe-inducing dialogue. Lord Piccolo (James Marsters) engages in some traditional villain scheming with his mostly mute sidekick, Mai (Eriko Tamura).

If that sounds like a fairly simple story, that's because it is, and unfortunately, there's little meat to help make the plot more robust and distinctive. The whole feature has a sort of paint-by-numbers approach where it takes plot points found in dozens of other stories and just checks them off as it goes along. There are literally zero surprises to be found, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, there's nothing to distract the viewer from this.
Even at 85 minutes, the film somehow manages to drag and feel fluffed up. The action sequences throughout are hollow and bland, partly because they are and partly because the audience hasn't invested in the characters.

It's hard to pinpoint what exactly went wrong with the talent involved. The actors on display have turned in good work elsewhere. Here, however, they're painful to watch. Whether it's the stale cheesiness of the screenplay or the lazy direction, something influenced them to perform as if they were in a B-movie. From Justin Chatwin's stilted deliveries to Chow Yun-Fat's random "comedic" outbursts, all of the elements feel off the mark individually and even more so when combined. It all feels cobbled together in a manner that makes the comedy out of place and the drama stale.

The entire Dragonball franchise has spanned various media outlets and generations, resulting in legions of devoted fans. For it to have achieved such a level of popularity, it must be something truly multi-layered and special. Sadly, whatever makes the manga and series so appealing has failed to appear in this feature film. Banal, predictable, and shallow, Dragonball: Evolution presents a cast of characters with one-note personalities and a story that has nothing beneath the surface. Fox's obvious hopes of future sequels (as evidenced by a footnote scene in the end credits) have been dashed by their own mantra of coasting by on brand name alone. Loyal Dragonball fans will have to continue waiting for their saga to be given justice in the live-action film realm.

Buy Dragonball: Evolution - Z Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details
2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English),
Dolby Surround (Spanish, French, Portuguese)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, Portuguese
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: July 28, 2009
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Also available on Blu-ray Disc

VIDEO and AUDIO

Dragonball: Evolution comes to DVD in an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer. As per 20th Century Fox tradition, reviewers have been supplied with a screener copy rather than the final product. As such, the single-layered, DVD-R viewed for this review does not allow for an accurate assessment of either the image or the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.

An extended conversation between Master Roshi and Sifu Norris gives Ernie Hudson a bit more to do, but not enough to take his character beyond what seems to be fan service. Matt Regetti protects himself against a previously-grabby Ryan Watson in "Goku's Workout." The song "Worked Up" doesn't exactly suit the Dragonball world, nor does what seems to be a dim rave party centered around Brian Anthony.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Dubbed a Z Edition, Dragonball: Evolution's only DVD arrives with a smattering of supplements, starting with eight deleted scenes (10:24).
The term "extended scenes" would be more appropriate, however, as all of these feature excised lines and shots from existing scenes. Two of them (one involving a swear and the other a slightly more graphic death) seemed to have been cut merely to keep a PG rating. The others would've helped smoothen out some awkward pacing in between lines, but not enough to save the whole film.

"Goku's Workout" (4:51), to put it simply, is peculiar. Stunt coordinators Ryan Watson and Matt Regetti demonstrate some of the basic fight movements used by Goku in the film. It's difficult to tell how much is genuine and how much is tongue-in-cheek. From the intrusive sound effects and overwrought instructions, this piece is hard to take seriously. A bit of sexual tension between the two men brings about some unintentional amusement, but not enough to make this fully entertaining, either.

Next comes the music video "Worked Up" by Brian Anthony (3:21). The video itself is absolutely ordinary, mixing clips of Anthony surrounding by scantily-clad women with movie clips. The song, a techno rave, feels out of place with on this movie, but given the incongruent nature of Dragonball itself, perhaps that's fitting.

The "Making of a Scene" special from Fox Movie Channel shows Jamie Chung and her carefully-shot double filming a fight sequence. Justin Chatwin offers his advice to film students wanting to break into the business but neglects to mention the most important rule: read the script before you sign on. Goku puts on one of his two expressions in the animated main menu.

The gag reel (2:24) isn't so much about flubbed takes as it is about basic hijinks on the set. Unlike other gag reels, most of this footage comes from behind the scenes cameras, not the actual film ones. It doesn't inspire much of a reaction either way.

"Fox Movie Channel Presents: Making a Scene" (9:27) is surprisingly enlightening given its promotional intentions. The fight sequence between Chi-Chi and Mai (disguised as Chi-Chi) is broken down and analyzed. Actress Jamie Chung weighs in with her thoughts as we see her training sessions,
and other crew members explain how motion control cameras were able to put the actress twice in the same shot. It's a satisfying look at how the scene came together.

Another promotional featurette from the Fox Movie Channel follows with "Life After Film School with Justin Chatwin" (24:55). Three film students question the actor on topics ranging from his acting approach to his experiences on Dragonball: Evolution. Chatwin is more blunt and honest than one would expect, and his frank comments mixed with some interesting questions make for a pretty revealing interview.

The disc opens with trailers for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, and The Pink Panther 2. An additional trailer for Garfield's Pet Force can be found amidst the bonus material.

The menus follow in the same ordinary vein as the film they're for. The main menu features a montage of clips with the selections on the bottom of the screen. All submenus contain instrumental score, but these are accompanied with basic promotional headshots.

The four leads attempt to bond seeing as they know virtually nothing about each other, nor do we. Goku (Justin Chatwin) and Chi Chi's (Jamie Chung) idea of a good time involves mid-air kicking, though perhaps that's true of other couples to a certain extent.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Some films deserving of recognition have come and gone without making much of a mark. Others that are of poor quality have gone one to become box office juggernauts. Dragonball: Evolution falls into neither category. This insipid picture bombed in theaters and was torn apart by both critics and the few moviegoers who actually saw it. That's just as well, as there is assuredly nothing noteworthy to be gleamed here.

Thanks to Fox's apparent bootleg paranoia, the video and audio of the Z Edition DVD can't be commented on. The supplements, like the feature, are for the most part pretty average. This release garners no recommendation to anyone. Established fans will feel as though they've been personally assaulted, and newcomers will be checking their watches on more than one occasion.

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Reviewed July 28, 2009.



Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2009 20th Century Fox, Star Overseas, Dune Entertainment, and Fox Home Entertainment.
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