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"Dragonball Evolution": The Legacy of Gohan

by on August 6, 2009

When people first heard that Fox was actually going to make a live-action Dragonball film (and not just sit on the license rights forever), it scared them. The martial arts stuff one could recreate easily, but it would cost a lot of money to make all the weird creatures, ki beams, and flying look good. It was tried almost two decades ago, but the less said of that “Dragon Pearl” movie, the better. Now, at least, we have something better. Now we have Dragonball Evolution.

So, tell me again why all the promo shots for this film have Goku screaming at the ground?Somewhere in the US (probably California), a young teenager named Son Goku trains with his adoptive grandfather Gohan in the martial arts. This is all well and good, but since he can’t use said martial arts to beat up the bullies that keep picking on him and trashing his bike at school (which is called UniTech instead of Orange Star), nor use them to impress local hottie ChiChi, they don’t do much good. Except when an ancient evil named Piccolo is revived and is trying to collect the Dragonballs, seven small orange balls that grant the user one wish, to use to take over the world. Now Goku, along with new tag-along geargirl Bulma, crazy (and perverted) martial arts master Muten Roshi, and the blond surfer bandit Yamcha, must stop Piccolo’s assault before the coming solar eclipse. If he doesn’t, Piccolo will awaken his minion of 2,000 years ago: Oozaru, a giant ape of incredible strength. The only way Goku can stop Piccolo is to master his training and perform his greatest technique: the Kame Hame Ha.

Did I say that Evolution is better than Pearl? Because it’s not by much. If you couldn’t follow the storyline from that summary up there, you’re not alone. Even those who are Dragonball diehards would have a hard time making sense of the film. It starts with this grand, epic narration similar to the X-Men films, then moves to Goku’s mountain home, then to a normal town, and eventually we travel to the desert, some remote mountain area in Asia, the inside of a volcano, and a futuristic city that, for whatever reason, has an old-fashioned house sitting by itself in the middle of the harbor. The film is trying to take a realistic view of the mix of technology and mystical natures, which is just the wrong way to go. Dragonball blended fantasy and sci-fi so well because it wasn’t realistic. It was goofy, fun, and organic. This film tries to blend your typical high-school drama with X-Men and add in a little Matrix with some Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to spice things up. Only none of it works because the Dragonball world, even during its more serious sagas, is absolutely nothing like the X-Men world.

For a cast and crew that put intensive research into the original manga, somehow everybody forgot that it's called the Kame Hame Ha WAVE. Not Kame Hame Ha Fireball.But one of the bigger travesties is how the characters got so screwed up going from television to the big screen, none more so than Goku himself. It’s been stated in multiple articles that Justin Chatwin read all of the manga so he could get into Goku’s shoes, but he needs to go back over the material. Goku is, to put it simply, a doofus. He knows how to fight, eat, and sleep. That’s pretty much it. Even after years and years of interacting with the rest of the world, at heart Goku always remained a country bumpkin. He doesn’t know what marriage is. He very rarely has doubts about himself. He mastered the Kamehameha in literally five seconds. He once responded to a mortal enemy getting about 10,000 times stronger than he was 2 days ago by sitting down and stuffing his face with enough food to feed Ethiopia. No matter how serious a quest he’s on, his attention will focus elsewhere if he sees something shiny. That isn’t Chatwin’s Goku. His Goku is very insecure about himself. He knows about the ways of the world. He only has one thing on his mind. He’s very conscious of those around him. He has sexual fantasies about the girl he loves (I don’t think Toriyama’s Goku ever had a sexual fantasy in his life). None of these things are Goku. In fact, Chatwin is actually more in tune with Gohan in the first three sagas. Gohan was insecure about his ability. Gohan worried about other people. Gohan knows what marriage is. If they had just made the film about young Gohan, Chatwin’s portrayal would be better, but Chatwin’s Goku is not what Goku should be. Plus, he sucks at acting sad, as his grief over losing his grandfather and another character late in the movie don’t even start to compare with Stephanie Nadolny’s Goku (a good example being in Path to Power).

The rest of the cast didn’t get much better. Somebody on the staff forgot that Bulma isn’t a stuck-up female dog 24/7 and is actually pretty sweet and caring most of the time. Here, Bulma goes in guns blazing (why does everybody keep giving Bulma guns when she gets rid of her pistol after meeting Goku?) and is in her hard-ass mode throughout the whole movie. Plus, her big invention (and the only use of her smarts) is called the DBE, or Dragon Ball Energy, locater. I get the abbreviation, but it’s not called that. It’s a Dragon Radar! Anyway, Yamcha went from a completely useless but cool guy who gets beat up to make Goku look stronger to a surfer-type punk with dyed blond hair (seriously?) and who comes off as an even bigger jackass than Bulma does. The only thing connecting Mai here to the Mai in the anime/manga is the name. Piccolo goes from a sly, crafty, sarcastic badass who took crap from no one (except in Z when he got beat up as often as Yamcha did) to the most generic bad guy I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t have one signature line, his costume doesn’t look anything like his animated counterpart, he shares none of the attacks, and because he gets so little screen time, he never gets a chance to develop. Various articles on the web talk about how Piccolo “fell from grace” and was tired of being good and all that crap, yet none of it (which is nothing like Piccolo’s true origin) made it into the movie. All we know is that he tried to conquer Earth 2,000 years ago and was sealed away, along with his master Oozaru (who, 1,982 years later, was reborn as Goku). We’re not even told why Piccolo wants the Dragonballs, or if we were, I was too braindead from all the other stupidity in the film to notice.

Best part of the movie.Now, there are some positives, believe it or not. For one, ChiChi is the best character in the film. Now, you might say that Movie-ChiChi shares nothing in common with either young or old Anime-ChiChi, and you’d be right. But you’d be forgetting a few important things: Jamie Chung is hot, her dialog is actually somewhat tolerable, she’s gorgeous, the ChiChi vs. ChiChi fight scene is the best part of the movie, and she wears a lot of cleavage-revealing outfits. Did I mention she’s really hot? The other good part of the film is Chow Yun-Fat as Master Roshi. Now, even though Chow has a full head of dark hair with no facial hair to be seen, he’s still just as crazy as Roshi is in the anime, complete with his perversions intact, although it tends to go away once the plot really gets in motion. My only qualm is that Roshi himself doesn’t do a lot of fighting and what fights he does participate in are mostly short. Not to mention all the quick cuts in the fighting means you never actually see Roshi fight much anyway.

You would think a studio like Fox would be able to give Dragonball the special effects it needs for its high-flying, ki-blasting fights. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. Sure, the various energy blasts and explosions are impressive looking, but the flying completely and utterly sucks (as it does in 99% of all other live-action films that includes flying) and Shen Long was a big disappointment, especially in his design. But the biggest problem the movie has was its horrible editing. The characters are never allowed to just duke it out with the audience watching. Instead, we jump from one shot to the other like some stupid music video and the various fights suffer greatly for this cheap trick. To make matters worse, many of the fights consist of one shot showing a character attacking, then cutting to a shot of the other character’s reaction to the shot. Actual contact between characters is few and far between in the film. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Oozaru fight. Goku transforms, then we cut to Bulma and Yamcha being frightened, then Oozaru throws a punch, then we cut to Bulma and Yamcha being thrown back. Even when Oozaru is in contact with somebody, we see shots of Oozaru’s face, then the other character with Oozaru’s arm. It comes across like the two characters are miles apart and prosthetics were used instead. Why didn’t they get anybody who could actually film an action scene?

Why does movie Piccolo look like a space frog?Sound-wise, we are thankfully spared from anything truly horrendous. Unfortunately, we don’t get any classic musical themes from any of the Dragonball series. You would think they’d try to work the original music in there somehow, even as an orchestral remix or something, but nope. We get instead a mass of generic action music that was probably left over from the scores to X-Men and Spider-Man. Even the ending song, “Rule” by Ayumi Hamasaki, is rather generic. Now, the director had said that he wanted a Japanese ending song to help keep the spirit of the Japanese anime, and that’s all well and good, but my question is this: Why the hell didn’t he get Hironbu Kageyama, who was the artist behind both “Head Cha La” and “We’ve Got Power” and is still very active in the music industry (mostly as a member of JAM Project)? And even if you couldn’t get Kageyama, why create a brand new song from scratch instead of remixing either of the Z themes or the highly underrated theme to the original Dragonball series?

At first glance, the number of extras in this “Z Edition” (which is rather stupid considering it’s the ONLY edition) is pretty decent, but looks can be deceiving. The deleted scenes are mostly snippets, with the only good one being a scene where Goku makes fun of Bulma’s name. The gag reel has the cast members clowning around, but nothing truly memorable or funny is found here. As for Brian Anthony’s “Worked Up!” music video, it’s okay, but not something you’ll be watching over and over again. The best feature is the “Goku’s Workout” featurette, where two of the martial arts instructors for the film go through a basic workout based on the series. This featurette works simply because of how goofy it is, what with speed lines being used and a funny Wile E. Coyote-esque joke at the end. It’s cheesy and Speed Racer-ish, but it works. There are then two Fox Movie Channel specials focusing on the ChiChi vs. ChiChi fight, and a 20-minute interview with Justin Chatwin. Also included are trailers for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, The Pink Panther 2, and Garfield Pet Force, the latter of which is the only one accessible via the menu. The other three can only be viewed when the disc is first loaded. Considering the Workout featurette probably cost less than Goku’s hairgel and the Fox Movie Channel stuff likely cost nothing to put on the DVD, the special features here kinda sucked. Then again, any other features would likely have the cast and crew saying how much they love the original manga and anime and how they stayed close to the spirit of the original or some other such bullcrap.

Is Dragonball Evolution worth your money? You’re kidding, right? Take it from someone who not only saw the movie in theaters opening weekend but spent his own money to buy this: It ain’t worth it. It’s pure MST3K fodder. One of the most expensive in history.

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