Some people are just obsessed with balls. They spend their time talking about who has them, where they can find them and how important having balls is. They constantly ask who has seen them, where they are, how someone can grab them, where another person keeps their balls. They just can’t get enough balls, it’s like they absolutely have to have all the available balls. What?
Why are you looking at me like that?
I’m talking about Dragonball: Evolution
What did you think I was talking about?
Well, at any rate today on Bad Movies with Brad we’ll be looking at what happens when you take writers away from a movie. When you take the resulting script and turn it over to a studio with a reprehensible reputation for making genre films what do you get? What we won’t be looking at today is how bad an adaptation of the source material it is this for three reasons. One: It’s nothing new. Nearly every adaptation of a beloved japanese anime or manga has been exceptionally bad compared to the source material, just look at Speed Racer, or Astro Boy. Two: This is true of adaptations in general even critically acclaimed ones, see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. And most importantly three: I have never seen or read Dragonball sorry, I know it’s apparently very good, but most times I turn it on and all I see is ten minutes of screaming. Screaming and explosions are very fun when you have context, but not so much when you have no idea what’s going on. Something the filmmakers of Dragonball: Evolution did not realize.
Great Balls of Fire
We begin with a giant exposition dump, like in Lord of the Rings only boring. The exposition dump details how A demon lord named Piccolo came to Earth two thousand years ago with a giant monkey named Ozaru and almost conquered our planet until some monks sealed him in jar, presumably to ensure freshness. Goku (Justin Chatwin), a teen more whitewashed than Tom Sawyer’s fence is having martial arts lessons with his Grandpa, Gohan (Randall Duk Kim) who kicks his ass with Ki powers and gives him a Dragonball for his birthday. Goku is of course, bullied at school for no discernable reason and has a crush on the bully’s girlfriend ChiChi (Jamie Chung) because this is 1994. Meanwhile Piccolo (James Marsters) has a Death Zeppelin and is collecting Dragonballs from all over the world because whoever gets all 7 will be able to ask a dragon to grant them a wish. Eventually Piccolo goes to Grandpa’s house while Goku is at a party ChiChi is throwing. Goku has the dragonball but Piccolo decides to crush Grandpa’s house with his mind out of spite. Goku of course comes back just in time to see his grandfather die and tell him that Piccolo has returned and he needs to find someone named Master Roshi.
The next morning, Goku is conveniently assaulted by industrialist/scientist/gun nut Bulma (Emmy Rossum) Briefs who is looking for her own Dragonball. They fight, agree to help each other, and climb on her motorcycle and make their way to Master Roshi. They fight, agree to help each other, and all three of them set off to look for the next Dragonball with Roshi training Goku to use his Ki powers better. They fall into a hole in the desert dug by Yamcha (Joon Park), a con artist? I guess? They fight, and of course agree to help each other. They fight some mud people made of Piccolo’s blood and Piccolo’s ninja assistant Mai (Eriko) over a volcano that is somehow underground, but where there’s another Dragonball.
Having acquired three out of seven Dragonballs our heroes head to an ancient temple that happens to be right next to a convenient city so they can meet up with ChiChi again, once it seems like Goku’s going to get somewhere romantically with ChiChi they are ambushed by her evil duplicate, Mai in disguise. She steals all the Dragonballs and heads off to join Piccolo so that he can. Roshi spends his time getting the monks to make another magic jar so that he can stuff Piccolo inside it. The heroes all rush off to stop Piccolo from summoning the dragon, and Goku prepares to fight him, and presumably not become friends. Be sure and watch the movie to enjoy the utterly inexplicable finale (There’s a giant gorilla in it).
Who dropped the ball?
Dragonball Evolution was produced during the 2007-2008 writers’ strike, and had been in development since 2002. The script that writer Ben Ramsay wrote had been sitting in a room since his last film had come out without anyone touching it, and suddenly when Fox had no new scripts, they put Dragonball into production. No rewrites no second writers, nothing. Apparently suddenly when they didn’t have anything new to work on making this thing seemed like a great idea. Consequently, the script is mind numbingly bad. It’s not even the lines, which make way more sense than anything in The Room for instance, but the way the world created in this movie doesn’t work, at all.
For instance, your laws of physics have to be pretty wrong to get complaints about them in a movie which has James Marsters painted green. He makes mud people out of his blood, I realize you’re not striving for scientific accuracy. However, when you have four people in a 20 foot deep pit, and they dig horizontally and come out in a volcano that is somehow underground and yet not, I start to notice. When Master Roshi tells Goku that he needs to master the powers of the 3 elements, something is off with your universe. When time is not a fixed constant, things start to go off the rails.Master Roshi says he trained Goku’s grandfather, who’s thirty years older than him easily. The entirety of this movie takes place over the course of (I’m being very generous here) a week, and yet by the end the characters talk like they’ve known each other for years. It’s really like Ramsay watched the first episode of Dragonball and then the last one to form his character beats. Not to mention that the movie could take place in almost any time period with ancient temples, futuristic schools, and present day cars.
To be fair, the script is not getting a lot of help. Most of the actors in this do not have the kind of exceptional talent needed to overcome a bad script. Not that they aren’t talented, Jamie Chung for instance was a wonderful GoGo in Big Hero Six James Marsters has and will always be a great actor, but he can only do some much when he’s given about 200 words to say the entire movie. Justin Chatwin and Emmy Rossum have been good in other things I hear they’re both doing great on Shameless. Though honestly I was worried about Emmy Rossum for a while, especially once she followed this up with Beautiful Creatures (More on that later.) Unfortunately those two in particular were the subject of some serious flack due to the aforementioned whitewashing that makes Doctor Strange seem rather benign. (At the very least the Ancient One was a horrible stereotype, not a beloved japanese character.)
If you want someone to lay the blame on though, it’s the studio and the director. The studio is the one who decided to go ahead and make the movie when they didn’t have writers. They were the ones who hired a director who cut the film down to a ridiculously short 84 minutes, and who didn’t have the talent to coach the actors properly. They’re the ones who thought it was okay to NEVER SHOW PICCOLO ESCAPING FROM THE DAMN JAR. The reason Dragonball: Evolution exists because Fox wanted to collect all the Dragonballs and wish for infinite money.
He has some balls.
If I had been more on top of things and written this article earlier this month, we would have had a different bad movie hero. Chow Yun-Fat does a wonderful job as Master Roshi, he actually seems to have watched the show at some point, and seems genuinely excited about who he’s playing he says these garbage lines like they’re the profound pseudo asian wisdom they’re supposed to be. Even when he has to make motions with his hands so that the terrible energy attacks can be animated in, he shows actual effort and concentration in his face. Chow Yun-Fat seemed to be a lock.
But then on May 3rd, 2016 Dragonball fan and writer Derek Padula asked the writer, Ben Ramsay for an interview, and he replied with this:
I knew that it would eventually come down to this one day. Dragonball Evolution marked a very painful creative point in my life. To have something with my name on it as the writer be so globally reviled is gut wrenching. To receive hate mail from all over the world is heartbreaking. I spent so many years trying to deflect the blame, but at the end of the day it all comes down to the written word on page and I take full responsibility for what was such a disappointment to so many fans. I did the best I could, but at the end of the day, I ‘dropped the dragon ball.’
I went into the project chasing after a big payday, not as a fan of the franchise but as a businessman taking on an assignment. I have learned that when you go into a creative endeavor without passion you come out with sub-optimal results, and sometimes flat out garbage. So I’m not blaming anyone for Dragonball but myself. As a fanboy of other series, I know what it’s like to have something you love and anticipate be so disappointing.
To all the Dragon Ball fans out there, I sincerely apologize.
I hope I can make it up to you by creating something really cool and entertaining that you will like and that is also something I am passionate about. That’s the only work I do now.
Ben Ramsay, you are the first writer ever to become a Bad Movie Hero. Congratulations on your insight sir, and the best of luck on your future creative work. And kudos to Mr. Ramsay for writing something that manages to be so entertainingly bad. Not to mention, no one has really made a good martial arts movie since The Karate Kid. This is the last hurrah of the post Power Rangers 90s martial arts movie fad. Huh. There’s an idea.
Join us next month for two more installments of Bad Movies with Brad, where we’ll make the month of June Martial Arts Mania Month!