So I went and saw that there Dragonball Evolution picture.
I guess I should start out by copying what omae no kaasan did and tell you guys where I'm coming from as a Dragon Ball fan. My first exposure to the franchise was through FUNimation's dub of the original Dragon Ball back in 1996. I didn't watch the show every morning - I just caught a few episodes here and there - but I was struck by how different it seemed from everything else that was on TV at the time. A year later, I saw Goku and the gang on a show called Dragon Ball Z, and even though I didn't know all of the "new" characters that had been introduced or why everyone was so much older than I remembered, it still managed to put my butt in front of the TV every Saturday morning for the two years it was on in syndication.
As the show was premiering new episodes, I went onto sites like Planet Namek and Chris Psaros' DBZ Uncensored to find out more about what was becoming my new favorite show. After watching a few fansubbed episodes, I became hooked on the Japanese version and eventually went Japanese-only and never looked back. After the show went to FUNimation's in-house voice actors, I pretty much went Japanese-only and have not looked back. To this day, I still have no idea how characters like Cell or Boo sound like in English.
So my fandom has been lasting for a good thirteen years or so. While I still haven't gotten around to watching every episode or reading every volume of the manga, I still love the series and continue to do so to this day.
So what about Dragonball Evolution?
I went into the movie with the absolute lowest of expectations. I had read the reviews by omae no kaasan (among others) and knew that there was no way I could go into the theater, as a Dragon Ball fan, and come out satisfied. As others have said, the movie doesn't even feel like Dragon Ball. So, I attempted to put my fandom aside for the film's hour and a half runtime and instead approached the movie the way I would approach any other campy action flick.
I think that's the main thing people have to remember when they go into this movie. Sure, you can go in and roll your eyes at stuff like how Goku tends to call Roshi "Rosh" or how Oozaru is all of six foot three or how Yamcha sounds like the lovechild of Homestar Runner's Stinkoman and LittleKuriboh's Bandit Keith or how hypocritical it is for a Canadian kid named "Goku" to be calling an Asian girl with the name "Chi-Chi" weird or how Roshi doesn't have a beard. But when you do that, you start to view the movie as an attempt to be faithful to its source material when it's anything but. You get the feeling, watching this movie, that the writers and the directors and the actors simply read a few Wikipedia summaries and called it a day, and it's really hard for me to criticize a movie for not doing something that it isn't even trying to do in the first place.
Now to be fair, there are flashes here and there when I'm reminded of Dragon Ball. Roshi gets a few pervy moments with Bulma, for example. And the image of Goku running with a giant thing strapped on his back is very reminiscent of the post-Pilaf saga training (minus Kuririn, of course). But for the most part, this is something that feels completely different from both the Japanese and the English versions of the TV series/comics.
One of the movie's problems is that it expects too much of its viewer. We see that Goku is "special" and "not normal" and "not like everyone else," but we're never told why. Piccolo is painted as being this big threat, but we never actually see him do anything until the very end of the movie. Like...seriously, the guy has no presence whatsoever. We, as an audience, are just supposed to accept that Mai is a shape shifter and that there's some reason (though we're never told what that reason is) for her to be working with Piccolo. Was she sealed away with Piccolo? Or did they just meet? And why doesn't Goku wish his grandpa back to life and instead opt to wish this old man he had just met a few days earlier instead?
None of this is helped by the ridiculous acting (and that's being generous) on display here. Justin Chatwin's Goku is not unlike Hayden Christensen's Anakin Skywalker in that it feels like they're constantly darting their eyes offscreen to read their next cue. Chow Yun-Fat gives as good as a performance as possible, but like Marc Diraison in the 4Kids version of One Piece, there's only so much one can do when given the kind of lines they have to deliver. James Marsters' Piccolo is just sort of there and comes across as one of the most generic villains ever. Emmy Rossum as Bulma reminded me a lot of Amy Jo Johnson's performance in Power Rangers, and Yamcha's over-the-top campiness made him an audience favorite for all the wrong reasons.
Speaking of the audience, the theater I went to probably had a good 20 or so people watching the show (not counting the group I was with, of course). What struck me as odd about this audience is that they were laughing at the movie's campiness as much as we were! And when random movie-exclusive characters would show up (like Chi-Chi's friend in high school), a collective "who in the world is that?" could be heard.
The special effects do their job and manage not to be too distracting. The background music is just there with nothing really standing out. And the film did manage to chug along at a pretty decent pace and didn't really drag on like, say, the equally faithful-to-its-source-material Final Fantasy The Spirits Within did.
All in all, the movie was good for a cheap laugh if nothing else. It's not Dragon Ball, but it isn't really a good action movie either. My biggest fear coming out of this movie is that there are going to be people whose first impression of the franchise will be this movie and will therefore be turned away from watching anything else with the title "Dragon Ball,", and that's going to be a real shame.