The Butterfly Effect: Infinifilm Edition Review
“Just think of your mind as a movie, you can pause, slow down, rewind, and fast forward...”
There are many things to fear in our world. But none more potent than ourselves. We define our future; our very existence determined by the actions we make. Stray from the beaten path and a multitude of consequences lie in wait. It is an ideology forever exploited by filmmakers. What if we made a decision in our past, that changed the future for the worst? It is a decades old ponderment, and the debut directors behind The Butterfly Effect are determined to pursue it once more.
Recently released in UK cinemas, The Butterfly Effect has been a moderate success. Despite its ambitious plot, many in America flocked to see the film for one reason - star Ashton Kutcher, who has amiably attempted to escape the clutches of the teen comedy. Many were curious to see if Kutcher could pull off the dark elements of the material, and while he contributes to some of the films faults, he doesn’t derail the project.
An entertaining slice of sci-fi hokum, The Butterfly Effect’s screenplay is based around the oft-studied ‘Chaos Theory’. For those who have forgotten Jeff Goldblum’s philosophical rant in Jurassic Park, allow me to retort. It has been said that something “as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world”. It’s a great metaphor, and filmmakers J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress know this all-to-well. Their previous collaboration, as writers, also dealt with the fate of its protagonists - the horror sequel Final Destination 2. But, try not to hold that against them.
The plot is awash with a B-movie sensibility, and once the film hits its stride, things get very complicated. It concerns Evan Treborn (Kutcher), a seemingly-normal man who experienced severe memory lapses during his childhood. Naturally, he longs to fill the gaps in his memory, so a psychologist suggests he keep a journal to detail his everyday activities. The daily grind of honing his memory soon becomes a fixation. Years later, Evan is now a college student, majoring in psychology. One day, he discovers that by reading extracts from his old journal, he can travel back in time to his childhood. On each occasion, Evan discovers more about his troubled past, and naturally, he attempts to change history. But it doesn’t go the way he’d expect. Everything Evan alters has unforeseen consequences on his future, and the futures of those around him...
Shot for a mere $13 million, the interesting thing about The Butterfly Effect, is that it was a widely read, unproduced script for almost a decade. Producers turned down the time travel oddity everywhere it went. It was only when Kutcher caught wind of the project, that it was green-lit. He was a blessing to Bress and Gruber; his executive producer status giving them credibility. When their vision finally hit theatres, some were underwhelmed, others were satisfied. I’m in the latter camp. The Butterfly Effect is an entertaining film in its own right, and I don’t agree with other critical viewpoints that it is lazily put together, or that its concept fails to work. While Bress and Gruber stumble in certain quarters, this is still efficient and enjoyable filmmaking, with more on its mind than the average teen drama.
The plot has been dubbed as gimmicky, but it kept me enthralled. While Evan is the main focal point of the story, the supporting characters also add layers to the tale. When his friend Kayleigh Miller (Amy Smart) commits suicide after one of his historic excursions, Evan is determined to right his wrongs. The amount of alternative realities introduced is relentless, each one gradually getting worse. It reminded me a lot of Marty McFly’s exploits in Back to the Future - and you’re just wondering how Evan will screw up next. And he does. Often. A fault in the screenplay would be that the directors take too long to establish each timeline, but it goes a long way into hammering-home the message of ‘cause and effect’.
I expected the film to be an overdose of special effects, yet they are used neatly. The computer trickery used to show Evan’s time travelling is commendable; aiding the plot and providing ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ at the same time. The look of the film is certainly one of its assets - a mix of moody colours, and a tone that veers across genres. I applaud Bress and Gruber for having the guts to exploit some darker story arcs. Eric Stoltz’s appearance in the film will surprise many; as a sleazy peadophile who filmed Evan and Kayleigh, during one of his many blackouts. It’s a ballsy addition to an overflowing narrative, and certainly adds an extra degree of pathos.
As other reviews have stated, the acting does slip below par on occasion. Kutcher is actually decent (but not exceptional), and gets by with the heavy material. Still, someone with a broader range of emotions would have been ideal (it is perplexing to think that alternative casting choices were Seann William Scott and Joshua Jackson). But for now, Kutcher’s on my good side. Amy Smart is always great value, but she doesn’t seem as invested in her role here. Still, we can rely on the rest of the cast, which includes Ethan Suplee (Mallrats, Evolution) who is cast against type here, and Stoltz gets into his creepy character with relish.
The biggest problem many had with the film though, was its ending, considered a cheat by some. That opinion may change with the DVD, since New Line has allowed Bress and Gruber to showcase their preferred “Director’s Cut”. Running about 6-minutes longer than the theatrical presentation, the alternative cut offers extra characterisation and build-up, and best of all, a new ending. It is a better film than the one seen in cinemas, though if you disliked the film on your first viewing, I doubt your opinion will change. In my mind, it’s a stronger motion picture with the cut footage intact.
Ultimately, if you go into The Butterfly Effect with low expectations, you’ll probably enjoy the experience. It has an intriguing concept, appealing production values, and sure-handed direction. The fact that this is Bress and Gruber’s first film is also surprising - it certainly shows that they have ambition, and in Hollywood today, that’s always worth a look...
Presented as part of their prestigious Infinifilm series, New Line give The Butterfly Effect an outstanding transfer. The anamophic widescreen (1.85:1) print is delicious, with a highly stylised look. Other critics have mentioned a coating of grain on the image throughout, but it seems to be a decision made by the directors to give the film a degree of grit, rather than a fault of New Line’s. Blacks and colours are rock solid; always clean and expressive, while retaining that dark style. Still, there are shades of pixelation here and there (especially in some of the scene transitions), and the odd compression artefact. That said, the film sure looks brilliant, and both the theatrical and “Director’s Cut” pass the test. The disc also includes English and Spanish subtitles.
In terms of audio, we get a brilliant choice. “The Director’s Cut” has more going for it, with an option to play the film with DTS 6.1 ES, or Dolby Digital Surround EX audio. The theatrical version doesn’t have the DTS track, but both offer Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes. The DTS track is excellent, and my weapon of choice. It offers inventive sound design, and the speakers are always active, with some nice use of the rears. Dialogue is vibrant, like the music, which can sometimes swallow the ambience. But as you’d expect from New Line, this is largely first-rate stuff, that will test your home theatre’s durability.
The bonus material is just as laudable. The audio commentary by J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress plays over their “Director’s Cut”. This is a truly wonderful track, infused with the pair’s razor-sharp enthusiasm. They know how lucky they are to have been given such an opportunity, and seem pleased with the outcome. Their banter is non-strop, as it should be, and they cover every base - the genesis of the screenplay, casting, problems during principle photography, and recollections concerning their first directorial project. It’s never boring, often fascinating, and a must-listen for fans. A nice sideline to the commentary, is the Fact Track, which can be accessed simultaneously. It is the usual collection of factoids and trivia, but is fairly enjoyable.
The video-based supplements aren’t as engrossing, but still worth a look. Two featurettes attempt to probe the philosophical aspects of the films plot, in The Science and Psychology of Chaos Theory and The History and Allure of Time Travel. Running at 9 and 13-minutes respectively, they are exactly what you’d expect - academic types discussing their theories in an attempt to provide the film with a deeper meaning. The featurettes never outstay their welcome, and you’ll laugh your ass off when one contributor sums up the whole concept, with the droll comment “shit happens”. Indeed.
In terms of making the film, The Creative Process (running for 18-minutes) is a great analysis of the challenge faced by Gruber and Bress. They discuss the story itself, and their rise from film students to filmmakers. A nice piece. At 16-minutes, is Visual Effects, which gets down to the nitty-gritty geek-speak. While many featurettes of this breed can bore me to tears, I was engaged during this one, especially since the time travel effects are admittedly cool. And look - no Delorean in sight!
Rounding out the package, is a collection of 9 Deleted Scenes - all of which are slight scene extensions and snippets of dialogue. It does, however, include yet another ending, which is the worst of the bunch. This compilation is aided by commentary with Gruber and Bress, perfectly summing up the scenes’ cutting-room floor status. And last, but not least, is the original theatrical trailer, presented with thumping 5.1 sound. Yet another bold and enjoyable set from New Line’s Infinifilm catalogue.
Opinions are mixed on The Butterfly Effect. I happen to like the film for its sheer ambitions, and its entertainment value. On DVD it is a clear winner. Fans of the film are advised to pick up this Region 1 disc, especially since EIV are guaranteed to release a lesser-quality edition to British shores. The “Director’s Cut” is worth a look for those who dismissed the movie on their first viewing, and New Line once again provide a reference-quality transfer. Give it a try - as history shows, you could do a lot worse...