Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||James Wong|
|Screenplay by||Ben Ramsey|
|Based on||Dragon Ball
by Akira Toriyama
|Narrated by||Randall Duk Kim|
|Music by||Brian Tyler|
|Edited by||Chris G. Willingham|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$57.5 million|
The film is loosely based on the Japanese Dragon Ball manga created by Akira Toriyama, and stars Justin Chatwin, Emmy Rossum, James Marsters, Jamie Chung, Chow Yun-fat, Joon Park, and Eriko Tamura. In Dragonball Evolution, the young Goku reveals his past and sets out to fight the evil alien warlord Lord Piccolo who wishes to gain the powerful Dragon Balls and use them to take over Earth. The film began development in 2002, and was distributed by 20th Century Fox. It is the first official live-action adaptation of the Dragon Ball manga.
Dragonball Evolution was released in Japan and several other Asian countries on March 13, 2009, and in the United States on April 10, 2009. Despite being a modest financial success at the box office grossing $57 million of its production budget of $30 million, the film received widespread condemnation from critics and fans alike.
Two thousand years ago, the demon Lord Piccolo (James Marsters) came to Earth, wreaking havoc with his minion Ōzaru (Ian Whyte). Seven mystics created the Mafuba and thought they sealed him away for eternity. However, Piccolo breaks free and with his ninja henchwoman Mai (Eriko), begins to search for the seven Dragonballs (each one has stars numbering between one and seven), killing anyone in his way.
On his eighteenth birthday, high school student and martial artist Goku (Justin Chatwin) is given the four-star Dragonball by his grandfather, Grandpa Gohan (Randall Duk Kim). Returning home from a party hosted by his crush Chi-Chi (Jamie Chung), Goku finds his home destroyed and his grandfather near death after Piccolo's failed attempt to acquire the Dragonball.
Before he dies, Gohan tells Goku to seek out martial arts master Muten Roshi (Chow Yun-fat), who holds another one of the Dragonballs. Along the way, Goku meets Bulma (Emmy Rossum) of the Capsule Corporation, who was studying the five-star Dragonball until it was stolen by Mai. Goku offers Bulma his protection in exchange for her help in finding Roshi. They ultimately track him down in Paozu City. Under Roshi's wing, Goku begins training his ki, knowing that they must get all the Dragonballs before the next solar eclipse, when Ōzaru will return and join with Piccolo.
In the midst of the group's search for the six-star Dragonball, they fall into a trap set by the desert bandit Yamcha (Joon Park) but Roshi convinces Yamcha to join by promising 1/3 of the royalties for Bulma's invention. Together, the group fight off an ambush by Mai and successfully get the next Dragonball. As the group continues their quest, they travel to a temple where Roshi consults his former teacher Sifu Norris (Ernie Hudson) and begins preparing the Mafuba enchantment so he can reseal Piccolo, while Goku must learn the most powerful of the ki-bending techniques: the Kamehameha.
During the night, Mai – disguised as Chi-Chi – steals the team's three Dragonballs, adding them to the ones that Piccolo already has. With the Dragonballs successfully united, Piccolo begins to summon Shenron, but is stopped by the timely arrival of Goku's team. During the ensuing battle, Piccolo reveals to Goku that Goku himself is Ōzaru, having been sent to Earth as an infant to destroy it when he came of age.
As the eclipse begins, Goku transforms into Ōzaru while Roshi attempts to use the Mafuba, but he does not have enough energy to live before he can re-seal Piccolo. Roshi's dying words restore Goku to his senses as he is choked to death by Ōzaru, and he engages Piccolo in a final battle, seemingly defeating him with the power of the Kamehameha. Goku then uses the Dragonballs to summon Shenron, and request that he restore Roshi to life.
As they celebrate, they realise the Dragonballs have now scattered, and Bulma declares that they must seek the balls again. Before they head out, Goku meets with Chi-Chi to get to know her better, and they begin a sparring match to see which of them is stronger. In a post-credits scene, Piccolo has survived Goku's Kamehameha blast and is being cared for by a woman.
In 2002, 20th Century Fox approached Stephen Chow to direct the film, and although he said he was deeply interested because he is a fan of Dragon Ball, Chow declined the chance to direct. He, however, accepted a role as producer via his company Star Overseas. Robert Rodriguez, Mark A.Z. Dippé and Zack Snyder were offered to direct but passed. 20th Century Fox then went on to send the script to writer/director James Wong who accepted. In 2007, James Wong and Stephen Chow were announced as director and producer respectively, and the project was retitled Dragonball. Ben Ramsey's first draft was deemed too expensive to shoot, and in the end he wrote about five different drafts of the script following notes from the studio. James Wong wrote the last draft, again according to notes from the studio, but decided to remain uncredited as the co-screenwriter. Chow was a Dragon Ball fan, citing its "airy and unstrained story [which] leaves much room for creation", but explained he would only serve as producer because he believes that he should only direct stories he had created.
Differing costs to produce the film have been reported. In January 2008, Marsters spoke to TV Guide that he was told the film had a budget of approximately $100 million. In April 2009, the Spanish television station Telecinco reported that the budget was $50 million. Marsters would later claim that the film in fact was produced for $30 million.
Justin Chatwin was selected to play the film's central character Goku. Ron Perlman was originally offered the role of the villain Lord Piccolo, but turned it down to work on Hellboy II: The Golden Army. James Marsters, who accepted the role, noted he was a fan of the original anime series, describing it as "the coolest television cartoon in the last 50,000 years [because] it's got a Shakespearean sense of good and evil." Summarizing the original concept of his Piccolo, he said the character was "thousands of years old and a very long time ago he used to be a force of good, but [he] got into a bad argument and was put into prison for 2000 years. It got him very angry, and he finds a way to escape and then tries to destroy the world." Originally, Piccolo was going to be depicted as a handsome creature, but Marsters and the make-up artist chose to give him a decrepit complexion to reflect his having been trapped for thousands of years. The first time the make-up was applied, it took seventeen hours and left Marsters with difficulty breathing. In subsequent applications, it generally only took four hours.
From January 2, 2008, the crew shot at Durango. The crew moved to Estado de México in March of that year for some shots at Nevado de Toluca. Shooting has also been scheduled at Los Angeles, California. In adapting the Dragon Ball manga, the futuristic cities and flying vehicles were kept, however, the anthropomorphic creatures and talking animals (such as Turtle, Oolong and Puar) were dropped. Many of the locations are very Oriental, and there was some Aztec influence too, particularly from their temples. It was thought that Rossum would wear a blue wig to resemble her anime counterpart, but it was ultimately decided that such a look was too unrealistic. Instead she had her natural brown with blue streaks. Chatwin did not wear a wig as the director felt Chatwin's hair resembled Goku's. A large amount of Dragonball Evolution was shot in an abandoned jeans factory, also located in Durango, Mexico.
Dragonball Evolution special effects were done by Amalgamated Dynamics, while the visual effects were done by Ollin Studios, Zoic Studios, and Imagine Engine.
On December 9, 2008, it was confirmed that the theme song would be "Rule" by Japanese singer Ayumi Hamasaki. Also featured on the film's soundtrack is American pop artist Brian Anthony, whose remixed song "Worked Up" was released as a single in English territories, and is included on the home video releases as a bonus feature.
The film's soundtrack, Dragonball Evolution: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, was released in the United States on March 17, 2009 by Varèse Sarabande.
Its release in its home country changed dates multiple times. Initially scheduled to be released in North America on August 15, 2008, it was later moved to April 2009 to allow time for additional filming and post-production work. The specific date then changed back and forth between April 10 and 8, with the final release date being April 10.
The marketing of the theatrical release included a viral "personal expressions" campaign created by digital agency Red Box New Media., that ran on the Windows Live Messenger application. Alongside that campaign, Fox hired Picture Production Company to develop a PC/Wii flash game under the name Can you Ka-Me-Ha-Me-Ha? This game was released just prior to the film in conjunction with another viral campaign that encouraged fans to send in their renditions of the fighting move.
The film was released on Region 1 DVD and Blu-ray Disc in North America on July 28 and on Region 2 DVD and Blu-ray Disc in the United Kingdom on August 31. The Region 4 DVD and Blu-ray Disc was released in Australia on November 18.
In its second weekend, it dropped to eleventh place. The film had a gross earning in the United States and Canada of $9,362,785 and a foreign gross of $48,134,914 for a combined box office gross of $57,497,699.
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film scored 14% based on 58 reviews. The site's consensus states: "Executed with little panache or invention, Dragonball Evolution lacks the magic that made the books upon which it was based a cult sensation." On Metacritic it received a rating of 45 based on 10 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews."
Zac Bertschy of Anime News Network, who was initially annoyed at fans of the franchise who criticized the film via leaked set shots and trailers before the film's release, gave the film an overall failing grade and stated "the fans were right." He criticized the film's lack of explaining plot elements, its hackneyed storyline and lackluster effort by the actors. Variety's Russell Edwards found the film "passable", "pleasing if paint-by-numbers", noting it "doesn't take itself too seriously, but avoids campiness", that "the climactic clash between Piccolo and Goku offers a faithful CGI representation of the ethereal powers as drawn in the original manga" and that the climax offers an "impressive character twist for Goku that will warm the cockles of every young Jungian's heart." Luke Thompson of E! Online referred to the film as a "surreal mess" that would only make sense to fans of the original series. He questioned the use of a Caucasian in the main role and felt Chow Yun-Fat was "overacting like never before", but did consider it "fun in a train-wreck kind of way" and that while it was never boring it was also never "logical, coherent [or] rational".
However, Christoper Monfette of IGN gave the film a positive review, stating that it "is perhaps the most successful live-action film to date to utilize costume, production and audio design—not to mention some inspired fight choreography—to provide the flavor of anime without becoming overly cartoonish". He praised the main cast for "creating characters the audience can actually care about" and felt Chatwin was particularly likeable as Goku. Slant Magazine's Rob Humanick considered the film "uninspired" and implausible with an "aimlessly hyperactive construction and complete lack of substance" and "cobbled-together FX fakery". Reviewing the film for Australia's ABC Radio National, Jason Di Rosso stated the film was "lacking the visual panache of recent graphic novel adaptations". He agreed the film was uninspired and also felt it had dull "high school movie banter" dialog and was "cliché-ridden". The Village Voice's Aaron Hillis called the film a "loony live-action adaptation", but felt it was "more entertaining than it deserves to be" and would likely appeal to ten-year-old boys. Alonso Duralde of MSNBC found the film to be "both entertainingly ridiculous and ridiculously entertaining" and noted that "kids will have such a blast that you can turn this movie into the gateway kung-fu drug that makes them want to watch the earlier work of Stephen Chow and Chow Yun-Fat, that is if Stephen Chow and Chow Yun-fat had a Caucasian actor in the starring role." Jeffrey K. Lyles of The Gazette found the film to be "a fairly entertaining martial arts adventure for the younger audiences" and tolerable to adults. He felt Chatwin was ill-cast as Goku, a white kid raised by his Asian Grandfather Randall Duk Kim and that director Wong failed to capture the "frenetic sense of the anime" in the action scenes, leaving them an effort to understand. Passable."
Before the film's release, Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama initially felt surprised by Dragonball Evolution and suggested to his fans to treat it as an alternate universe version of his work. In an interview with the Asahi Shimbun on Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, Toriyama revealed that he felt the Hollywood producers did not listen to him and his ideas and suggestions, and that the final version was not on par with the original Dragon Ball series, and felt the result was a movie he couldn't even call "Dragon Ball". Discussing the film in the 2016 Dragon Ball 30th Anniversary “Super History Book”, Toriyama wrote: "I had put Dragon Ball behind me, but seeing how much that live-action film ticked me off..."
In 2016, writer Ben Ramsey apologized for the film, writing: "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 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 [Evolution] but myself."
A film novelization, Dragonball Evolution: The Junior Novel, was written by Stacia Deutsch and Rhody Cohon. Aimed at children ages 8–15, the novel was released by Viz Media on February 24, 2009. The same day, a series of chapter books for readers 7–10 was released.
A 16 paged sticker book, Dragonball: Evolution Sticker Book, followed on March 24, 2009. Released a week later on March 31, 2009 by Viz was a 22-page Dragonball: Evolution Posterzine featuring eleven posters, cast interviews, and merchandise previews.
On January 19, 2009, Namco Bandai Games and Fox announced a tie-in PSP video game, which was released in Japan on March 19 and North America on April 7. The game includes all of the major characters from the film and features various playing modes, including a local multi-player battle mode, production stills, and storyboards from the film.
The Hong Kong-based company, Enterbay, produced a 1:6 scaled line for Dragonball Evolution. A 1:6 Goku figure was made along with Lord Piccolo. Bulma was planned to be the third figure of the series in addition of being the first female figure Enterbay has ever done. Prototypes of the Bulma figure were shown at Enterbay's blog but in November 2010, Enterbay confirmed that Bulma is canceled. Bandai America released a mass market toy-line based on the movie in time for the theatrical release. The figures came in 4-inch, and 6-inch versions. Lastly, Japanese toy company Medicom created stylized Goku, and Piccolo Be@rbrick toys to coincide with the release of the film.
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