"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" must be a motto endorsed by director Ivan Reitman. At least that's the impression I got from his most recent effort, summer 2001's Evolution. Reitman hit it big with 1984's smash Ghostbusters, and he returned to that particular well for Evolution. Both featured strange forces that threatened mankind, and the forces that stood in their way were somewhat comic and bumbling.
Since both flicks were pretty similar, why did Ghostbusters take home $238 million - in non-adjusted 1984 money, mind you - and become the second biggest hit of the year while Evolution struggled to make $38 million? That figure currently lands it 51st for 2001, and it'll definitely drop lower before the year ends.
Many factors could account for the extreme differences in success experienced by the films, but I believe their casts caused a lot of the variation. Ghostbusters featured an excellent crew of comic talent such as Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Rick Moranis. Sigourney Weaver was seen more as a dramatic actress, but she showed good skills here as the straight woman.
In contrast, Evolution features only two folks with any real comedic experience: Orlando Jones and Seann William Scott. Neither boasts a terribly impressive résumé. Scott was solid in American Pie, while Jones was one of the best parts of Double Take. However, that doesn't say much, and the two have appeared in some serious duds. Cripes, take a look at their filmographies: Road Trip, The Replacements, Dude, Where's My Car?, From Dusk Til Dawn 3... These two have been in a long list of dogs. At least Pie was pretty good, and Jones had small parts in the very good Magnolia as well as the decent Bedazzled.
Both definitely show some good skills, but they don't replace the heavy-hitters seen on the Ghostbusters roster. In the lead - essentially taking the Bill Murray part - is noted comedian David Duchovny. Though I never cared much for The X-Files, I nonetheless like Duchovny; he seems like a charming and witty guy who doesn't take himself too seriously. Nonetheless, he's well on his way to replacing George Clooney as the TV actor turned movie performer with the longest string of bombs. 1998's X-Files movie did decently, but even it was a disappointment. Still, its $83 million seems like a terrific take compared to that of clunkers like Return to Me and Playing God. The press release for Evolution touts Duchovny as "Hollywood's hottest talent". Ummm - okay...
Anyway, likable though he may be, Duchovny's no Bill Murray, and his presence in the lead didn't auger well for the flick. Taking over the Sigourney Weaver role was another prominent dramatic actress, Julianne Moore. Moore'd worked in comedies in the past. She had a role in 1995's Nine Months, and apparently she appeared in 2000's Saturday Night Live spin-off The Ladies Man, though I never saw the flick so I don't know if this was a full part or a cameo. Nonetheless, this big-budget, effects-laden comedy was a departure for the queen of the indie world.
Honestly, I rather like all of these performers, and Evolution tossed in other good actors like Ted Levine, a guy with an odd connection to Moore, actually; he played "Buffalo Bill" in The Silence of the Lambs, while she took part in that flick's sequel, Hannibal. Evolution even featured a cameo from returning Ghostbuster Aykroyd.
Seemingly, all of the parts were there, but they never really gelled during Evolution. While not a bad flick, it failed to ignite much of the time. At the start of the film, a meteorite crashes to Earth in Arizona, where it nearly crushes aspiring fireman Wayne (Seann William Scott). After he notifies the appropriate parties, community college teacher Harry Block (Orlando Jones) - the local rep for the US Geological Service - heads out to check out the wreckage, and he brings along friend and fellow professor Ira Kane (David Duchovny).
There they find an unusual space rock, since something seeps from it. Scientist Ira snags a sample and sees something freaky when he inspects it under the microscope: the microbes spawn and develop at an amazing rate as they flit through millions of years of evolution in mere hours.
Unfortunately for them, the military soon takes an interest in the meteorite, and they try to exclude Harry and Ira. We then learn of Ira's history with the Army, including hard-ass General Woodman (Ted Levine). We also meet Center for Disease Control representative Allison (Julianne Moore), and with their involvement, Ira gets banned from the site.
However, he and Harry continue to be involved through surreptitious means, and some romantic developments start to occur between Ira and Allison. Overall, the rest of the film follows these issues, as the aliens multiply and evolve into various new - and spooky forms - while Ira and the others try to study them and keep them in check.
To get a sense what you'll find in Evolution, I saw it as a lot of Ghostbusters mixed with a little Men In Black and a smidgen of Jurassic Park as well. While those latter elements appeared, Evolution really did show its Ghostbusters roots most strongly. A number of scenes heavily echoed the earlier film, and a few lines and images seemed directly lifted from it.
Evolution didn't simply come across as a rip-off of the earlier flicks, and I must admit I liked it better during this second viewing. I saw the movie theatrically last summer and thought it was a total dud. It came across more positively on DVD, perhaps because I expected so little of it. Nonetheless, it remained pretty derivative and lackluster.
On the positive side, the movie generated a few decent laughs, and I thought Duchovny and Jones demonstrated pretty solid chemistry. Unfortunately, Duchovny seemed awkward as both hero and comedian. He wasn't bad in either element, but he didn't bring the role to life terribly well. Ira remained relatively likable but somewhat uncompelling, and the other actors stayed in the same range.
Actually, Moore fared a bit worse, as she didn't adapt to the surroundings terribly well. Her pratfalls seemed forced, and her comic delivery was fairly flat. For example, one scene in which she told Duchovny she would have "rocked his world" appeared very weak. Granted, the line itself wasn't too hot, but Moore's performance made it even less effective. I didn't think Moore was bad in the part, but she failed to match the comic aspects of the role.
Probably the only truly weak aspect of the film came from its visual effects. Evolution displayed some genuinely poor computer graphics at times, especially during the climax. While I don't want to reveal too much, the final alien was huge, and it came across as exceptionally fake. Frankly, the enormous critter integrated with the settings badly; at times the imagery looked like it came from a cheap Fifties monster movie. Prior CGI was better, but those moments tended to take me out of the story.
Not that the tale was terribly involving in any case. To be certain, Evolution wasn't an unpleasant experience. It was a derivative and uninventive piece, but it had some fun moments, and it generally seemed watchable and mildly entertaining most of the time. However, it never rose above that level. At best, Evolution was moderately amusing, but it failed to become anything greater than that.
Observational note: I have to believe that composer John Powell digs U2, for some of his musical themes strongly resemble a few obscure U2 tracks. At times, the score sounded a lot like "Salome", a B-side of "Even Better Than the Real Thing", and on other occasions I thought I heard snippets of "Race Against Time", a bonus track attached to "Where the Streets Have No Name". Either Powell borrowed from the Irish rockers, or I've just been listening to too much U2 lately.
Evolution appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although many parts of the film looked quite good, the picture displayed a fair number of problems and seemed pretty average as a whole.
Sharpness usually appeared reasonably precise and distinct. Some softness interfered with occasional wide shots, however, and at times the movie took on a mildly blurry look. Nonetheless, the majority of the film came across as accurate and detailed. Some minor moiré effects cropped up, and I also saw a little edge enhancement at times. Print flaws remained modest, but they seemed somewhat excessive for such a recent film. I detected moderate graininess periodically, and I also witnessed occasional examples of speckles and grit. Evolution never appeared terribly dirty, but it showed more defects than I expected from a six-month-old movie.
Colors often offered a strong aspect of Evolution. Skin colors periodically came across as a little pink, but otherwise the tones appeared nicely bright and vivid. The movie boasted a varied palette that looked clear and vibrant for the most part. Black levels seemed fairly deep and rich, but shadow detail could be somewhat heavy at times. Low-light sequences occasionally appeared mildly thick and murky, though they generally were acceptably visible. To be sure, much of Evolution presented a nice image, but I found too many defects and concerns to merit a grade higher than a "C+".
Much stronger were the soundtracks of Evolution. The DVD includes both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes, and I found the two to sound virtually identical. That was a good thing, for the tracks presented quite positive and engaging audio.
The soundfields highlighted music and they offered active and involving environments. The score really came to life well, as much of the film showed fine five-channel usage for the music. This created a vibrant sense of atmosphere that made the movie more compelling. Effects tended to be a bit more forward-oriented for the most part, but they popped out well during appropriate sequences. Helicopters and other military equipment came from all areas of the spectrum, and the aliens also brought about some excellent audio. Flying critters moved from location to location nicely, and the climactic creature filled the room well. These mixes weren't amazingly active, as the music generally dominated the track, but it created a very satisfying setting.
Audio quality seemed solid. Dialogue was consistently natural and warm, and I heard no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects sounded very distinct and vibrant. They showed good dynamics and accuracy, with no distortion apparent. Those elements also presented terrific bass response when necessary; the climactic alien really shook the house. Music also demonstrated fine range and fidelity and seemed clear and vivid. Bass came across as deep and rich, and highs were clean and bright. Ultimately, the soundtracks of Evolution lacked that something special to knock them up to a full "A" grade, but they definitely earned "A-" marks.
Though not totally packed, Evolution presents a fairly nice roster of extras. Though you might not tell from the packaging, the DVD provides an audio commentary. However, this track is referred to as a "conversation" on the case, which made me think it'd be a video interview. It's not, as we instead find a full commentary.
This track includes director Ivan Reitman plus actors David Duchovny, Orlando Jones and Seann William Scott. All were recorded together for this running, screen-specific commentary. Although generally a decent track, it wasn't as much fun as one might expect. None of the participants dominated the piece, though Reitman acted like ringleader to a modest degree; he did the most to keep the proceedings going and on-track. On occasion, this piece included some decent information about the film, but much of the time, it seemed oriented toward an appreciation of the movie instead of a discussion. Like the flick itself, this commentary was moderately enjoyable, but it didn't bring a lot to the table; don't expect to learn much about Evolution.
However, the track for Evolution does earn a special place in DVD history, as it may be the most multi-generational commentary ever. We get 55-year-old Reitman, 41-year-old Duchovny, 33-year-old Jones and 25-year-old Scott. Wow - that's a range of ages! Let's here it for chronological diversity!
Next we discover an HBO "First Look" special called The Evolution of Evolution. Hosted by featurette veteran Orlando Jones - who also guided us through a similar program for The Replacements - this 15-minute show features the standard mix of movie scenes, material from the set and interviews. In the latter category, we hear from director Reitman, actors Jones, Duchovny, Scott, and Julianne Moore, executive producer Tom Pollock, producer Daniel Goldberg, visual effects supervisor Phil Tippett, and art director of creature effects Pete Konig. As with most of these promotional pieces, "Evolution" essentially tells us how great the film is; anything else is gravy. It's a fluffy and watchable program, but it fails to provide much distinct information.
Moderately superior is the Visual Effects Featurette. This 10-minute and 15-second piece includes the same combination of elements seen in the HBO show, though it includes a greater emphasis on behind the scenes shots. During its interview parts, we hear from Reitman, Duchovny, Scott, Tippett, and Konig, along with co-visual effects supervisor Brennan Doyle, puppet supervisor Sandy Kao, art department manager Ease Ewyeung, lead painter John McLaughlin, CG supervisor Eric Levin, model mover Chris Paizis, and compositing supervisor Jim McVay. The show is too brief to offer any real depth, but it gives us a breezy and entertaining overview of some of the processes used. It's nothing special, but it merits a look.
Next we get six Deleted Scenes. Shown in anamorphic 1.78:1 with stereo audio, these last between 80 seconds and three minutes, 10 seconds for a total 15 and a half minutes of footage in all. Each clip receives an introduction from Reitman, who explains why he omitted them. Some of the scenes are fairly interesting, especially the "Alternate Ending", but none really is missed from the final film. Nonetheless, I'm happy to see them here.
On a positive note, we discover a "Play All" option for the deleted scenes, so we don't have to constantly return to the menu. Unfortunately, someone saw fit to allow large gaps between each segment, which makes the presentation just as time consuming. Within the "Play All" area, the clips aren't chapter encoded, so we can't easily skip past these odd empty spots.
On another positive note, however, both "The Evolution of Evolution" and the deleted scenes offer English closed-captions. None of the other video extras provide this feature, however.
In the Storyboards Selections department, we see six different scenes. Each of these can be viewed with just the appropriate storyboards or as "storyboards with scenes". In the latter presentation, the boards fill the screen, while the movie appears in a tiny box in the upper right corner. I didn't care for this rendition at all; it made the film snippets much too small to see them properly.
Nonetheless, this area offers a good mix of storyboards. Instead of stillframes, all of them are filmed, and they feature running times between 102 seconds and eight minutes, 10 seconds for a total of about 23 minutes worth of boards. I'm not a fan of storyboards in general, but despite the awkward film-to-boards comparison, these should be worthwhile for those who enjoy them.
A Photo Gallery includes art for many of the alien creatures. We view shots of the Alligator, the Bird, the Crab, the Dog, the Dragonfly, the Flatworm, the Humanoid, the Leech, the Mall Bird and the Primate. Each subsection offers between one and 17 stills for a total of 76 frames. These seem moderately interesting, but this section would work better with an option to skip through all of the images; there are so few per critter that the presentation gets tiresome.
Lastly, some text materials finish the DVD. We get decent but unspectacular Production Notes on the disc and in the booklet; the latter slightly abridge the information on the DVD, but not by much. In addition, a slew of Cast and Filmmakers biographies appear. In this department, DreamWorks also favored quality over quantity, so while the entries are really pretty decent, they're not great. Nonetheless, we do find a lot of them. "Cast" offers listings for Duchovny, Moore, Jones and Scott, while "Filmmakers" packs in - (takes deep breath) - director Reitman, producers Daniel Goldberg and Joe Medjuck, story writer Don Jakoby, screenwriters David Weissman and David Diamond, executive producers Tom Pollock, Jeff Apple, and David Rodgers, co-producer Paul Deason, director of photography Michael Chapman, production designer J. Michael Riva, editor/associate producer Sheldon Kahn, editor Wendy Green Bricmont, visual effects supervisor Phil Tippett, costume designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers, and
composer John Powell. Whew! That's quite a roster! No wonder they couldn't pack a trailer onto this platter! (Though I regard its omission as quite odd.)
Overall, Evolution offered a moderately entertaining but definitely less than stellar experience. The movie had some fun moments and it remained watchable at all times, but it never really caught fire and became anything special. The DVD provided decent but surprisingly average picture along with very solid sound and a pretty good mix of extras. Folks who want to see a 21st century updating of Ghostbusters without as many laughs might want to check out Evolution, but others probably will prefer to skip it.