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THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Eric Stoltz, William Lee Scott, Elden Henson, Logan Lerman, Ethan Suplee, Melora Walters
Directors: J. Mackye Gruber, Eric Bress
Audio: Dolby Digital EX 5.1, Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: New Line Cinema
Features: See Review
Length: 120 Minutes (Directorís Cut), 114 Minutes (Theatrical Version)
Release Date: July 6, 2004

ďYou canít change who people are without destroying who they were.

YOU CANíT PLAY GOD, SON!Ē

Film ***1/2

This is probably the best example yet of a movie exceeding my expectations when my expectations certainly were not high to begin with. When I first caught the trailer for The Butterfly Effect, I wasnít left with too big of an impression. It didnít look like the kind of movie Iíd want to rush out and see. If I did end up seeing it, it would probably be through a rental, if I couldnít find anything else.

But then something funny happened; everyone I knew who saw it had nothing but amazing things to say about it. I was told that the trailers and ads didnít even do the movie justice. I recount one friend of mine telling me specifically that if I added up just about every movie I saw that dealt with the issue of time traveling (Back to the Future, Frequency, etc.) this movie would still knock my socks off.

Itís funny how a strong word of mouth can persuade one to see something for themselves. I ended up seeing the movie way into its theatrical run, and was amazed by how blown away I was by its every element. Everything from the plot scenario, to the ultra-dark feel, all the way by a surprisingly stunning performance from a guy known for his comic, and punking, talents. I walked out of the theater only wishing that I had seen The Butterfly Effect much sooner than I did.

A good way to describe the movie is a hugely clever Twilight Zone episode, only extended to two hours and probably loaded with more chills and thrills. The story surrounds a young, troubled soul named Evan Trebhorn, played by Ashton Kutcher in an outstanding departure from his usual comedic fare. It may seem like a trend for a comedic actor to branch off into a single, more serious role, but Mr. Kutcherís work here is rock solid and astonishing. In other words, if you thought he possessed limited range, you have just been Punkíd.

The story actually begins in Evanís preteen years, where during a series of traumatic events which I will not go into detail of, he experiences blackouts. Extraordinarily bewildered by the chain of events, and frightening his own mother on one occasion, Evan is soon subjected to treatment. After conducting several tests, the shrink suggests an eccentric strategy; that Evan keeps a journal of the crucial events prior to which he experienced a blackout.

Cut to several years later, where Evan (now played by Kutcher), is attending college and is more than pleased to discover that he hasnít had a single blackout in several months. That is, until he unintentionally begins reading into a journal entry. Itís not exactly what he reads that triggers much significance, but what happens to Evan as he reads each word describing an event in the past.

Without giving away too much plot detail, it turns out that Evan has the ability to travel back in time when reading specific documents detailing his blackouts. While confronting a number of horrific incidents during his childhood, which changed the course of not only his life but that of three close friends of his, Evan tries to make the wrong things right. By taking charge of himself in the past and having the power to alter any specific event at any point in his life, he then wakes up to find some drastic changes in the present. While some results may appear happy, each alteration he makes results in a tragic error in some way, shape or form.

Perhaps Evanís biggest concern is the fate of childhood friend Kayleigh Miller (Amy Smart). As a result of being raised by a more than abusive father, and Evan and his mother eventually moving away from town years ago, Evan confronts her at the present. Strangely enough, an unthinkable tragedy comes as a result from this moment, and is the very thing that triggers Evanís need for going back in time to make everything right, at least, for the moment.

And thatís as far as Iíll go with story revelation.

In addition to the strength of the cast, a huge level of applause must go way of filmmakers J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress, who share writing and directing credit. Gruber and Bress, who also wrote the screenplay for the grisly but fun Final Destination 2, really seem to know the genre theyíve invested in. The strength of this film, in my honest opinion, will lead to many chilling films of this type. I can easily see them working along the path like that of M. Night Shyamalan.

Just believe me when I say that The Butterfly Effect moves like a roaring machine at a relentless pace, which is a good thing. Itís an entirely moody piece that, while definitely not for the faint of heart, is certain to become a film cherished by fans of sci-fi and supernatural thrillers. Like all movies dealing with the altering of time and events, it will require a huge suspension of disbelief, which in science fiction is a pure given about 99.9 percent of the time.

If you think youíve seen all there is to see in the realm of time travel, I highly recommend to you The Butterfly Effect to hopefully prove you otherwise. This is a superbly crafted, razor sharp mix of sci-fi and supernatural thriller. Prepare to be thrust into a whirlwind paradox ride of a movie, with many startling surprises in store.

BONUS NOTE: The Directorís Cut, in addition to having a few more minutes, includes a much more startling ending than the theatrical version. Personally, I prefer the ending used in the original movie, though the alternate is more daring in a sense.

Video ****

If thereís one studio who knows no limits when applied to DVD, itís New Line without question. In addition to providing a marvelously stunning anamorphic presentation, they were wise enough to include only the anamorphic widescreen version of the movie. As for the transfer itself, nothing short of first rate quality, as only New Line can deliver. The movie offers an equal dose of light and dark sequences. Colors are especially worth noting, since they play a big role in the visualization of the time altering sequences. An all around striking use of dynamic detail. It adds up to one of the best looking discs Iíve seen all year.

Audio ****

Dolby EX always offers an added boom to the mix, and the 5.1 mix supplied to this disc does an outstanding job of working just about every aspect of a good sound system. Evanís time traveling incidents alone are worth the four star rating. There is also a great deal of individual suspense-filled moments, accompanied by a well matched music score. Dialogue is clear as a bell, and the dynamic range is as ultimately and thoroughly present as ever. As with the video job, this is certainly one of the most stellar sounding discs of the year, thus far.

Features ****

New Line makes a standout return to their prestigious Infinifilm format for this release. In other words, the extras are a plentiful.

For starters, in the All Access Pass area, thereís a commentary track by writer/directors J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress, which is extremely informative especially when noting the several changes between the directorís cut and the original version of the film. In addition, there are two behind the scenes documentaries; one on the creative process and the other on visual effects, storyboard galleries, and a trailer.

Also, in the Beyond the Movie area, there are two intriguing documentaries; ďThe Science and Psychology of the Chaos TheoryĒ and ďThe History and Allure of Time TravelĒ, along with the always engaging Infinifilm fact track.

Summary:

For me, The Butterfly Effect is both a sense-assaulting and gripping sci-fi thriller, as well as one of the most superb DVD packages of the year. Thereís nothing like a good movie with a monumental level of extras to go along with it, and New Lineís Infinifilm edition is exactly that.

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