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Butterfly Effect, The Print E-mail
Sunday, 06 June 2004

The Butterfly Effect
New Line Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: R
starring: Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Eric Stoltz, William Lee Scott, Ethan Suplee
release year: 2004
film rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
sound/picture rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

“The Butterfly Effect” takes its title from a line in a Ray Bradbury short story, in which a seemingly insignificant change to the past results in a totally different future. The movie actually sets up an arguable premise – all of the totally different futures have certain linkages that seem counter to the central idea (if everything changes, why are there always common factors?), but on the whole, it’s a pretty engrossing and inventive sci-fi thriller with borderline horror elements.

Writers/directors Eric Bress & J. Mackye Gruber introduce us to Evan Treborn (Ashton Kutcher as the adult Evan, Logan Lerman as Evan at age seven and John Patrick Amedori as Evan at age 13) at a moment of crisis, then flash back to his childhood. As a little boy, Evan longs to meet his institutionalized father, even as his mother Andrea (Melora Walters) worries about Evan’s blackouts and strange behavior. For the most part, there at first seems to be a simple explanation for the blackouts – Evan is subjected to a series of traumas that would induce erratic behavior in anyone. Evan and his best friend Kayleigh (Sarah Widdows as the seven-year-old version, Irene Gorovaia as the 13-year-old, Amy Smart as the college-vintage edition) are sexually abused (offscreen) by Kayleigh’s pedophile father (Eric Stoltz), Evan’s father tries to strangle him and is beaten to death by orderlies as a result, a prank leads to fatalities and Kayleigh’s disturbed brother Tommy (Cameron Bright as the seven-year-old, Jesse James as the 13-year-old and William Lee Scott as the adult) becomes horrifically violent when he perceives a relationship between Kayleigh and Tommy. At some point during each disaster, Evan loses time. A kindly psychiatrist (Nathan Devereaux) counsels Evan to keep journals, in the hopes that he will eventually remember what happens during the fugues.

By college, however, the blackouts have been gone for seven years and Evan is doing well as a psych student. Then he tries to contact Kayleigh, with such catastrophic results that Evan cannot accept it. Discovering that concentrating on his journal entries allows him to enter the mind of his earlier self, Evan uses knowledge of the future to “fix” the past while inhabiting his younger incarnation (this is what’s happening when he’d had the blackouts). The problem is, as Evan soon discovers, each alteration causes new drastic troubles, which become evident every time Evan returns to a different future that is new to him but not to those around him.

The premise and its execution feel in some ways like a riff on “Frequency,” another New Line thriller of a few years back that also combined emotional drama with the threat of severe violence. The visuals for the “time travel” are restrained but cool and Bress and Gruber keep us guessing as to what permutations are in store. They don’t, however, allow for the notion that any serious setbacks apart from the ones attached to Evan might affect the other characters, so that the movie seems a tad myopic – on the one hand, it condemns Evan for trying to find an easy fix somewhere in his own past, and on the other hand, it winds up endorsing this view by tying all the characters’ futures to Evan’s story.

The directors’ cut of the film leads to an alternate ending that likewise cuts both ways. Certainly the original ending – not the one seen in the theatrical release – is the logical ultimate conclusion of part of the premise, but it’s also counter-intuitive. Evan still makes a timeline change, which could conceivably have ripples just as destructive as all the others. The filmmakers’ reasoning on the commentary track of what’s going on in even the theatrical climax is likewise debatable (but can’t be gone into here without totally giving the game away).

“Butterfly Effect” is actually very well done. Directors/writers Bress and Gruber do a very good job of getting the various actors playing the four main characters at different points in their pasts to give performances that track from one performer to the next and one timeline to the next. Kutcher is good in a solid dramatic role and he gets solid support from those around him, with Ethan Suplee delivering a crowd-pleasing turn as Evan’s caring but baffled college roommate in some versions of the present.

It is evident even from seeing it in a theatre, long before listening to the commentary track or checking out the special effects featurette, that great care was taken to differentiate color themes for the myriad futures and to create very specific sound effects. The double-sided disc has the theatrical cut on one side and the directors’ cut – with New Line’s Infinifilm features – on the other . On the directors’ cut (chapter breaks are different for the theatrical version), Chapter 2 features a delicate, creepy flapping of insect wings over the main titles. Chapter 4 has a terrific visual/aural scare that helps set up our gradual comprehension of what is going on (and has a great payoff later on). Chapter 9 causes composer Michael Suby’s score to boom with effective menace in the sub and there are excellent hard assault sounds in subsequent mayhem in the sequence. Chapter 12 features a very nice, subtle and discrete knock on a window in the left rear. Chapter 17 has an especially realistic body impact sound. Chapter 26 has glowing, vivid colors in a montage of the past changing, while Chapter 31 has deliberately desaturated color. Chapter 41 has an especially great example of “The Butterfly Effect’s” signature aural flourish – discrete overlapping sounds in each separate speaker as the past rushes along.

The directors’ commentary, found (unsurprisingly) on the directors’ cut, goes into great detail about pretty much every aspect of how the film was made, from concept to casting to execution to editorial decisions. Featurettes on the making of the movie and the special effects are well done (if a bit self-congratulatory on the filmmakers’ originality and daring). The featurettes on chaos theory and time travel in the “Beyond the Movie” set of special features have relatively articulate psychologists, film historians and scientists talking intelligently (if somewhat obviously) about alterations in the timeline and the appeal of fiction about changing the past.

“The Butterfly Effect” isn’t perfect, but it’s imaginative, intricate and has a few strong shivers to enhance its Moebius-strip storyline.

more details
sound format:
English DTS ES 6.1; English Dolby EX 5.1 Surround
aspect ratio(s):
special features: Director’s Cut and Theatrical Cut of the Film; Audio Commentary with Writers/Directors Eric Bress & J. Mackye Gruber; Creative Process Featurette; Visual Effects Featurette; Chaos Theory Featurette; Time Travel Featurette; Deleted/Alternate Scenes; Fact Track; Storyboard Gallery; Theatrical Trailer; DVD-ROM Content; English and Spanish Subtitles; English Closed-Captioning
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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