Contrary to popular belief, the chaos theory referred to in the title of The Butterfly Effect has nothing to do with Ashton Kutcher landing a leading dramatic role. Actually the chaos theory predicts that the smallest action can have consequences beyond comprehension. When applied to a science fiction story of time travel, the staggering results of the butterfly effect provide great entertainment, and an opportunity for actors to show range and diversity all while playing the same character.
What's that? Chaos Theory? Time Travel? Ashton Kutcher and range and diversity as an actor? No, you haven't been punk'd, The Butterfly Effect actually provides a great vehicle for Kutcher to show he's more then a pretty face with good comedic timing. In it he shows his potential future for dramatic acting, and behind the scenes that he's a good businessman as well.
In The Butterfly Effect, Kutcher plays Evan Treborn, or rather plays the grown up version of the character. The character is actually seen in the movie played by three different actors in three different stages of his life: childhood, teenage years, and finally college age. In his younger ages Evan suffers from mysterious blackouts where time passes but he remembers nothing. Because these blackouts may be linked to an even more mysterious condition that has his father institutionalized, Evan is asked to keep a journal, hopefully to help him remember events he's blacked out. As a college student Evan has studied psychology, working on theories of memory. When he starts to look back and read his old journals, suddenly he finds himself able to return to the moments of his previous blackouts, watching and sometimes changing the events that occurred.
The Butterfly Effect handles time travel in an extremely intelligent matter, and it's obvious the script was worked and reworked until co-writer/directors J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress got it right. Nothing in the plot feels extraneous, and there are few glaring plot holes regarding the time travel. That said, there are plot holes, the most extreme of these being a point in the movie where Evan kills someone and is sent to a maximum security prison before his trial even takes place. The plot holes can be overlooked, but may become more obvious and disturbing on subsequent viewings of the movie.
The adult cast of The Butterfly Effect is full of instantly recognizable faces. Obviously starring Ashton Kutcher from "That 70s Show" and Dude, Where's My Car, other cast members include Eldon Henson (The Mighty Ducks), Ethan Suplee (Mallrats), Amy Smart (Varsity Blues), and Melora Walters (Magnolia). Although the faces are easily recognized from previous roles, each of the actors fits strongly into this movie, performing solidly and making each role feel important. As some of the characters change when Evan alters events in the past, some of the roles offer quite a few challenges. Amy Smart in particular has a character that changes from a roadside bar waitress, to a sorority girl, to a crack whore. How's that for range? Kutcher holds his own alongside the other, more established actors and makes the audience feel for Evan, with no sign of his Dude persona around. The younger members of the cast do a pretty bang up job as well, keeping the cast consistent across the board.
I love DVDs that keep my attention for days with commentary tracks, featurettes, documentaries, bloopers, deleted scenes, etc. What I don't like are DVDs that keep me tied up for days because of bad interfaces, or extras that make you watch the movie three or four times before you can even start to review it. Unfortunately, The Butterfly Effect falls into the latter category.
New Line's release of The Butterfly Effect is part of their "Infinifilm" collection. Infinifilm is a poorly styled rip off of the "Follow the White Rabbit" mode from the first Matrix film. In The Matrix you would watch the movie in this mode and every once in a while a white rabbit would appear on the corner of your screen, and if you pressed enter you would be taken to an extra - rehearsal, combat training, etc. With Infinifilm, instead of a small rabbit, you have a menu bar that pops up periodically (and all too frequently) that takes up one half to one third of the screen. Then you can choose if you want to break off from the movie to watch an extra, or sometimes your choice of extras. The problem with this method is you have to watch an often-interrupted movie in order to get to the extras, which in this case more often then not were not worth interrupting the movie. It may just be me, but if I'm going to watch the movie, I want to watch the movie. If I'm going to watch extras, I want to watch extras. I don't want to have to sit through 120 minutes of movie that periodically gets disrupted for forty seconds here and a minute thirty there in order to watch the extras.
Luckily, the extras are available separate from the movie, only rather then the short scenes you see if you watch them intercut with the movie, they've been collected together by theme and make up short documentaries. This creates another issue altogether. Since New Line intended for the short scenes to be shown, the longer documentaries feel thrown together, with ugly transitions between material. Finally comes a problem with the material that doesn't go away, regardless of which way you watch it: The material is boring. A documentary on the Chaos Theory and Time Travel interviews psychologists and scientists. A documentary on the history of time travel in movies interviews some pompous looking AFI type people, but that's just it. Nothing interesting, just boring interviews with boring people. Why not interview the cast for their thoughts on chaos theory and cut that in with the boring people? Why not have the writers talk about their inspirations for time travel and use that rather then the more "official" looking boring guys? The biggest question is why include this on the disk at all? The answer seems to be, to make the disks extras look more impressive.
There are some good things on the DVD though. The longer Director's cut changes the ending of the movie. The extra 7 minutes of footage, restored to the film, serves to move the film toward this alternate, original ending. It's a bleaker ending, and one can easily see why it didn't make it as a theatrical release. Several deleted scenes are included as well, although they add little to the story and most of them were cut for pacing. Commentary is included with the deleted scenes, which is good because one, what's actually being reported on TV at one point in the movie, made me immediately turn on the commentary to figure out what I had just watched.
There is a trivia track, but in order to watch it you have to turn Infinifilm on, which means the disruptive menus again. The trivia track really fits in with the Infinifilm nonsense though, as it isn't actual trivia about the film. For instance, Evan picks up a knife, and the trivia track tells you about Ginsu knives. Great if you want to be a walking encyclopedia, but not much use for a movie fan.
Finally comes the saving grace of the DVD - commentary by the co-writer/directors. Gruber and Bress are obviously film geeks, and through the commentary we hear the references they slid into script and screen, their joy with the cast and production crew, and how Ashton Kutcher becoming producer was the only reason the script that had been passed around Hollywood for 7 years finally ended up getting made (see, I told you he is a good businessman). The film is already rated R, so don't be surprised at the language used by Gruber and Bress as they talk about all the insights and subtleties most of us missed.
All in all, I still remain a fan of The Butterfly Effect, one of the more intelligent time travel movies to hit the screen in years. However, I'm less then impressed with "Infinifilm" and won't be encouraged to watch the features on this DVD release or others anytime soon.
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