The Butterfly Effect might very well be one of the most under-rated science fictions of the past decade. Directors Eric Bress & J. Mackye Gruber may have never recovered from the critical back-lashing the film received upon release in 2004, but I for one think they may have made a rare original film in a sea that’s over-populated now with remakes and re-imaginings. The Butterfly Effect is a dark and depressing time travel story that deals with fate and how changing one thing might lead to changing everything. Topping off the already good movie is the Director’s Cut of the film, which includes one of the most anti-Hollywood endings I’ve ever seen. It’s a little over-the-top and silly, but it’s one of the most depressing and unflinching endings I’ve yet to see in mainstream release.
Evan (Ashton Kutcher) has never been able to live a normal life. When he was young he had to deal with not having a father around, because his dad was institutionalized because of a mental breakdown. To make matters worse, Evan didn’t have the best of friends, with one of them turning out to be a complete nutcase. His only real drive in life was a relationship with Kayleigh (Amy Smart), his lifelong best friend and love.
Things get a little harder to explain once Evan discovers that he has the ability to travel back in time and change events of the past, simply by reading a journal entry he made when he was a child. This power or ability transports him to a moment where he had a blackout, which allows him to hopefully change an outcome of an event. By changing an event he essentially rewrites his life and the lives of those around him. He quickly realizes that if you change one thing you change everything.
The more Evan changes things the more things become even more messed up. His brain is also taking a beating, with each and every memory or altered lifeline getting compacted into his current brain. He’s got years and years of memory packed into his young brain, which leads to hemorrhaging.
At its core roots The Butterfly Effect is a love story. It’s a darkly twisted love story that doesn’t shy away from violence and sexual abuse, but it’s the love story between Evan and Kayleigh that drives the film. Ashton Kutcher swaps out his usual comedy for a much more serious approach with the character Evan. He’s successful for the most part, with the only real struggles coming from your own ability to accept him as an actor and not just another kid from a TV show.
He brings likability to Evan that makes you want to invest in the character. You’ll find yourself wanting Evan to succeed, when you almost always know things are going to go to shit immediately after.
At the opposite end is Amy Smart playing the older version of Kayleigh. She’s the perfect girl in one altered timeline and she’s a nasty whore in another. It’s almost kind of scary watching Smart play all of these different variations of the character, because each one is as believable as the other and it pushes the film forward.
Directors Eric Bress & J. Mackye Gruber are newcomers to the world of film and they’ve remained that way since this film failed to find a critical audience. It’s too bad, because their script works more often than not. It has one or two big holes, but most of the concept holds up as long as you’re willing to accept the rules and boundaries that they’ve created. The concept of looped time-warp or altered timelines isn’t exactly a new idea, but they approach the film from a different standpoint, one which I’ve never seen before.
Everything is dark and nasty. What can go wrong almost always does go wrong, but there’s always that pure soul (Evan) constantly chugging away, trying to make things better for everyone around him. He’s an extraordinary selfless character in a selfish world and I like that.
The Butterfly Effect is most certainly not a perfect science fiction film, but it is a highly original concept that was co-written and co-directed by two unknowns and it somehow managed to channel its way through to a mainstream audience. It’s a film that would have never reached a wide audience today, instead most likely dropped onto the VOD market or maybe even straight-to-DVD. The inclusion of Ashton Kutcher guaranteed it an audience and I’m glad Kutcher attached himself to the film, because his performance is flawed, messy, but mostly good and a chance to show us a side of Kutcher that most thought didn’t exist.
The film was nothing but risk back in 2004 and I’d like to think that when people revisit it or watch it for the first time in today’s world, they just might find themselves liking it because of its originality and willingness to take chances where others might retreat. The Director’s Cut ending is still one of my favorites, despite being a little farfetched. I more so appreciate it for what it did and where it took the story.
This is another catalog New Line release handled by Warner Bros. It’s mostly a clean transfer, with no extreme DNR’ing or tampering. Colors are leveled and grain is lightly sprinkled throughout, with the only real problem coming from exact details like face textures. Some scenes are better than others, but most are examples of middle-of-the-road quality. I’m not 100% sure if this is because of the film’s low budget limitations or if the film simply needs some remastering. I doubt we’ll ever see anything better than this, which is fine, because this transfer is perfectly acceptable.
The 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track doesn’t have as many problems as the video transfer. This track is a lot louder than one might expect. Almost every single flashback or time-jump is guaranteed to shake your chair, with all channels becoming active, thus creating a surrounding effect that literally transports you back in time with Evan. It’s a nifty effect that makes up for all of the quieter moments during the dialogue-heavy scenes that mostly use up the front channels.
Here’s a list of bonus content found on the disc:
- Theatrical & Director’s Cut versions of the film
- Director’s Cut Commentary by Co-Directors and Co-Screenwriters Eric Bress & J. Mackye Gruber
- The Science and Psychology of the Chaos Theory (SD)
- The History and Allure of Time Travel (SD)
- The Creative Process (SD)
- Visual Effects (SD)
- Storyboard Gallery
- Deleted/Alternate Scenes with Optional Commentary
- Theatrical Trailer
- Director’s Cut Fact Track
The Butterfly Effect isn’t a flawless film, but it does deserve a little more credit and recognition for going where not many have gone before. Directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber put a fresh spin on the time travel concept and I still prefer their dark and hopeless ending to the one seen in theaters. Ashton Kutcher somehow manages to make the film a little better with his presence, mostly because he’s good at playing the normal guy, while also shining as the occasional asshole.
I urge you to go back and revisit this one if you’ve seen it when it originally came out and I also urge people that haven’t seen it to go ahead and give this newly released Blu-Ray a shot. The price is reasonable and the disc comes with two cuts of the film, a more than acceptable video encode and a strong audio track. The special features look into the various motives of the film, while also offering up an audio track, deleted scenes and the original theatrical trailer. This disc easily earns my recommendation.