Over the past Decade Hollywood has been making live action versions of America’s favorite Comic Books. Most of the big Comic book franchises have been done, more will be on the way over the next 5 years with Marvel and DC putting out everything they got with movies featuring all the prominent characters together likely follow. After this the next big thing will likely be Anime and Manga live action movies, considering how popular Anime has become in America it’s only a matter of time.
Anime has been adapted into live action before though, least we forget “Fist of the North Star” which was embarrassingly bad. Or the knock off “Dragonball: The Magic begins” movie released in China. These are poor examples of Anime transferred to live action and shouldn’t really be used in an argument against live action anime features. We’re now into the age of CGI. Even in the simplest of movies they use CGI these days and it has allowed movie makers to present a true interpretation of Comics, Fantasy and Sc-fi. Before the age of CGI the closest we could come to that was in Anime, but now anime itself is making the leap to live action and it doesn’t have to hold back or compromise on what can be shown.
In recent years we’ve seen Hong Kong come out with “Inital D” and Japan released “Death Note” this past year. We could even look at the Matrix and see that as a heavily inspired live action Cyberpunk Anime, some of the influences in the film are from The Ghost in the Shell by Mamoru Oshii, The Wachowski brothers told Joel Silverman that they basically wanted to make a live action version of Ghost in the Shell. Even by the time Matrix Revolutions came around it’s hard not to compare the Neo Vs Smith Battle with that of fights in Dragon Ball Z, even the concept art for Revolutions had Neo forming a Ki energy blast not unlike the Kamehameha. Most recently we’ve had the Wachowski brothers “Speed Racer” movie which personally gave me a headache since my eyes didn’t have time to rest and were all over the screen. That is perhaps an extreme interpretation of the source material and seeing John Goodman in it made me think of it as something akin to the Flintstones live action movie. The next live action anime movie up is “Dragon Ball” with “Evolution” tacked onto the end of the live action title.
The live action Dragon Ball Z was first announced as a movie on the fast track back in 2002 with a release date of 2004, at the time a fake poster popped up for the movie also which had a picture of Vegeta’s eye with a scouter on it, however only the logo of the poster was real.
After the announcement nothing seemed to be in the works though except a poll on the offical Funimation DBZ website asking fans what character they wanted Jet Li and Jackie Chan to play. Frankly I was horrified at the thought of such miscasting. But nothing happened on the project for quite a few years until 2007 when news surfaced that a live action movie Dragon Ball was on the way Directed by James Wong who also directed “The One”. The Producer is Stephen Chow who did the fantastic “Kung Fu Hustle” which is bordering on the craziness of Dragonball. But Chow has said he is more of a consultant.
Left: Piccolo in Dragon Ball: Evolution Right: Fake design for Piccolo in a live action DBZ which do you think is better?
There was some very cool casting choices of Chow yun Fat as Master Roshi and James Marshters as Piccolo. Marshters is himself a big fan of the series and believes Dragonball to contain the moral fibers of what it is to be a man.
I hoped that a Dragon Ball movie would be more epic. Since parts of it resemble The Superman mythos I’d like to see a movie that reflects something similar to the beginning of Superman the movie. Goku comes to Earth in the first movie and Vegeta and Nappa follow in the next movie.
The quest for the Dragonballs could have been done more like “Lord of the Rings”. The fights could be twice as good as the Smith Vs Neo in The Matrix Revolutions and Reloaded. In fact the Wachowskis could have directed this. Instead we get James Wong. I remember when I saw “The One” with Jet Li I thought that bits of the action could be what a live action Dragonball looks like. But with Wong his movies never seem big enough and often are lacking scope. In fact I think Dragonball is just too big of a movie for him to handle and do right which is why DBE comes off as looking small, cheap and lacking anything with real heart. The animation had more scope and scale than this. Just compare the Dragon Shenron in the animation compared to him in the movie. In the animation the dragon encompasses the entire sky. In the movie it merely is in shot with no scale comparison.
Dragonball Evolution does tip the hat to a lot of things. Master Roshi is still a Pervert. Yamcha is still an idiot. Bulma still cares about herself and falls for the idiot Yamcha.It sorta plays like the animation. It’s a bit weird because it’s close and yet far from what Dragonball is. It has things like Goku doing training and Piccolo spawning evil beings but it’s all too short. Goku isn’t as innocent as the animation. He’s a teenager with a crush on his classmate Chi Chi, who is with the School Bully. At this stage who can guess what’s going to happen next? Why do they put the same scenes into these high school movies where the good guy takes the girl from the bully. What. Is. The. Point? The only good thing about it is the fight Goku has where he dodges the Bullies attacks making them hit each other which is dragonballish in nature. There is also a funny moment with Goku staring at Chi Chi and fantasizing about her.
Piccolo, the main Villain is hardly in this. The star power of James Marshters is wasted. What gives? Ok it looks like Piccolo, acts like Piccolo but we see little of him to even feel that he is a threat. In the trailer there are some scenes of a Grey Piccolo in fight scenes and some shots of France getting blown up. But these are nowhere to be found in the movie, in fact Piccolo had been trapped for 200 years previously. How did he escape? They don’t show it. They film makers seemed more interested in showing the body shape of Eriko Tamura.
The final fights scenes are pretty pitiful compared to short flashes we got earlier in the movie. Some impressive stuff with Goku and Master Roshi fighting at super speed like the animation and Goku taking on Mai. But the ultimate final battle? Piccolo throws a few Ki blasts around, Kicks Goku a bit and then Goku does a Kamehameha on him and it’s over. Terrible set piece too, they had done some filming on location in Mexico, they should have found a spot for the fight there too instead of the obvious use of a set. I guess a $100 Million doesn’t go as far as it used to.
The movie is very short. At 88 Minutes I would think it a bad sign on what was cut. I don’t know if longer would it help or hurt the film. But obviously somebody thought it wouldn’t hurt the film to cut it down this much. As for the non Dragonball fans. Will they get it? When I watched this I knew how it would start and end the way it was played out. So I would recommend this to Dragonball fans because at least they’d get it and appreciate all those little moments here and there that harken back to the original Manga and Animation and make you smile. However for most it will be a bad experience and a missed opportunity. This will be fully cemented by how awful that twist ending was done. I knew who it was going to be. But it was just so silly.
Other Japanese animation live action films currently in the works are “Akira” which will be 2 films based on the epic Manga. “Voltron”, Toby Maguire, “Cowboy Bebop” starring Keanu Reeves. Less certain is “Neon Genesis Evangelion”, although concept art was released a back in 2003, nothing has been mentioned since.
“The Ghost in the Shell” rights are apparently locked so no live action of this famous animation will be happening even though Steven Spielberg expressed interest in it.
If Dragon Ball is successful there will be a mad dash to get these projects out the gates and into the cinema. However the chances of Dragonball being a whopping success are unfortunately slim thanks to the mishandling of the material by the studio.
Favorite Quote: “Normal is also overrated.” – Gohan