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The Butterfly Effect : The Director's Cut (2004) artwork

The Butterfly Effect : The Director's Cut (2004)

29th August 2004

Chaos theory states that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly's wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway across the world. Imagine what would happen if this was applied to time travel.
Ashton Kutcher, Melora Walters, Amy Smart, Eric Stoltz, Elden Henson, William Lee Scott, John Patrick Amedori, Irene Gorovaia, Kevin Schmidt, Jesse James, Logan Lerman, Sarah Widdows, Jake Kaese, Cameron Bright, Callum Keith Rennie
Drama, Suspense/Thriller, Science Fiction
2, 4
1 Hour 55 Minutes

Evan Treborn suffers from frequent blackouts, but rather from collapsing he is fully conscious throughout the episode but has no memory of proceeding moments. His mother is extremely worried that he has inherited his fathers mental problem, which has resulted in him being institutionalised, so in an attempt to help him remember what has happened during the day his therapist suggests that he keeps a daily journal. But without his father, Evan has become a troubled young boy who has latched onto the Miller family. Although Evan is friendly with Kayley, the youngest daughter, her elder brother Tommy is violent, ill tempted and extremely protective to his sister. But this is hardly surprising as their divorced father is a child molester who dreams up sick games for the children to play.

As the years progress the molestation stops, but the mental scars remain buried deep within. Kayley has become a quiet and withdrawn girl whilst Tommy has become the teenager from hell. Whenever they go out together they always end up to no good and when Kayley and Evan start having feelings for each other Tommy is enraged and vents his anger on the pair. But it is after one particularity nasty episode with some explosives that Evan's mother decides it is time to move away. Kayley is heartbroken, but as Evan is leaving town he promises that he will one day return for her.

Several years more have now passed and Evan is at university. His black outs have stopped and he's even launched his own project to study how the human brain deals with memory assimilation. So when his latest girlfriend discovers his old journals she gets him to read some passages from them. But as he starts to read his bad memories come flooding back and something strange starts to happen - it's almost as if he can travel back in time to relive and remember the exact moments his blackouts occurred.

Remembering the bad times, Evan decides to return back home and carry out his promise to Kayley. But upon meeting her Evan discovers that Tommy is in a young offenders institute and Kayley is working at a dowdy diner. But Evan has triggered memories that Kayley would rather remain forgotten and she commits suicide. Wrecked with guilt, Evan decides that if his journals can indeed allow him to travel back in time he will return and change things for the better. But as every time traveller knows, by changing the past, no matter how small, can have a dramatic effect on the present.

For a film made on such a tight budget the picture is nothing short of a revelation with some excellent cinematography from the directors. The picture is bright and, at times, richly colourful with huge amounts of detail and an above average bit-rate throughout. There is the occasional problem with grain, but this is most likely to be the consequence of the many clever techniques used during filming. Never the less, there are no problems with either artifacting or outlining whilst the print is clean and free from any dust scratches or other picture imperfections.

Various set pieces have also been deliberately desaturated, over saturated and digitally manipulated to give them a more nightmarish look and set the tone for the many scenarios Evan finds himself in. On the whole it works really well, with certain scenes containing over saturated colours whilst others are heavily filtered. This results in some surprisingly good results and even with all of this digital processing the DVD takes it all in its stride without any real detriment to picture quality.

The soundtrack on The Butterfly Effect is an absolute cracker with the 448 Kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 providing an excellent all round workout for your system. First off, the dialogue is clear and precise in the centre channel whilst there's some good stereo steerage at the front without any bleeding from the centre channel. You couldn't really ask for anything better, and the genre of the film really does profit from the sounds success. However, the real pearl in the oyster are the surround and LFE channels.

Missing out on the theatrical release I settled down to watch the film and found a pleasant listening level without realising just what was in store. For a cracking film such as this I'd tweaked the volume a little higher to enjoy the ambient effects, but as soon as Evan experienced his first time travel the rear channels roared into life whilst the LFE channel rattled the rafters like nothing I (and most of the neighbourhood) had ever heard before. Boy, did it make me jump, but boy, was it one heck of a ride. It's just a pity that, unlike the region one edition, there is no DTS soundtrack as I'm sure it would be awesome.

Keeping a similar theme to the opening credits, the menu system is superbly animated and scored at every level with some good transition effects to the other menus. And as if the menu design wasn't good enough, it comes fully loaded with a good range of extras which will keep both film fans and budding scientists happy for hours.

The highlight of the extras is the superb director's audio commentary, which is also reproduced as a subtitle track, with director/screenwriters Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber. Both men offer some extremely interesting information about the script, the cast and production and whilst Bress does most of the talking, Gruber does provide some interesting prompts. First off, the directors mention that the earlier versions of the script had the main character called Chris Treborn. If you think about this for a moment and then slide a character across from one name to the other, you get some very interesting symbolism. It's a pity they didn't stick with it, and as director Eric Bress points out, it would have certainly given some film school students something to talk about.

The commentary track is so full of interesting information that you can easily end up watching the film three times. First off you watch the film without any interruptions, then again with the audio commentary and finally with just the commentary subtitle track. By doing this you'll then be amazed at just how much information you can pick up and then slap yourself in the face for not noticing it the first place. Mind you, the yack track still does the usual back slapping routine and mentions how wonderful everyone is, but if you can get past this then you can look forward to one of the best director commentaries available today on DVD.

The only real criticism here is the fact that the pair keep referring back to the theatrical release of the film and not having seen this version it was quite annoying not being able to visualise what they were talking about. Matters are made worse by the fact that the region one edition of the film comes equipped with both the director's cut and original theatrical release. I thought these large disparities between the region one and two releases had finally been sorted, but this really begs the question as to why the region two edition doesn't come complete with both editions.

The disc also contains four featurettes. Two look at the production process whilst the remainder explorer the chaos theory and the glamour of time travel. The Science and Psychology of the Chaos Theory featurette is interesting enough and you don't even need to be a mathematician or psychologist to follow what is being said. Just make sure you don't decide you want to travel back in time as the Allure of Time Travel featurette becomes rather amusing, if only for the views of a female psychologist, who thinks that anyone who would want to travel back in time to correct a wrong is a complete nutter and has "issues".

The Creative Process featurette is reasonable enough and contains a few clips from behind the scenes during filming. However, it mainly consists of the usual collection of back slapping interviews with everyone saying just how wonderful everyone is. Most of this praise, and quite rightly so, is aimed towards directors and screenwriters Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber. Trouble is, most of their comments are just a of reproduction of what has already been mentioned in the audio commentary so it can end up being of little value. The Behind the Visual Effects featurette interviews the VFX team and looks at the special effects created for the time travelling sequences, the opening credits and various other CGI effects used in the film. For such a tight budget these visual effects are stunning, but these constraints did show up at times with the occasional obvious effect.

There's a good selection of deleted scenes, with optional commentaries available, and they include two scenes which hint at ideas for alternate (and in comparison to the director's preferred version, rather poor) endings. However, most of the scenes concentrate on Evan's childhood, but since this already uses up a fair amount of screen time before we even get to see Ashton Kutcher, it is quite easy to see why they were dropped. Still, this is the director's cut, so why not restore them, especially since the picture transfers are top-notch? Things are rounded off nicely with the ubiquitous theatrical trailer.

As with the superb Donnie Darko, the equally impressive Butterfly Effect slipped rather quietly under the viewing radar without much attention, although most of the publicity will have come thanks to Ashton Kutcher's relationship with Demi Moore and the fact that this was Kutcher's first serious role. The reason for its poor showing? Well, since American theatre audiences don't tend to use their brains and develop some sort of itchy rash when it comes to time travel, it is quite understandable why it didn't draw in the crowds. And from some of the comments made by the directors about their script, it's even more surprising that the film got made in the first place. However, I can't put my finger onto why it didn't hit the mark in the UK, after all, the similarly styled Donnie Darko went down a total storm here. Surely we can't hate Ashton Kutcher that much?

But thankfully, the medium of DVD ensures that the Butterfly Effect can have another crack at winning over the fans, especially as the directors now gets to show the version they wanted you to see. Sure, there is the occasional hole in the plot, but if you liked the shear wonderful darkness of Donnie Darko then you're sure to love this superior director's cut of the film. With its performance in the sound and picture department, plus some first-rate extras, it really does deserve another chance on the small screen. Highly recommended, even if the region one edition is the better version.

  • Beyond the Movie: The Science & Psychology of the Chaos Theory, The History and Allure of Time Travel, Fast Track - Trivia Subtitle Track
  • All Access Pass: Filmmaker commentary - Directors and Screenwriters Eric Bress & J. Mackye Gruber
  • Deleted / Alternate Scenes
  • The Creative Process
  • Visual Effects
  • Storyboard Gallery
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
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