Back when 'The Butterfly Effect' opened in theaters in 2004, I was just barely starting my film studies education and hadn't quite figured out exactly where my growing taste in movies was taking me. At the time, it seemed like I was capable of enjoying almost everything. Being a fan of 'That '70s Show,' I was excited to see what Ashton Kutcher would do with his serious role in 'The Butterfly Effect.' No big surprise considering my (then) current state of mind, but I actually enjoyed the film. Reviewing it on Blu-ray last week was the first time I'd seen the film since that first viewing eight years ago. Even though I didn't ignorantly enjoy this repeat visit as much as I did back in 2004, I was surprised by how bad it wasn't. I expected to hate it, but it was really only half as bad as I thought it was going to be.
'The Butterfly Effect' is a time travel movie of sorts. Kutcher plays Evan, a college-age twenty-something who has suffered blackouts since his traumatic childhood. When his mom finally moved him away from the negative influences and memories that his hometown held, he started a therapy program of writing his daily actions in a journal. The combination of the two lifestyle changes resulted in Evan's blackouts ceasing – that is, until Evan unlocks a hidden door to his childhood.
Despite having friends and a young innocent childhood romance with a girl named Kayleigh (the adult version played by Amy Smart), Evan never looked back. It isn't until Evan is deep into his college education that the messed-up and unknown events from his childhood begin to plague his conscious again. Out of curiosity, Evan pulls out the stacks of journals and notebooks, looking only for entries about the blackouts. It's when he starts re-reading his writings that his reality gets shaky and he's torn through time to those specific unknown moments. It turns out that the blackouts were not simply blackouts, but the moments that Evan would go back in time in the future. Lost? I promise that it's not at all as complex as it sounds.
Now, as Evan goes back, he experiences what happened during those dark moments. But it doesn't stop there. When he learns the terrible fates of his different friends, he tries going back and changing the past, but with each jump back, he only makes the present get more and more skewed.
The first thing that struck me when revisiting 'The Butterfly Effect' was how dark it was. For some reason, the child violence, the bludgeoning, the baby deaths, the prostitution, the drug use, the gothics, the threat of prison rapes and childhood molestation had completely slipped my mind.
The second thing that struck me was how bad the acting is. Kutcher is mostly overdramatic, but not awful – but it doesn't help that his character unfittingly turns more melodramatic as the film progresses. But as lousy as Kutcher is, the actors that he surrounds himself with are even worse – the kid actors being the worst. Sadly, there are more scenes with the kids than there are with the adults. These one-note, foul-mouth children strike the same chord over and over again.
The Blu-ray features two cuts of the movie: the directors' cut and the theatrical cut. The directors' cut is the prominent cut on the disc. It is written in block letters under the title on the front of the case, "Director's Cut" (which should be "directors' cut" since the movie was co-directed by the writing duo). "Also includes the theatrical version" is printed in a smaller text on the bottom of the cover. Like Kutcher's character, the story itself gradually falls apart over time. The directors' cut ending tries to be dark, edgy and important, while the theatrical cut ending drives straight into studio territory. Personally, I prefer the theatrical cut ending over the wannabe pretentious art-house ending - but neither are great.
Having once viewed this as a very good film, I understand where the love comes from that people have for it. As I matured, so did my taste in movies. This type of movie used to entertain me, but now it's just basic cable Saturday afternoon filler.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Bros. has placed this New Line title on a region-free BD-50 in an eco-friendly blue Elite keepcase. The cover art is identical to that of the 2004 Infinifilm (remember those?) DVD release. The playability of the disc itself has an upside and a downside. The positive – only a quick FBI warning, a piracy reel and a firmware disclaimer play before the main menu, all of which are skippable. The negative – 'The Butterfly Effect' features the horribly generic menus that Warner Bros. keeps inflicting upon us.
'The Butterfly Effect' makes its way to Blu-ray with a decent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
The print used for the transfer has not been cleaned as much as it could have/should have been, causing little white specks to pop up throughout the entire film. Between this print flaw and the compression flaw of digital noise that appears throughout (mostly in pale colors), there are lots of on-screen transfer distractions. Luckily, neither of those two flaws is constant, but they'll draw your attention each time they show up.
The amount of detail in this transfer varies greatly. One shot in a specific scene will reveal individual blades amongst a sea of grass, yet the next shot will turn that previously detailed image into a solid green textureless mass. One shot will reveal the individual hairs on Kutcher's bearded face, while the next will turn his beard into a solid mass not unlike Ken's hair in 'Toy Story 3' - okay, maybe not that bad, but you get my drift. Drastically noticeable are the differences in detail between the two different endings. The theatrical cut carries the same grain and quality of the majority of the movie, whereas the directors' cut ending just looks like cheap home video footage.
Colors and black levels also tend to vary. Shadow delineation is never this Blu-ray's strongsuit. Band, artifacts and aliasing are absent, as are clean-up and sharpening tools DNR and edge enhancement.
Warners has given another catalog title the strange 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio transfer – but you have to watch the directors' cut to get this six-channel goodness. The theatrical cut only carries Dolby Digital English and German tracks.
When you begin watching 'The Butterfly Effect,' you'll notice that the majority of the audio is very forward-heavy – which only causes the effects-filled leaps through time to have even more of an impact. The stagnant plainness is wildly interrupted by the loud time traveling effects. If your master volume is high, get ready for things to get loud – impressively loud – and detailed. The visual effect that accompanies the sounds warrants great seamless front-to-back imaging.
When tension is present, the audio mix is noteworthy – but I suspect this is due to the film's original audio and not some extra effort put into making this Blu-ray. Why? Because I noticed one instance where no effort had been put into cleaning up an obvious error, and if they didn't clean that up, why would they have gone above and beyond for the dynamics of the mix. At 1:38:54 mark, as Amy Smart is delivering her lines, a crackle can be heard that resembles quiet source audio being blown out from being raised too high.
Considering the video quality and the lack of effort that Warners put into the mix, the last thing I expected was a sweet audio mix that's actually more impressive than anything that happens on screen - but that's exactly what I got.
Just because a disc is loaded with special features, it doesn't mean that a single one of them is worth watching. Everything here was also included on the 2004 Infinifilm edition of the DVD.
While 'The Butterfly Effect' isn't a great movie – let's be honest – starring Ashton Kutcher, it could have been worse. A lot worse. The idea behind the movie is decent, but it never should have been realized by two no-names. Had they sold off the idea to writers, producers, and a director who knew how great the idea was, we might have a solid film. Instead, we're left with a geeky film school project that feels like it's trying to be so much more, taking itself way to serious. It's not the worst of films, but it's also far from greatness. This must be the reason for Warner Bros. barely cleaning up the video presentation. The audio quality is pretty great, but it's also not perfect. If Warner had faith in it, they would have given it some new special features and a top-notch transfer. Plenty of featurettes are included, but nothing that wasn't on the 2004 Infinifilm DVD release put out by New Line. All in all, 'The Butterfly Effect' is a decent enough movie given a mild Blu-ray release.