a critiQal film review The Butterfly Effect (2004)

Plot: When Evan (Kutcher) was young, he occasionally experienced lengthy, unexplainable, blackouts. Now that he's in college, he's discovered something - when he reads his old journals, he relives the blackout periods of his childhood - and is able to change the course of history. But, when things keep going wrong, will he be able to fix everything - or is he doomed to destroy everyone involved in his life?

889 words (Est. Reading Time 4m 26s)
  • ...Kutcher does a good job of putting the viewer in his shoes (for once), making a rather mind-warping concept personable to the viewer.

After seeing famous people get “Punk’d” (TV) with ease on his MTV show, I was interested in seeing if Ashton Kutcher was able to transfer his small screen presence onto the big screen. Unfortunately, I ended up picking Just Married (2003) (since that was what was available at the time). What a piece of crap that was. So, when previews for The Butterfly Effect first started showing up, I wasn’t that interested.

The more I saw of the preview, however, the more it intrigued me. It looked like a new time travel movie, of which I’m always a sucker for. Hopefully, it would turn out that Brittany Murphy was the major downfall of Just Married (2003), and Ashton would really be able to shine without that excess baggage this time around.

Ashton did turn in an excellent performance, after all. He really was able to shine in this role. He really took his character to heart and was able to wring the most out of his role. With his performance, he was able to bring the viewer into the film, and made the whole time travel storyline much more believable.

Amy Smart, on the other hand, played her role rather subdued, and didn’t really bring much to the film. One of the other young actresses popular now could easily have done a much better job.

Eric Stoltz, who’s played some interesting characters in the past (2 Days in the Valley, Pulp Fiction (1994), Killing Zoe) plays the role of an abusive father creepily well. It’s impressive, since who knows how he would go about studying for that role, yet creepy at the same time, since he plays it so well. If he has kids, let’s hope they decide not to see this one.

The plot seemed to start at first by taking a clue from The Time Machine (2002). The storyline had the same basic beginning – the main character discovers a way to travel back in time to correct a wrong. From there, however, the storyline goes off in it’s own direction, and creates a hauntingly original film. Instead of a true time machine, Evan’s journals are used to propel him back in time.

The storyline also was made more intriguing by limiting Evan’s time traveling ability. Since he could only travel to times when he had his blackouts, rather than any time he chose, it’s much harder for him to change only one thing. If he could travel back to any time he wished, he could easily have just traveled back one day, and not caused as much harm. But since he had to travel 7 years or more back in time, the repercussions of any of the events were much more damaging.

The one point the story keeps shrouded, however, is that he can only travel back to the time of each blackout once. It never really explains this directly. But, eventually, most viewers will realize that the blackouts occurred because he was replacing his younger self at those times – not that the blackouts occurred so he could later on replace his younger self.

It’s a reasonable explanation, but one that the director hints at, rather than directly pointing out to the viewer (12 Monkeys (1995) also was able to incorporate the same effect with impressive results). The fact that some early scenes aren’t shown to the viewer until later on in the film also works well to keep the viewer tuned into The Butterfly Effect. With just snatches of the scenes presented originally, most viewers will want to stick around, just to see how those scenes actually play out.

The only thing that detracts from The Butterfly Effect is how depressing it is. To imagine that someone had this many major unfortunate events in their childhood – wow. Let’s just say that after seeing this movie, you will most likely be glad that you’re childhood was better than Evan’s was. Yikes.

The special effects of The Butterfly Effect were focused mainly on presenting time travel in a plausibly visual way to a generation that has grown up with VCRs and DVD players. Basically, one of the lines showcased in the preview describes the special effects when Evan is traveling in time: “You can pause, slow down, rewind or fast-forward” (or something to that effect). Whenever he time travels, the room first starts to shake, then pauses, then fades from view – and suddenly he’s back in his younger self’s body. It’s very well done, and definitely creates the right feel for the scenes. Later on, whenever the room starts to shake, we know he’s about to travel – even before he does it.

The Butterfly Effect takes the whole notion of time travel and personifies it. It’s easy to place yourself in Evan’s shoes (although your childhood hopefully wasn’t as screwed up as his was). What would you do if you could only travel to certain times? Would you make the same choices he does, or would you take a different route? It’s tough to say. But, even if you don’t know, if you begin thinking that question after the film, then everyone has done their job. They’ve gotten you involved in the film, and most importantly they’ve made it believable.

Here’s hoping Ashton will continue to make films like this one – and stay away from any more Just Married (2003) bombs.

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