Warning: Spoilers below for anybody not versed in Dragonball lore or who actually cares about this movie.
This movie has been rumored for nearly a decade, and I’ve been waiting for it the entire time. But the question on everybody’s mind has always been the same: How are they going to take such an epic story, even just one of the sagas, and turn it into a movie? Apparently there’s a list of stories that are damn-near unfilmable, as that’s all anybody ever heard when Watchmen was coming out. Well, I like to think Dragonball/ Dragonball Z/ Dragonball GT nears the top of that list. And I’d like to say this movie proves that, but… dear God, this movie didn’t even try. It has to be one of the most atrocious adaptations I’ve ever seen, topping out over Eragon (and that’s saying something).
Let’s start out with this movie’s plot. Goku (Justin Chatwin) lives with his Grandpa Gohan (Randall Duk Kim), who trains him in the martial arts. He also deals with high school bullies and daydreams about his dream girl, Chi Chi (Jamie Chung). And on Goku’s 18th birthday, Gohan gives him the 4-star Dragonball, his most treasured artifact. But an evil alien who had once attempted to destroy the world 2000 years ago, Lord Piccolo (James Marsters), along with his shape-shifting gal-pal Mai (Eriko Tamura), are hunting down all 7 Dragonballs so that he can summon the dragon and bring back Oozaru, an ape-demon who helped him before. So Goku teams up with another ball-hunter (tee-hee), Bulma (Emmy Rossum), and together they hunt down Master Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat) so that Goku can get some training as they hunt down the remaining Dragonballs. Oh, and uh… Yamcha (
All that being said, let’s talk about how this movie rapes its source material. Let’s start with Goku… just Goku. First of all, this movie is obviously supposed to take place in the Dragonball (not Dragonball Z) timeline, so Goku should be quite a bit younger. Second… high school? Goku never went to any school except Master Roshi’s. And he certainly wouldn’t taunt and fight bullies. He also wouldn’t pass up food in order to go to a party. And that brings us to Chi Chi. Goku is too naïve and childlike to be daydreaming about girls. He shouldn’t even be attempting dating until Chi Chi starts to basically force herself on him. He also has prophetic visions every time he touches a Dragonball. And here’s where it gets fun… Goku has no tail. He’s also not Saiyan (WHAT?). He’s just a human form of an ape demon that crashed onto Earth via meteor. He also apparently only transforms into Oozaru during an eclipse on his 18th birthday, not during any ol’ full moon. And Oozaru isn’t a big ape monster. Instead, it’s… well, it’s basically a guy in a normal-sized rubber suit. And Goku can gain control of himself as Oozaru and transform back to normal at will.
Now let’s look at the villain. Piccolo looked the part, so kudos with that (well, at least make-up wise. The outfit was all wrong). But that’s about it. I’d argue the logistics of Piccolo being in league with a Saiyan 2000 years ago to help destroy Earth, but since they, you know, cut that whole Saiyan thing, Piccolo was just in league with an ape monster. There’s no real explanation of where Piccolo came from (just a mention that he was in some kind of hell dimension—Buffy flashbacks!—and is now seeking vengeance). Though… if he’s hunting the Dragonballs to summon Oozaru, yet he knows Goku is Oozaru and will transform at the eclipse anyway… why is he after the Dragonballs again? It just doesn’t make sense. Oh, and Goku calls his race “Nemeks”… whatever those are. Namek, maybe?
Other characters? Roshi does keep his perversions, and he does have silly moments, but otherwise isn’t really Roshi (and it doesn’t help that he lives in what appears to be an apartment building in a ghetto). Bulma is more like Lara Croft. And Yamcha… why was he in this movie again? He doesn’t even fight. Chi Chi fights (numerous times)… but not Yamcha. And no disrespect to Ernie Hudson, but why is a black guy playing an old Asian monk? Anyway, one of the biggest issues about the characters isn’t in the characters that were in the movie, but one that wasn’t. I can understand not including Tien, Choazu, Puar, Oolong, or any of the like. But where the hell is Krillin? He’s Goku’s best friend. You set up the Chi Chi relationship… hell, you set up a Bulma/Yamcha relationship… but you cut out KRILLIN? It can’t be that hard to find a short, bald Asian guy.
Other things of note:
-The movie has also apparently sunk into the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Not that that’s a bad thing (Avatar rocks), but that’s just not the world of Dragonball.
-The Kamehameha can not only light candles, but it can also be used as a healing spell to resuscitate somebody. Who knew? I have to say, the ending use of it would have been much cooler (he did the KAME-HAME-HA! Pretty well) had he not flown into the air after the blast. All that did was make it look much less impressive than it would have been otherwise. And since when did Goku ever not stay in one spot while firing it?
-You can only use the Dragonballs from the “dragon temple,” using a stone thingy.
-Shenron (the dragon) is kinda like a slightly bigger Mushu from Mulan (okay, so he’s not that small, but he might as well have been).
And there’s probably a lot more that I’m forgetting, too. But I don’t want to bog down this review on just the adaptation aspect. This movie sucks on a normal aspect, as well. Because there are some movies that, if you’re not cognizant of the source material, you might still find enjoyable. This is hardly one of them.
The movie is too short, first of all. Without credits, it’s only about 70 or so minutes. That’s insane for such an epic story (hell, that’s insane for a normal movie). And this short time span causes numerous issues, one of which is character development. For instance, it seems we’re supposed to believe that Bulma and Yamcha fall in love about 15 minutes after we first see them together, and in what is probably their second scene together in the entire movie. But we also don’t care about any of the characters. We don’t know anything about the story or what’s going on. Everything is rushed. They’ll go to a new location, only to leave right after, making you question why they were there to begin with. The eclipse goes from being 2 weeks away to 1 week away to 2 days away, 1 day away, today... all within a short time span with no montage to show us time has passed. And the hunt for the Dragonballs only takes about 20 total minutes of the film, and that’s only getting a few of them. Most are gotten off screen by Piccolo.
And that leads into one of the worst issues to rise from the time cramp. Piccolo—who is supposed to be one of the most feared villains in the entire Dragonball storyline (note: Dragonball, not DBZ or onward), the character who is so dastardly that later, when he starts caring for Goku’s son Gohan in DBZ, the character change is epic—is barely in the movie. He probably has about 5 minutes of screen time total. And when he’s not on screen, Goku and gang are all panicked about Oozaru the whole time, barely even mentioning Piccolo, even though he’s, you know, the only actual current threat as far as they know. But by the time the climax comes (and it comes fast… it doesn’t even feel like you’ve watched an entire movie by the time it gets there), you feel no threat by Piccolo. He’s just some green guy.
But I know what you’re thinking. The Dragonball series’ were all about the awesome fighting. How is the fighting? To that question, I will answer with another question: There’s supposed to be fighting in this? A couple of the fights look slightly decent at times. But on the whole, they’re incredibly short. There’s maybe a total of 5-10 minutes of actual fighting in the entire movie (and 10 minutes is pushing it).
As for the other stuff? I think the actors did what they could with the awful script and dialogue they were given. It’s not like the anime was top-notch on script and acting, but this script was just bad. And who the hell was this movie’s editor? They need to be fired immediately. What a poor excuse of a final cut. Finally, the special effects. I’ve read some stuff about people dissing the special effects. But I didn’t think they were too terrible. They weren’t amazing, but they were good… except Oozaru. That was just crap.
Overall, this movie needs a reboot immediately. It had maybe one or two entertaining moments, but that’s it. I heard they’ve already given the Greenlight to a sequel, but it desperately needs to be a reboot. The Piccolo saga was at the end of Dragonball, so I’m assuming they were using this movie as background (the little background they gave) so that they could get into the more interesting Dragonball Z territory. But cutting Krillin and changing everything else will make DBZ territory impossible. I mean, it starts off with the Saiyan saga, for crying out loud. And they completely made the whole Saiyan thing impossible with the backstory they gave Goku. And if they can’t even find a guy to play Krillin, there’s no way they’re gonna go out of their way to find a talented kid to play Gohan. And if Piccolo is any indication, they’d destroy Vegeta. Reboot it and give us the movie we deserve (keep James Marsters, recast everyone else). I didn’t wait nearly a decade for this poor excuse of an adaptation. And although this still wasn’t as bad as The Legend of Chun-Li, I’m still glad I didn’t have to pay to see this.
The Zed Word