Everyone knows where they were when Dragonball Evolution was unleashed onto the Earth. Fans, critics, and casual audiences around the world were beset by such atrocities such as bad acting, terrible plotting, bizarre fight scenes, whitewashing, and generally being a disgrace to a beloved piece of pop culture.
The movie had been dreaded for months, but its full impact and how it would affect us would not be known until its inevitable release. Years after it shocked the fandom, Evolution exists as a reminder of what happens when you attempt to do the impossible with complete disregard for the source material.
And yet, eight years later, the film continues to hold secrets and truths, some of which shed light on what this project was, what it could have been, and how it formed to create the end product that is Evolution.
This list compiles information, trivia, statements, and accounts that are not known to many who experienced the movie, all of which are pieces of a grander and confounding puzzle.
If you can brave it, then prepare to divulge and learn about 15 Shocking Things You Didn’t Know About The Live-Action Dragon Ball Movie.
15 Dragon Ball's creator was "horrified" by the movie
It should come as no surprise that, when an adaption of something with a massive fan base falls flat, the original creator may also be upset. That’s what happened with Akira Toriyama, Dragon Ball’s creator, who wasn’t completely against the film at first. As he tells it, he told fans to view the film as an alternate version of his series, and contributed ideas to the filmmakers. However, they apparently didn’t listen, and Toriyama was less than displeased with the finished product.
It’s not enough that Toriyama didn’t like the film—he was so offended by it that he decided to return to the series he had long put behind him, with Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods. For the first time, Toriyama became heavily involved with an anime adaption of his work, writing both the story treatment and screenplay. The film was released in 2013 and received favorable reviews from the fan base.
14 Actually the third live-action Dragon Ball
Being one of the biggest properties in all of manga and anime, it’s almost surprising it took as long as it did for Evolution to release, let alone be made. While Hollywood’s dreaded Development Hell usually prevents these types of films from coming to fruition, some other parts of the world don’t have the same kind of blockades.
While Evolution was the first official live-action Dragon Ball film, there were actually two other unofficial films before it. Released in 1990 and 1991 respectively, the two films are Deuraegon bol: Ssawora Son O-gong, igyeora Son O-gong (from South Korea) and Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins (from Taiwan).
Due to the films not being official, some changes were made to the 1991 film, such as Son Goku being called “Monkey Boy” and Master Roshi being called “Turtle Man,” among other name changes.
13 Tom Welling was considered for the role of Goku
The name Tom Welling might sound very familiar to some. That’s because he played the one and only Clark Kent on the long-running series Smallville, a show that lasted for a whole ten years, and included Welling in every single episode. These days he has a more relaxed schedule, but at the time, it was about the only thing he worked on, safe for a small bit of movies in the early 2000’s (most notably Cheaper by the Dozen and its sequel).
Perhaps it’s because of his status playing one of the most famous superheroes of the last century that Welling was in consideration to play Dragon Ball’s protagonist, Goku. While the role ultimately went to Justin Chatwin, it’s interesting to think that Welling could have been well known for having played the role of not one but two super powered beings based on beloved properties.
12 The screenwriter was threatened by fans
Evolution was written by Ben Ramsey, and his first draft was considered too expensive to shoot, which, as happens in Hollywood often, led to rewrites. Five drafts later, Ramsey’s script was rewritten one last time by director James Wong, who decided to go uncredited, leaving Ramsey as the sole credited writer.
While the film has continued to be ridiculed and hated, Ramsey very recently came out against it as well, putting the blame on him and the script he produced. He says that he went into the project driven by profit, not passion, further explaining that if you go into a project “without passion you come out with sub-optimal results.”
Ramsey also says he received much hate mail, including death threats, which he described as “gut wrenching,” since it showed just how many people the world over were disappointed and angry with the finished product.
11 James Marsters loves Piccolo, hates the movie
Easily the biggest Dragon Ball fan among the main cast, James Marsters was chosen to play Lord Piccolo, the film’s primary antagonist. In the process of studying the character, Marsters ended up loving the anime, describing it as “the coolest television cartoon in the last 50,000 years.” He became extremely found of his character and even made sure that he’d look faithfully ugly as opposed to handsome (against executive wishes).
However, since the movie turned out like it did, Marsters has since voiced his disapproval of it. Even though he was one of the most praised aspects of the film, he’s admitted that the final film just wasn’t good.
Lucky for him, though, he did get a chance to voice Zamasu in Dragon Ball Super.
10 Accurate wigs were scrapped
It’s probably understandable that the filmmakers decided against this, but with the way the film turned out, it may not have been that big of a deal in the end. The suggestion to give the characters different colored wigs— which would correspond with the character they were portraying— was brought up, but director James Wong shot the idea down. According to him, this was so that they could keep the film “realistic” (which might also be why no talking animals appear in the movie).
Even with this creatively amusing idea unused, the actress who played Bulma (Emmy Rossum) was able to dye part of her hair, leaving her a blue streak. As for Justin Chatwin, due to his hair already having a spiky appearance, it was just a matter of adjusting and styling it to make it look more like Son Goku’s.
9 The number “seven” is used a lot in the film
As any major fan of Dragon Ball knows, the main characters in the series are on the hunt for the seven titular balls, which, when collected, grants them any wish they desire. This makes the number “seven” very important for this reason alone, but Evolution manages to have fun with the number in more ways than one.
While the film also deals with the collecting of the seven Dragon Balls, the number shows up in other points, which include the seven stones in Gohan’s yard, the seven stones Goku aligns on his grandfather’s tombstone, seven rock’s featured in the house of Master Roshi, and seven candles over the bed Piccolo is in at the end of the film. Maybe they went a bit overboard, but at least it’s never distracting and makes for an interesting bonus.
8 The film was not screened in advance for critics
When a film is coming out, especially a highly anticipated one, reviews are often written and sent out at least a few days ahead of release date. However, some movies are not screened in advanced for critics, and this is often seen as a sign of the film being of extremely poor quality. Plenty of bad movies get advanced screenings, so when this happens, you can usually suspect the worst.
Evolution was one of those films not screened in advanced for critics in America nor Japan. While it can be assumed Fox did this so that the film wouldn’t be hindered by negative press, it was probably too late by the time it came out. Even so, most film critics reviewed it negatively, though there were a small few who liked it.
All the same, the film was a commercial failure, debuting at #8 the weekend of its release.
7 Voice actors from the anime were featured in the movie
One of the more interesting pieces of trivia regarding Evolution is how the dubbing process worked around the world (since the film was made in English). Two people who used to work on the anime, Hisao Egawa and Mami Koyama, voice Yamcha and the Narrator respectively (the Narrator is unique to the Japanese version of the movie).
In Latin America, the Spanish dub featured Mario Castaneda, who voiced Goku, and Carlos Segundo, who voiced Piccolo in the anime dub. What’s probably most impressive is the dub for the Brazilian Portuguese version: save for Master Roshi, virtually everyone from the anime dub in Brazil reprised their role for the live-action movie.
As an added piece of trivia, Mario Castaneda’s daughter, Carla, provided the voice of Bulma in the Mexican Spanish dub.
6 The script was originally more faithful before executive meddling
Scripts in production often get rewritten and changed to the point where they rarely, if ever, faithfully reflect the original idea. Just as often, people can blame the scripts for a film’s problems, even though the other crew members and studio execs can be the main culprits.
Evolution’s first script was accordingly much more faithful to the source, but as previously mentioned, was too expensive to shoot. Once a finalized script was made, the script continued to be altered, especially by the film’s director, who is said to have added more elements of the manga.
However, it is also said the execs at Fox requested changes, both while the script was being rewritten and during production. These practices in filmmaking are nothing new, but if you’re going to point the blame at somebody, it may be more than a single person.
5 George Lucas almost directed
When a film has been in Development Hell long enough, more than one director likely gets attached or considered to be a part of it. Evolution is no exception, with George Lucas himself being one of those directors. As he was working on the Star Wars prequels at the time, it’s understandable that he was too busy to involve himself in another beloved franchise, especially one he didn’t help create.
However, Lucas wasn’t the only notable name to be considered. Producer of the film, Stephen Chow, had been asked to direct; he was a fan of the franchise and was very enthusiastic about working on the adaption. That said, Chow decided to act as producer and not direct, since Dragon Ball was not a property he himself had created. Directors Robert Rodriguez and Zack Snyder were also offered a shot, but declined.
4 Justin Chatwin read a lot of Dragon Ball manga and Chinese literature for the role
Say what you will about Justin Chatwin’s portrayal of Goku, but you can’t say he didn’t give it his best. Sure, he's the wrong race, and looks goofy, out of place, and maybe just a tad confused for most of the film’s running time, but many would agree he wasn’t the film’s biggest or only problem.
As it turns out, Chatwin did a decent amount in preparation for his role as the iconic protagonist. He not only read the manga itself, but also the literature that inspired the series: the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West. For a big budget Hollywood adaption, that might be dedication enough, but he also practiced martial arts and aerobics, as well as told jokes to fellow cast and crew to create better chemistry between the characters.
3 Fox Studios owned the film rights for years
As is often the case with hot properties, a film studio can own the rights to something for a long time before anything comes of it. Evolution was looking for directors back in 2002 and even registered the domain “dragonballthemovie.com” in 2003. No active website for the film went live until four years later in 2007, and even then the film wasn’t released until 2009.
2007 was the year James Wong and Stephen Chow were announced as director and producer, respectively; principal photography started in December of 2007 and wrapped the following year. The film was originally to be released in North America in August of 2008; this was delayed April of 2009 to allow for more shooting and post-production time.
Even the final date—April 8th or 10th—was being switched around until the 10th was chosen.
2 The film was shot in Mexico
Evolution features an interesting variety of locations and sets; as bad as the film is, it has some decent and creative production design in spots. As can be seen in the finished product, futuristic elements from the source remain, and different types of architecture can be spotted. However, one element of the film that will likely surprise readers is that most of it was shot in an abandoned jeans factory.
Filming first began in Mexico City, Mexico, before later transitioning to Durango, Mexico for most of its production. This is where the aforementioned factory was located; much of the film here was filmed with green and blue screens. Nevado de Toluca was also used for a few shots, and of course, some regular shoots and re-shoots were done in Los Angeles, California.
1 The film was originally just going to be called Dragonball
If you’re like most fans who were anticipating (or dreading) this film, you might have been curious as to the film’s title. While it was unlikely the film was going to simply be called Dragon Ball, the subtitle Evolution was added to differentiate the film from its source as a titular “evolution” of the series.
However, for a while, the film’s title really was just Dragonball, and that wasn’t just out of laziness. Apparently the simplistic title of just Dragonball was originally chosen as an homage to the title of the series. This is a very strange reason for the film’s original title, but honestly, calling it Evolution wasn’t much better. If anything, the addition of the subtitle helped warn fans and casual viewers alike that this wasn’t the usual Dragon Ball fare.
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