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Tom Shadyac
Kevin Costner, Joe Morton, Ron Rifkin, Linda Hunt, Susanna Thompson
Brandon Camp, Mike Thompson

When someone you love dies... are they gone forever?
Box Office:
Budget $60 million.
Opening weekend $10.216 million on 2507 screens.
Domestic gross $30.063 million.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material and mild sensuality.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
English, Spanish

Runtime: 105 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 7/30/2002

• Audio Commentary with Director Tom Shadyac
• Spotlight On Location
• Deleted Scenes
• Best-selling Author Betty Eadie and Her Near-Death Experience
• Theatrical Trailers
• Cast and Filmmaker Biographies
• Production Notes


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Dragonfly (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Director Tom Shadyac’s first three films all offered broad comedy: from 1994’s Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to 1996’s The Nutty Professor and 1997’s Liar Liar, he tended to go for lively shtick. He also made lots of money. Only Ventura failed to reach the $100 million mark, but with a budget of just $12 million, its $72 million gross still seemed pretty substantial. Both Nutty and Liar cost a lot more, but they also earned well over $100 million each.

For his fourth flick, Shadyac tried something a little different. He made Patch Adams, which still offered a lot of comedy, but it also tempered that with a serious side absent from the prior films. Nonetheless, the results appeared the same, as Adams nabbed a solid $135 million at US box offices.

After four movies in five years, I guess Shadyac needed a break. Since Adams in December 1998, his résumé shows little activity. He executive produced 2000’s Nutty Professor II: The Klumps and that’s all she wrote! While I doubt the guy just sat around and counted his cash during that period, I couldn’t find any evidence of film work he did in that time.

Shadyac finally returned to the screen in early 2002 with Dragonfly. With this film, he really departed from his comedic roots. A supernatural drama, Dragonfly contained virtually no funny bits, and it also failed to reach much of an audience. After four straight $100 million-plus movies, Dragonfly limped home with a take of only $30 million.

It looks like Shadyac will go back to the well for his next release, as IMDB states that his next project will be a comedy that reunites him with Jim Carrey. That one may leave Dragonfly as the aberration on his résumé, but whether it deserves its lack of success remains to be seen. Personally, I thought Dragonfly offered a moderately intriguing experience, but it never really captured my attention.

During a medical mission to Venezuela, pregnant Dr. Emily Darrow (Susanna Thompson) apparently dies in a rockslide. Back home in Chicago, her emergency room physician husband Joe (Kevin Costner) angrily grieves for her. He throws himself into his work and largely shuts himself off from the help of his friends. Emily felt an affection for dragonflies, so when some weird phenomena occur that relate to that critter, Joe starts to think that something supernatural is at work.

That feeling intensifies when he encounters young patient Jeffrey Reardon (Robert Bailey Jr.), a survivor who flatlines frequently but always bounces back somehow. Joe sensed that Jeffrey called to him somehow, and he tries to get to know the boy and learn more about this situation, especially when Jeffrey indicates that he apparently encountered Emily while in his near-death state. Never one to believe in mystical mumbo-jumbo, Joe can’t quite decide if Jeffrey makes up his stories or if truth resides behind them. When other kids start to make similar comments and continually draw the same squiggly symbol, Joe gets more heavily involved in the situation. Eventually he comes to feel that Emily’s still alive, and he heads down to South America to search for her.

Many folks accused Dragonfly of offering little more than a rip-off of The Sixth Sense, but I didn’t see it that way. If anything, I felt it had more in common with movies like Jacob’s Ladder or Ghost, and Joe’s obsession with that symbol seemed reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The Sixth Sense offered a more obvious thriller than did Dragonfly; the latter seemed more like a drowsy exploration of the supernatural with a few scares tossed in for good measure.

That last sentence indicates two of the biggest problems I had with Dragonfly. For one, I thought the film made it far too obvious that Joe wasn’t nuts. I rarely felt any doubt that his supernatural suspicions were correct, and this seemed like a mistake. Shadyac should have left things more up in the air and let the audience question Joe’s grip on reality. The movie could have been a more compelling view of Joe’s battle with grief, but since we never felt any doubt that the action came from the afterworld, the dramatic undertone evaporated. The logical side of the coin received some lip service, but those elements felt underserved.

As for the movie’s other major problem, go back to where I called it “drowsy”. Dragonfly indeed moved at a fairly slow pace, but not for any particular purpose. The plodding movement of the film didn’t allow for greater depth or character development; instead, the pacing simply seemed torpid to drag out the movie. That’s not a good thing.

Nonetheless, Dragonfly had its moments. As I perused other opinions about the film, I found near unanimous negativity toward Costner’s performance, but I must disagree with those slams. I felt happy to see him stretch a little. No, he isn’t the world’s greatest actor, but the role of Joe required more anger and darkness than usual from Costner, and I thought he handled the part fairly well.

I didn’t like the fact that Dragonfly largely wasted a good supporting cast. It included two Oscar winners - Linda Hunt and Kathy Bates - as well as folks like the usually solid Joe Morton and Ron Rifkin. Unfortunately, it did little with them and really cast them to the side.

At least the ending came as a modest surprise to me. (Yes, I am a moron.) Overall, I didn’t think that Dragonfly was a bad film, and I’d certainly take it over maudlin dreck like Patch Adams any day of the week. However, that defines the term “faint praise”, as I generally found Dragonfly to be watchable but dull and listless.

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio B+ / Bonus B-

Dragonfly appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture seemed satisfactory for the most part, but it displayed a few more problems than I’d like.

Sharpness usually looked good. Most of the movie appeared reasonably crisp and well defined. A few shots seemed a little soft, but those occurred infrequently. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but a little edge enhancement cropped up on occasion. Print flaws remained modest but occasionally noticeable. I saw some light artifacting, and also a speck or two of grit.

As one might expect from this kind of supernatural drama, Dragonfly utilized a very subdued palette for the most part, especially during the film’s first half. Once Joe went to South America, matters brightened considerably. The DVD replicated the colors with good accuracy. Even when the tones remained cool, they seemed clear and distinct. Black levels usually looked fine, though I thought they seemed a little murky at times, while shadow detail tended to be slightly thick. Some interiors looked somewhat drab to me. Overall, most of Dragonfly presented a very solid image, but these modest flaws knocked it down to a “B”.

Somewhat stronger were the soundtracks of Dragonfly. As with many Universal releases, the DVD included both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. Occasionally, I encounter noticeable differences between those two formats, but I can’t say that occurred here. To my ears, the two mixes sounded virtually identical.

The soundfield of Dragonfly largely exhibited a forward bias. In that domain, music showed good stereo separation, while effects also spread cleanly across the front. The mix offered a nice sense of atmosphere and created a reasonably lively presence. Surround involvement usually tended toward general reinforcement, but the rears contributed solid environmental audio when appropriate, especially during the rockslide scene and in thunderstorms.

Audio quality appeared positive. Speech seemed natural and distinct, and I heard no issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Music sounded bright and vibrant and demonstrated solid range throughout the movie. Effects also displayed a good sense of clarity and accuracy, and low-end response appeared deep and tight with no signs of boominess or other concerns. Overall, the soundfield of Dragonfly seemed a little too conservative to reach “A”-level, but the track still seemed very satisfying nonetheless.

This DVD release of Dragonfly packs a reasonable complement of supplements. We start with an audio commentary with director Tom Shadyac, who provides a running, screen-specific affair. From what I can tell, Shadyac’s recorded two commentaries: one for Liar Liar and one for Patch Adams. I’ve only heard the former, and I thought it offered an entertaining and informative piece. Shadyac continued along those lines with his commentary for Dragonfly.

As his first full-fledged drama, Shadyac had a lot to cover in that domain, and he told us a lot about the challenges offered by his shift in focus. Refreshingly, he often mentioned mistakes he felt he made along the way. While he offered a fair amount of praise to others, he clearly seemed less than totally satisfied with his own decisions. We rarely hear that kind of honesty, especially not from a director with so many hits under his belt. Shadyac covered the film and its production well and provided a solid commentary.

Next we find a few video programs. Spotlight On Location runs 13 minutes and eight seconds and offers the usual combination of film clips, shots from the set, and interviews with director Shadyac, writer David Seltzer, producer Mark Johnson and actors Kevin Costner and Susanna Thompson. On the negative side, the show’s way too short to provide any depth, and it also includes far too many movie snippets.

However, within this kind of promotional framework, “Spotlight” actually seems substantially better than average. The material from the shoot seems surprisingly interesting, and the interviews omit most of the usual happy talk. Instead, we hear a little about the production - Shadyac offers some nice material about camera techniques - and all wax spiritually philosophical about the movie’s themes and topics. “Spotlight” doesn’t adequately replace a real documentary, but it provides a nicely compelling piece nonetheless.

After this we get a compendium of eight Deleted Scenes. These run for 11 minutes and 40 seconds all as one big piece; unfortunately, you can’t access them individually, so you’ll have to zip through them manually if you want to examine any specific clips. The scenes appear in non-anamorphic 2.35:1 with Dolby Surround 2.0 audio; note that the presentation seems rough, as the snippets came from a crude copy of the film.

Frankly, none of them appear terribly interesting. We see a little more of the Ron Rifkin and Joe Morton characters, but those scenes do little to flesh out the roles. Most of the footage just offers more instances of spooked-out Costner. I missed the inclusion of director commentary here, though Shadyac discusses some of the omissions during his main track.

The last video piece spotlights Best-selling Author Betty Eadie and Her Near-Death Experience. During the six-minute and 18-second program, Eadie chats about what happened to her in 1973. This featurette offers some provocative remarks, but it lacks much depth. For example, Eadie relates that she floated home after she died, and she indicates what she saw there. However, she never states that she later got confirmation of those events; it’d seem much more powerful if she could say that her husband corroborated that side of things.

We find a good overview in the text Production Notes as well as some decent information in the Cast and Filmmakers area. The latter offers listings for director Shadyac and actors Kevin Costner, Joe Morton, Ron Rifkin, Linda Hunt, Kathy Bates, and Susanna Thompson. They appear to provide rather perfunctory coverage of their careers.

In addition to the film’s trailer - presented non-anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio - we find a section called Now Showing. Also found on other DVDs, this area offers short ads for Apollo 13, The Family Man, K-Pax and Patch Adams. One interesting touch: in addition to the generic promos, we find some quick excerpts of each DVD’s supplements.

According to the disc itself, we’re supposed to find some DVD-ROM materials on Dragonfly. However, all I encountered was a currently inactive link to their “Total Axess” site. None of the promised screensavers or other materials seemed to be here. Maybe they hid from me, but I couldn’t even locate the usual weblinks found on virtually every Universal DVD - the “Total Axess” link looked like it was all she wrote!

Dragonfly takes on some interesting topics but only meets with partial success. The movie offers some good parts and occasionally becomes compelling, but it simply seems too dull too much of the time. The DVD provides generally good picture and sound along with a decent but unspectacular roster of extras highlighted by a nice audio commentary. Fans of the supernatural genre may want to give this one a look, but I don’t think a wider audience will be too excited about it.

Note: Universal produce both widescreen and fullscreen versions of Dragonfly. Before you buy, make sure you check the cover to get the correct one!

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.7058 Stars Number of Votes: 17
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