Evolution (2001)
Dreamworks Home Entertainment
Cast: David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Sean Williams Scott. Julianne Moore
Extras: Commentary Track, HBO First Look, Deleted Scenes, Featurette, Storyboards

After their successful and highly entertaining spoof of the "Star Trek" phenomenon with "Galaxy Quest, " the folks at Dreamworks decided to get off on a few other highly successful science fiction franchises, this time the mix includes spoofs on "Men In Black, " "Tremors," "Ghostbusters," "Independence Day" and a good number of other popular films. "Evolution " is the name of the movie in question, directed by Ivan Reitman, a man we know has a funny bone or two. It is now coming to DVD from Dreamworks Home Video as a Special Edition and we decided to give the disc a check-up to tell you what to expect.

When a meteor hits the Earth, two scientists make the discovery of a lifetime. Examining samples from the meteor they discover that it contains living single-cell organisms. They keep their discovery a secret and keep researching the organisms, but at rapid speed, they develop and evolve. Within hours they turn into multi-cell organisms and within a day they develop to flatworms. Quickly the alien life forms spin out of control and infest various areas of the small town. Unable to contain their secret, the military gets involved, seizing the case with nothing else on their mind but bombing the Hell out of the alien intruders that now threaten to wipe out mankind in a matter of days. But maybe that would not be such a good idea after all…

Ivan Reitman does it again. Like in "Ghostbusters," he manages to create a hilariously entertaining film that is nonetheless suspenseful and thrilling with "Evolution." Featuring David Duchovny alongside Orlando Jones makes for a fun team, as the two literally rampage through the movie like two intellectual buffoons. Not until Dan Aykroyd enters the scene as a dimwitted senator is anyone able to hold a candle to their performance, although they all get their moments. Dialogues are cleverly written and nicely timed, making for some great moments despite the fact that they occasionally slip into the shallow.

For obvious reasons the film is full of special effects. From the small worms to the giant alien life form that it eventually grows into, all stages of an evolving and adapting life form are presented in the film. They are colorful and imaginative, raging from the cute to the scary. A dragon flying through a shopping mall, a lizard spitting out his progeny just before dying, a blob with an anus, all these are things you don’t really get to see every day, and it doesn’t even matter that occasionally the effects fall a bit flat.

"Evolution" comes to DVD in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> presentation in the movie’s original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The image is mostly clean and free of defects, which should hardly come as a surprise, given the newness of the film. Sadly however, this is clearly the worst-looking DVD that Dreamworks has put out to date and the presentation is plagued by a number of problems, mostly a noticeable lack of definition and detail, and an image that is overly soft. Given Dreamworks’ past stellar track record on DVD, this comes as a major disappointment and I attribute this lack of quality to the fact that the studios simply tried to squeeze too much material on the DVD, at the cost of image quality. A little more on all that later.
The image shows a good color reproduction, although they appear slightly washed out at times. Flesh tones are very realistic, creating a very natural-looking image. Blacks are good throughout, giving the image visual depth. As pointed out above, the image on this DVD is seriously lacking definition, which seems to be mostly a problem of the video compression. Artifacts wash out the picture especially in scenes with plenty of movement on the screen, but even in static frames, the image is constantly shifting in and out of detail, which indicates compression problems.

On the audio side, "Evolution" offers a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track, alongside a <$DTS,DTS> track in English, as well as <$5.1,5.1 channel>s in French and Spanish, and an English <$DS,Dolby Surround> track. Plus, on top of all that we have a <$commentary,commentary track> featuring director Ivan Reitman, as well as actors David Duchovny, Orlando Jones and Sean William Scott – weirdly entitled "A Conversation with…" on the packaging’s back. The commentary is engaging and entertaining, offering a good amount of insight into the production and the shooting of the film as everyone has his little stories to contribute. It is not an overly technical analysis of the film but a rather relaxed commenting on the action on screen and events surrounding it.

The DVD also contains a promotional "HBO First Look" featurette. Running 15 minutes the featurette offers a look behind the scenes with cast interviews as well as footage during the film’s production. It covers various aspects of the movie’s production, though none of them in any notable detail.

The disc also contains six deleted scenes with commentary by directore Ivan Reitman, including an alternate ending to the movie that is actually quite funny, too. A selection of six scenes from the movie are also available as storyboards and storyboard to film comparisons on the DVD. Some of these scenes are quite extensive and lengthy, giving you a good feel for the way the movie was conceptualized and how it ultimately turned out.

Next up is a Special Effects Featurette which takes a closer look at the creation of the many creatures in the film. Running about 10 minutes, the featurette offers some interesting insight but once again remains more on the promotional than the technical side.

A Photo Gallery for all the creatures in the film, as well as very extensive cast and crew biographies are also included on the release, which is rounded out by a series of Production Notes.

In a way Dreamworks went a bit overboard with this DVD release of "Evolution" making it a tough recommendation. Too much material has been crammed onto this disc, degrading the overall presentation of the feature film. Many DVDs have problems with only an <$16x9,anamorphic> video and two discrete <$5.1,5.1 mix>es, especially when DTS is involved, but Dreamworks added another four audio tracks plus a whole slew of extras on top of it. If the studio had gone the extra mile to split these contents on two separate discs, this would have been a great release, but as it stands "Evolution" is technically a disappointment from the studio you would have least expected it. The film itself is a lot of fun, and I do not want to come across as if this is a horrible quality release, but from Dreamworks we have come to expect nothing but the best, and this disc does not exactly deliver on that expectation, I’m afraid.