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Laramie Movie Scope:Dragonfly

Another new age mystery with a twist

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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July 2, 2002 -- "Dragonfly" is a movie about a bus wreck that turns into a film wreck. The DVD of the movie, due for release on July 30, shows that the director of the film saw the wreck coming, and despite heroic and expensive efforts, was unable to rescue the film. The first half of this review is of the film itself. The second half, which contains spoilers, is a review of the DVD. You will be warned again about the spoilers.

"Dragonfly," starring Kevin Costner ("Thirteen Days"), and directed by Tom Shadyak ("Liar Liar") is a film bogged in quicksand until the final 20 minutes or so, when it finally gets interesting. The ending also has a surprise twist to it, like "The Sixth Sense." Like that popular film, this one is also about an interaction between the dead and the world of the living. Costner plays Dr. Joe Darrow, an ER surgeon who has yet to face his own grief over the tragic loss of his wife six months earlier in a bus accident in Venezuela. Instead, he throws himself into his work, becoming more and more poisonous to those around him.

One of the reasons Darrow has a hard time dealing with the loss is that his wife's body was never found. Darrow begins to see signs that his wife is trying to contact him from beyond the grave about something important. His wife, also a doctor, had worked in a children's cancer ward at the same hospital. Darrow had promised to look in on her patients. When he does so, he finds that the young patients claim to have seen his wife during near-death experiences and that she has an important message for him. The messages are vague and the cross-like symbols the children draw are clues of some kind, but they don't make any sense to Darrow. He begins to wonder if his wife is still alive. Other doctors have various plausible explanations for what the children are telling Darrow. He is almost convinced to give up on the whole thing and get on with his life.

Costner and the rest of the cast are quite good, but the pace of the film is way too slow. There are some very good actors in the film, including Linda Hunt of "The Relic" as Sister Madeline and Kathy Bates of "Rat Race" as Darrow's kindly neighbor, Miriam Belmont. Ron Rifkin of "The Majestic" does his usual solid acting job. He plays Dr. Charlie Dickinson, a colleague of Darrow. Joe Morton of "Ali" gets stuck with the unsympathetic role of Hugh Campbell, hospital administrator. The cinematography by Dean Semler ("We Were Soldiers") is excellent and there are some good special effects which blend seamlessly into the film. The main problem with the film is that there is little action during the first four-fifths of it. Clues are being laid out regarding the film's mystery, but Darrow is a fairly passive character, until near the end when he begins to take a more active role in the investigation. The final scenes leading up to the solving of the mystery are the best in the film, but it is a case of too little, too late. This film rates a C.

DVD review (includes spoilers)

The most revealing things about the DVD are the deleted scenes and the director's comments. These tell you a lot about what went wrong with this film. Director Tom Shadyak gives a fairly honest assessment of the film and provides a lot of details about where it went wrong during his commentary.

Shadyak said the original cut of the film did not work when it was shown to audiences the first time. For one thing, half the audience guessed the big secret about the ending of the film too early. The film was re-cut to eliminate a number of clues. Several of these cut scenes are on the DVD. One of the cut scenes show Joe and Emily Darrow (played by Susanna Thompson of "Random Hearts") listening to the heartbeat of their unborn child. This proved to be a dead giveaway about the end of the film. Another cut scene shows Darrow dismantling the baby crib in his house, only to find it mysteriously reassembled a few minutes later.

The original ending of the film was also changed, Shadyak reveals on the DVD. An entire near-death sequence was added to provide more punch to the ending of the film. This is one of the best scenes in the film. It is hard to believe it was added as an afterthought. The original ending had Darrow running through the Venezuelan jungle (shot on the island of Kauai in Hawaii) to find out if his wife is still alive in a remote village. It was changed to add a jump off a cliff and into a river, where Darrow nearly drowns in the bus where his wife took her last ride. Shadyak also reveals the opening sequence of the film was also changed to include the bus accident where Darrow's wife dies. Another scene was added at Costner's suggestion in which he gives a few choice words to a grief counselor. Costner's instincts were right about the scene. The point is, there was a lot of re-shooting on this $60 million movie (it made $36.2 million worldwide at the box office).

Shadyak says he knew the first part of the film was too slow. He did a lot of cutting to try to speed things up, but it needed a lot more. The additional scenes that were added to the film also helped, but the film still sinks from all that weight up front. He also admits the film could have used more humor and he regretted having cut some humorous scenes. He also expressed regrets about not giving Joe Morton more time on screen and not making his character more balanced. Shadyak half-jokingly says he'd like to re-shoot the film, and re-cut it too, no doubt after a rewrite. One of the things he mentions he wished he would have done is add more false clues at the beginning of the film to make it harder to guess the film's secret. While the director of the film was raised a Catholic and there is a Catholic nun (Linda Hunt) in the film, the movie generally avoids religious entanglements. Shadyak tries to rebut religious objections to the film during his commentary. Perhaps this decision to avoid religion robbed the film of some of its power and relevance. The makings of a good movie are there, but it needed to be punched up a lot more than it was. The movie was like a comatose patient who finally wakes up at the end. Nice, but not very entertaining. There are some attempts at scary and spooky scenes, but they don't raise the energy level of the film enough to give it much momentum. Shadyak is quite honest about some of the hard lessons he learned while making this film.

In addition to the deleted scenes and the director's commentary, the DVD also has the theatrical trailer, a feature about the making of the film, a trailer for "The Scorpion King," and DVD-ROM features. One interesting feature has comments from author Betty Eadie about her near-death experience. Eadie wrote "Embraced By The Light," "The Awakening Heart," "The Ripple Effect," and "Prayers and Devotions for Daily Living." Eadie compares her experiences to those depicted in the film. The DVD comes in widescreen anamorphic format with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (a full-screen version is sold separately). Available audio tracks include English DTS and Dolby (TM) Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1 and two sets of subtitles, English and Spanish. The DVD rates a B, largely because of Shadyak's revealing commentary and the deleted scenes.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2002 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)