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Reviewed by: David Litton
Genre: Sci-Fi
Video: 2.35:1 widescreen
Audio: DTS 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Language: English, French
Subtitle: English, Spanish
Length: 105 min
Rating: PG-13
Release Date: 07/30/2002
Studio: Universal Pictures
Commentary: Feature commentary with director Tom Shadyac
Documentaries: None
Featurettes: Spotlight on Location: The Making of Dragonfly
Filmography/Biography: Yes
Interviews: Interview with best-selling author Betty Eadie on her near-death experience
Trailers/TV Spots: Trailer
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: Deleted scenes
Music Video: No
Other: Production notes
Cast and Crew: Kevin Costner, Kathryn Erbe, Kathy Bates, Linda Hunt, Joe Morton
Screenplay by: Written by: David Seltzer, Brandon Camp, Mike Thompson
Produced by: Mark Johnson, Tom Shadyac, Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber
Directed By: Tom Shadyac
Music: John Debney
The Review:

"Dragonfly," for all its attempts at touching our hearts and our hidden fears, is little more than director Tom Shadyac's brain-numbing recipe that essentially tosses elements of "The Sixth Sense," "The Others," "The Haunting," and "Angel Eyes" into a blender and hits puree. It's a cross between a thriller and a human drama, one so confident that its style and shocks will mask its blatantly unoriginal story, that in the end, all we feel it cheated out of time and money. ***

It's a shame, given the movie's promising start. We bear witness to a horrible accident in a South American country involving an avalanche and a bus full of people, one of whom is Emily Darrow (Kathryn Erbe), a devoted doctor whose husband, Joe (Kevin Costner), is left with his own avalanche of grief over the loss of his wife. Believing his unwillingness to accept her death is clouding his good judgment, his superiors ask him to take time off from his duties, to which he reluctantly agrees. ***

Then one night, he receives a package Emily had ordered before her death, a crib mobile made up of glistening dragonflies, revealing to us that A) she was with child, and B) she had a thing for dragonflies ("her own personal totem," as Joe describes it). Soon, he begins paying visits to Emily's former patients still in the hospital, children who, after near-death experiences, have begun to draw countless pictures of what looks like a "crucifix made out of Jell-O." They begin telling Joe of encounters they have had with Emily, leading him to believe that A) his wife is trying to tell him something, and B), "she's becoming desperate." ***

About the only thing desperate in this film is director Shadyac's attempts to conceal his lack of original material with some cheap shocks and underlying tension. Sometimes, this is effective, as shown in a scene where Joe is packing Emily's belongings into a box, including a paperweight with a dragonfly, and a closet full of dresses. There is a noise; he goes downstairs, only to hear another noise and rush back upstairs to find the paperweight on the table once again, and the clothes hanging in the closet. This scene shows the promise of a better movie, something that Shadyac fails to capitalize on. ***

And then we have the more predictable and hammy scenes and subplots, including his admission that his pet parrot would greet Emily when she came home every night (wouldn't you know, that parrot is going to say "Honey, I'm home!" at some point during the film), and a dead organ donor who begins speaking Joe's name in Emily's voice. By the time the question of whether or not Emily is really dead comes into play, we've been subjected to so many squiggly drawings, bump-in-the-night scenarios, and close-ups of Costner's fear-drained face, that it's just one more fly in the ointment. ***

It is Costner, however, who proves to be the film's biggest disappointment. As Joe, he is required to carry much of the movie's weight on his shoulders, but through it all, he can't breathe one bit of believable emotion into his character. He makes Joe into a stern, at times harsh character who, at one point, turns away a suicide in favor of a six-month pregnant dead woman as a result of his grief. This is followed by his revelation to the suicide patient that his belief in Heaven is non-existent; though this conversation is supposed to define his character, it only serves to add to our disdain for his attitude. ***

Add to this another slap in the face when Kathy Bates and Linda Hunt find themselves filling cliché-riddled supporting characters for less than five minutes of screen time. Bates plays Joe's neighbor, the standard attorney/lesbian/support provider who spends her time trying to bring Joe back into reality. Hunt is cast as a nun with a smeared reputation, whose work with children in near-death situations brings her to Joe's attention, as well as bringing the standard "she's-trying-to-reach-you" speech out of retirement. ***

Once the movie reaches its recycled conclusion, your own premonitions about where the story will end up will be confirmed, as will your doubts about Costner ever starring in a credible role again. What begins with promise quickly spirals into talk of "rainbows" and "tunnels," and Shadyac's faith that drawings and shadows will be enough to bring his movie out of the depths of its own ludicrousness. Don't be too surprised if you find yourself "literally going buggy" while watching "Dragonfly;" by the time it was all over, I was reaching for a can of Raid.

Image and Sound

A commendable transfer from Universal Pictures, a company I've come to expect nothing less from, and have yet to be disappointed. The images exhibit a crisp appearance, overall cold in tone yet exuding the kind of key elements like sharp edges and distinct use of color that DVD is known to capture to wondrously. The sound mix is excellent, and some may find it worth sitting through "Dragonfly" just to hear the adept use of surrounds, deep bass, and full sound stage incorporated here.

The Extras

The material that has been included with the DVD should satisfy fans of the movie. There is the making-of featurette, which features interviews with many of the crew members talking about things like life after death, haunting visions, and yes, the movie and how it was made. This isn't nearly as interesting as the interview with author Betty Eadie, who describes her near-death experience with great sensitivity to detail and sorrow over her returning from it. ***

And then there are the usual Universal add-ons, complete with terribly unproduced deleted scenes, a trailer, production notes, cast and crew material, and more. I say, if you like the movie, the DVD won't disappoint. In fact, I'm surprised that, given the substantial failure of the film at the box office, that the studio has chosen to do as much with the title as they have. Even still, it reeks like bug spray.

Commentary The commentary with Shadyac is a technical one, in which he discusses the various elements of bringing the movie to life. He goes over the insertion of various minor and major clues, the shooting in various locations, the renovation of an abandoned hospital for use as their primary set, the acting from his cast, and how he wishes he could have gone back and done things differently with certain sequences. One thing that puzzles me about his conversation is that he reveals his film's final secret right in the beginning, stating that it is vital to his discussion of later elements. After listening to him, I didn't really pinpoint any instances in the commentary that would have required this revelation, but like those who enjoy the movie, maybe he sees something in it that I don't.
Final Words: Seeing "Dragonfly" in the theaters left me with a feeling that I had wasted two hours of my life and five dollars on a matinee better spent with another movie. Seeing Tom Shadyac's mishmash romantic thriller about a man haunted by his dead wife on DVD provokes basically the same reaction, minus the popcorn chewing two rows ahead and that nagging cell phone some imbecile neglected to turn off.

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August 3, 2002