Evolution (2001) - Guilty Pleasure
As I kickstart my final installment of Guilty Pleasure month, allow me to share an intriguing story with you.
When I was a kid, about 8 or 10 years old, one of my favorite shows to watch when I wasn’t busy with school work was Digimon. I remember watching many episodes from the first three seasons of this show, regardless of order, on Fox Kids. I also enjoyed watching the commercials that aired in the middle of these episodes. I guess I was more intrigued by the variety of the products promoted or the movies coming out. One of the movies coming out whose commercials I remember seeing was a sci-fi flick called Evolution. But it was PG-13, so I wasn’t at the right age to see it at the time. But then, a year or two after that, I remember spotting this movie on DVD, and I just decided to pick it up and check it out for myself. There were plenty of things I liked about it, and others I just shrugged off because they didn’t feel as important to me.
But what do I think of it now, after watching it as an adult?
Well, let’s start with the story. In Glen Canyon, Arizona, a large meteor came down from space and crash-landed in the middle of the desert, right in front of a young man named Wayne Grey, who was training to be a firefighter and out doing one of his practice sessions when it came down. Soon, this caught the attention of a biology teacher and former U.S. Government member named Ira Kane and geologist and volleyball teacher Harry Block, who both agreed to investigate the matter further. They started by taking a rock sample from the meteor, which, to their surprise, bled out a strange, unique, unusual liquid. Once they investigated that part of the rock sample, they discovered that the fluid contained DNA samples that split and multiplied at a frighteningly rapid pace. Unlike the DNA of all life on Earth, which has only four base pairs, these DNA samples have ten base pairs. And once the multiplied cells developed to a suitable enough level - which took them a lot less time to do than it took us to do on our own - they started to evolve into an entire ecosystem of alien life on Earth in a matter of days. Pretty soon, the aliens bred from this meteor began to reach out to the general human populations nearby, garnering widespread public attention as well as that of the U.S. Government. Among the people from the Government issuing their investigation was General Russell Woodman, with whom Ira Kane had a history, and he tried to prevent him and Harry from moving forward with their own investigations. But as these men, plus Wayne and scientist Dr. Allison Reed, continued to squabble over the matter, the aliens’ growth and advanced evolution started to get out of hand and spread everywhere, turning this scenario into a race against the clock as they tried to pinpoint a weakness from these aliens before they were to take over planet Earth.
The characters felt pretty standard. Ira Kane was a pretty modest biology teacher made more compelling by his governmental background and his desperate attempts to prove himself after making a colossal failure he caused, both of which I’ll talk about very shortly. Harry Block, played by Orlando Jones, felt like a sarcastic teacher with a geological background and always had a fit whenever things didn’t go quite the way he wanted them to. Sometimes, he was quick to respond with tirades that, frankly, felt straight to the point. Wayne Grey, the rookie firefighter, was trying to make a living, but his lack of commitment and competence always seemed to get the best of him. Of course, because of him being a witness to the meteor’s crash-landing, he started to collaborate with Ira and Harry more in their hunt against the aliens. Dr. Allison Reed, secretary of Russell Woodman, was just a klutz and a generic scientist who worked under Woodman’s wing and, of course, started to develop feelings for Ira Kane. General Russell Woodman, one of the officials who came to look at the meteor, was only a self-conceited snob who mostly never cared about the consequences of his actions and still had some gripes against Ira Kane’s involvement in the discovery of the meteor and alien activity. Like Ira, he, too, wanted to stay one step ahead of the curve and take care of the alien invasion, no matter what evidence he could’ve found from it or what know-how he had to launch the next plan of attack.
However, as standard as the characters may have been, I will say that both Ira Kane and General Russel Woodman’s background showed a lot of promise. Five years before the film’s events, Ira Kane, as he laid out during a court hearing, admitted that he developed an experimental Anthrax vaccine to cure people with. But once he sampled it on over 140,000 soldiers, they started to experience various symptoms, including explosive diarrhea, temporary blindness, memory loss, bleeding gums, and that’s just a handful of what Ira listed out. They sounded substantial and so not pretty. That illness became known as the ‘Kane Madness,’ for which Ira Kane steadily became nothing but infamous. Even one of the soldiers in the meteor site who saw him and Harry at the entrance was about to lunge after Ira Kane. That told me that he might have been one of the unfortunate victims of his experimental vaccine. This showed a level of discontent between Ira Kane and Russell Woodman, especially from his troops, concerning the meteor site. Pretty soon, they both tried to beat each other’s game in trying to investigate the alien life and ultimately get all the credit for the alien discovery. But whereas Ira Kane was doing so only as a means to prove himself as having legitimate scientific capabilities, General Russel Woodman just went straight ahead without listening to a thing Ira Kane tried to say about the alien activities. Still, whether he did so was out of constant distrust against Ira, or if it was also for attention, I don’t know for sure.
One other thing I was curious about was Wayne’s involvement in this whole alien discovery. At the time, around the meteor’s landing, he was more concerned about his incoming firefighter’s test, and especially about his car once the meteor totaled it. From there, he didn’t seem too bothered about the alien activity stemming from the meteor and might not have even been aware of it until it started to catch up to him during his part-time job at a local resort. He probably should have been given a little more credit for witnessing the landing of the meteor, shouldn’t he? Of course, the discoveries that Ira and Harry made about the alien DNA samples were the big game-changer, so I guess that was more significant than just witnessing the landing of a meteor.
The acting from this movie felt very inconsistent. Now, there were three actors who I believe did a fair job with what they had. On paper, David Duchovny as Ira Kane feels like a no-brainer, given his work on The X-Files. Here, he gave a decent performance as Ira Kane and portrayed his character with some shades of emotion, like regret when he reflected on his disastrous Anthrax experiment, frustrations over his newfound job as a biology teacher at the Glen Canyon Community College, and commitment when he tried to lung head-on into the alien case. Julianne Moore as Dr. Allison Reed helped give her character a sense of level-headedness and expertise. Even if the result felt overdone, it was also neat to see her being not without some physical pratfalls of her own, not just the men. And Orlando Jones as Harry Block gave probably the most colorful - no pun intended - performance in the movie. Sometimes, his impressions tended to be too sarcastic and overwhelming, to a point where I felt they overshadowed his character. However, they still gave his character a dash of liveliness that helped him leave quite a small yet robust impression. It felt so lively, in fact, that he made Duchovny and Moore look like they didn’t give enough commitment to their roles. That’s not to say the other actors didn’t give as much commitment to their roles by comparison, though. Sean William Scott played his character, Wayne Grey, with some essence of responsibility, like when he was trying to be a firefighter. At the same time, though, his mannerisms made him look too immature, wimpish, and uncertain every once in a while. Ted Levine as Russell Woodman? Wow, was his acting off! I can tell that he tried to make Woodman feel like a self-conceited, stiff-necked general, but for the most part, all I got out of him was that he tried to emulate Alan Rickman instead. Talk about putting the stiff in stiff-necked!
You know, it’s funny. It occurred to me that David Duchovny and Orlando Brown, down to their characters, established reverse methods to their expressions. Duchovny gave an ordinary performance for an interesting character, but Brown elevated his otherwise ordinary character with an interesting performance.
The humor in this movie was all across the board. Half of the humorous moments fell flat, whereas the other half was given to us through the verbal and physical expressions of Orlando Brown, Julianne Moore, and Sean William Scott, mostly when he and Brown were complaining about the absurdity of the bad situations at hand. It was all pretty hit-and-miss. But the humorous scenarios that did work, they really worked.
This leads me to highlight one particular scene that was so funny and extravagant that my family and I were prone to quote it on a regular basis; it is right up there with the Grinch’s schedule routine in terms of what we consider goofily memorable movie scenes. What happened was, when Harry and Ira were arguing with Allison about their DNA samples being hijacked and stolen, Harry had the misfortune of having a mosquito-like creature sneak its way into his suit and then into him next. Ouch! So, then, he was taken to the military ER, where the doctors and nurses worked back and forth to take this mosquito-ish bug out of the hysterical Harry before it reached his valuables. The expressions from everyone, the hustle-bustle, the reactions, and the arguments all added up to an energetic, frantic scene of medical attention that excavated some comedy gold. The only thing that didn’t fit was how the still-hysterical Harry reacted over the operation just after they finally got the bug out of him. Sheesh, that’s quite a way to say thank you. However, this was followed by a punchline at the end of this crazy scene that was just perfect.
There was also a small but humorous moment at the beginning of the movie where two brothers, who attended Ira’s biology class, got a ‘C-’ on their exams about cells. The reason for that was because they wrote a tiny, sarcastic, pun-induced report that went, and I quote:
Cells are Bad
My uncle lives in a cell. It’s 10 foot by 12, and he has to read the same old boring magazine every day.
Small as this moment was, it was also very witty and very well-played.
The visual effects, especially from the aliens, were outstanding and helped lend some believability and legibility to what we consider the craziest of scenarios. I also feel like the movie used both practical effects and CGI for the effects, and it just made them feel better.
The design of the aliens themselves was also awe-inspiring. Most of them felt very imaginative, like half the creatures in the meteor hole and the puggish (or is it piggish?) creature with a horn-toothed sentient being for a tongue. The other half of the aliens’ design, such as the aquatic, reptilian creature, the mosquito-ish creature, and the primates, felt pretty standard and resembled some of Earth’s creatures a little too much. But even that was cleverly utilized and added to the alien community’s diversity. They felt like the perfect mediators, cluing me in that this alien ecosystem can consist of creatures unknown to us and creatures that would be similar to what we know yet are different enough to be still unique. As a whole, the variety of alien forms in this movie could spark the imagination and leave us pondering over what other life forms there may be out there in the universe.
Whether it had a role in the invasion or not, there’s something about the scenarios with the aliens occurring in such a remote spot as Glen Canyon, Arizona, that helped the dilemmas leave a more striking impression, possibly due to the bizarre factors stemming from them.
And this leads me to what I consider my favorite part of the movie: its creative identity. Evolution was directed by Ivan Reitman, the director of Ghostbusters, and at first glance, it shared a good portion of components with Ghostbusters. They both dealt with two guys making a significant discovery, deciding to go ahead and take the pests down, their partnership expanding into a quartet, a stiff-necked roadblock complicating things for them, and their collective involvement with unnatural or supernatural beings. The story may seem familiar, but the aesthetic and overall presentation felt so unique and so different that they helped Evolution stand on its own two feet. To give you a good example of what other works of fiction functioned the same way, think back to Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and how these two films felt similar but were two different movies. Or how about Regular Show and Close Enough and how they were two different shows despite sharing the same style and crew? Same thing with Ghostbusters and Evolution. The only other film I can think of to compare Evolution with is Men in Black since that film focused on a pair of savvy, wisecracking men dealing with aliens.
The beginning of the movie, the very beginning, was nothing short of astounding and opened up so many possibilities. What happened was, the meteor that landed in Glen Canyon was part of a much larger meteor that split into many pieces as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Then, those pieces of the meteor, plus the biggest of those pieces, were scattered everywhere across the country. Or was it all across the world? Either way, that got me wondering, if the bigger meteor had blue alien liquid filled with extraterrestrial DNA, then did the other pieces have them, too? If so, what happened to those other pieces of the meteor when they reached Earth? Did they start spawning alien life in other parts of the Earth, like in Glen Canyon? How did the nearby human communities respond to what they had in store? Could they have counteracted against it? How did their scientists deal with it? Were they still putting up a fight against them when they heard about Ira Kane and his successful ventures against the invading aliens? Might they have tried to reach out to him about their own alien activities? That looked like it could easily have jumpstarted a national alien exterminating service or something. Or could they have tried to reason with some of those aliens? That scenario alone invited so many interpretations worth exploring with Evolution. But instead, the movie ended with an impromptu commercial for Head & Shoulders, with some witty lines from Ira, Harry, and Wayne about destroying aliens with them since they were made out of selenium. That was just a missed opportunity right there, guys.
I also discovered that the movie was barely a success in the box office, raking in its entire budget, plus another $10 million. But, this was good enough. The film was so successful that a few months after it premiered, Evolution spawned its own animated TV series, just like both Ghostbusters and Men in Black before it. It was called Alienators: Evolution Continues, premiered on Fox Kids (just like Digimon), lasted for 26 episodes, and was simply about the quartet’s ongoing mission to exterminate the invading aliens. However, this time, they had a sidekick: a yellow, three-eyed creature modeled after the film’s logo. I suppose that much like how Russel Woodman was supposed to be Evolution’s own Walter Peck, this guy was probably supposed to be Evolution’s own Slimer. Now, did the series do a good enough job of continuing the story of Evolution? I’m not sure. I’ll have to see for myself when I get around to checking out the show.
For the time being, however, I will say that if it wasn’t for the characters, performances, and humor feeling so standard, inconsistent, and middle of the road, Evolution would have been a great flick to jumpstart a potential franchise with, not to mention one that would properly have felt like the new Ghostbusters. As is, though, it is still a fun sci-fi ride made more memorable by its unique flavor and visual flair.
I wish the movie evolved into something better. But if a standard idea managed to evolve into something this distinct, then I’m all for it all the way.
My Rating: A strong C
I must say, it was a lot of fun perusing through all the films I critiqued for Guilty Pleasure month. It shows you that even if some films are artistically stupid, there may still be some small aspect of these films that would make you not resist them by any means, especially if those movies may have come from your childhood.
Do you know what else I caught that was funny? Out of the five films I looked over for Guilty Pleasure Month, three of them dealt with either outer space or alien invasions. I guess there’s a part of me that has a thing for bizarre beings and for discovering what’s out there, anything unknown. Now, if I ever live to see an actual alien discovery or travel to space, I’d be just as compelled to dive further into it.