From the outside looking in (and with the lens of every film-driven stereotype), it is almost incredible to see that modern pop culture often finds its roots in things that used to be considered “nerdy”. In fact, the very inflection of the word sounds differently today than it did in the locker rooms of our parents. But when modern film adaptations were just starting out in the early 2000s, one film stood out as an unforgivable sin in the eyes of its target fanbase.
Dragonball Evolution, the live-action adaptation from Final Destination director James Wong, was doomed from the start. Despite the offer of Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer as the demon king Piccolo (not even the cool one from Dragon Ball Z; the crazy one from Dragon Ball), the story’s focus on Goku (Justin Chatwin) attending a westernized high school and tending to teen drama in the middle of saving the world drove audiences away before the film’s premiere. Today, it sits at 14% on Rotten Tomatoes, intentionally forgotten by many of its cast members and fans of the original manga by Akira Toriyama alike.
While documenting the history of Dragon Ball, writer Derek Padula from The Dao of Dragonball reached out to Evolution’s writer, Ben Ramsey. What was supposed to be an outreach for an interview earned Padula a full-fledged apology from the writer to Dragonball’s fans:
I knew that it would eventually come down to this one day. Dragonball Evolution marked a very painful creative point in my life. To have something with my name on it as the writer be so globally reviled is gut wrenching. To receive hate mail from all over the world is heartbreaking. I spent so many years trying to deflect the blame, but at the end of the day it all comes down to the written word on page and I take full responsibility for what was such a disappointment to so many fans. I did the best I could, but at the end of the day, I ‘dropped the dragon ball.’
I went into the project chasing after a big payday, not as a fan of the franchise but as a businessman taking on an assignment. I have learned that when you go into a creative endeavor without passion you come out with sub-optimal results, and sometimes flat out garbage. So I’m not blaming anyone for Dragonball but myself. As a fanboy of other series, I know what it’s like to have something you love and anticipate be so disappointing.
While the move might seem like a first, several screenwriters have come out to apologize for controversial decisions and reckless direction for otherwise beloved franchises. Last year, Cameron Crowe released an apology for the whitewashing in his film, Aloha, stating that “from the many voices, loud and small, I have learned something very inspiring. So many of us are hungry for stories with more racial diversity, more truth in representation, and I am anxious to help tell those stories in the future.”
For all his regrets, Ramsey ended the letter on a positive note, promising better work in the future. “I hope I can make it up to you by creating something really cool and entertaining that you will like and that is also something I am passionate about,” he said, though the writer has no confirmed future work on the big screen as of yet. “That’s the only work I do now.”