The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

The film that the critics seem to hate for reasons I don’t get

with 43 comments

butterfly effect

Finally I watched The Butterfly Effect. I was about time. I’ve been pointed to it a number of times over the last year by blog readers. They know how much I love movies about time travelling and alternative timelines, titles such as Source Code, Timecrimes, Looper, Mr Nobody and Run Lola Run. They figured that this would be right up my alley. And it turned out they were right, once again.

I’ve seen similar ideas in other movies: that if you make a little change in the past, you can create a future that is completely different, in ways you didn’t imagine. The difference this time is that it’s way darker. Several events in the past that have formed the main character into who is now, and each one of those turning points in his life are immensely sad and depressing.

Thankfully the protagonist suffers from blackouts and memory losses a lot of the time, so most of the times the worst parts are cut out. You only see them in your imagination, which is bad enough as it is.

Does it sound confusing? Good! That’s how I want to keep it. I don’t want to go into details about the memory losses or about the exact mechanisms of the time tempering. One reason is to avoid spoiling anything. I spent the first half hour being rather confused about what was going on before the pieces started to fall into place and I want others to have the chance to experience the same thing.

The other reason is that I’m not completely sure of what happens, at least not in terms of science and logic. Not that it bothered me. It’s the kind of film where suspension of disbelief is essential, and to me it came easy. I was too wrapped up in the poor guy’s situation, hoping he’d find a resolution, to raise any objections about how and why this happened in the first place.

Little love from critics
Strangely enough it seems as if this film has gotten very little love in the past. I took a quick glance at the reviews from its release and found that Rolling Stone gave it a 1 of 4 stars rating, claiming that “Nothing can save this repetitive bore”. Robert Ebert didn’t fall for it either: “There’s so much flashing forward and backward, so many spins of fate, so many chapters in the journals, that after awhile I felt that I, as well as time, was being jerked around. “Bad filmmaking meets bad science and bad philosophy”, says A.V. Club, giving it a C. And so on.

I suppose not all film critics are as geeky and fascinated by time travel sci-fi as I am. I wear a different pair of glasses that help me appreciate this type of movies more than most other people.

It feels a bit unfair though that this film should be stuck at 33 percent at Rotten Tomatoes. Someone ought to do something about it. What if I could go back in time and convince them to change their views on this film? What effect would it have? The directors went for TV instead of movies. Could a warmer critical reception have changed their careers?

I need to work a bit more on this plan to make sure there aren’t any negative side effects. But if you wake up one morning and notice that the rating all of a sudden has shot up to 80 percent, you know who’s responsible.

The Butterfly Effect (Eric Bress and J.Mackye Guber, US 2004) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

December 17, 2012 at 1:00 am

43 Responses

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  1. I really enjoyed this movie! Pretty original concept and execution (though both the sequels are terrible).

    If you like time travel movies you should really check out Primer. Ooh and also Triangle is a FASCINATING movie with overlapping timelines. Just don’t read anything about it before you watch!


    December 17, 2012 at 1:20 am

    • I’ve actually seen and written about Primer. I left the theatre clueless about what I just had seen. But if I watched it another 15 times – or used one of the graphs you can find on the webs, illustrating the various timelines – I might get it and love it. I’ll make a notice in my memory about that I should check out Triangle though.


      December 17, 2012 at 11:23 am

      • haha I did have to check out a graphic representation of the time travel in Primer. But I thought it was an unusual depiction, examining the consequences and possible abuses of scientific advances without really having a “message” or a moral. Completely different from the Butterfly Effect, which explores morality, how one choice can change our lives, etc.

        I love going into time travel movies not knowing whether it’s a mind-bender about the scientific process/timelines or something where you just suspend your disbelief and enjoy the deeper message/adventure.


        December 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm

        • Like you I like different sorts of time travel movies. I just had a hard time to follow what was going on in Primer. I think it would have worked better if I’d watched it at home where I could follow some kindof flow chart than watching it in a theatre as I did.


          December 17, 2012 at 11:03 pm

  2. I saw this movie in theaters and loved it, unfortunately I haven’t gotten around to watching it again since. I agree that it’s a better movie than the critics think, but it’s for a more specific audience. Luckily both you and I are part of that audience. Nice pick.


    December 17, 2012 at 1:33 am

    • Hehe, yeah, I guess it takes a bit of geekiness to like it. Not all people like old, tasty cheese either. Or olives. I just happen to be a fan of this type of film.s


      December 17, 2012 at 11:23 am

  3. I liked it too, much better than it gets credit for.


    December 17, 2012 at 2:56 am

  4. I also liked it a lot…I think a lot of people just don’t like Ashton Kutcher and therefore were harsh on it.

    Looking at the movies you mentioned I noticed I haven’t seen Run Lola Run..will have to check that one out, especially since it is in the same sentence as Mr.Nobody!


    December 17, 2012 at 9:07 am

    • The thing is that I’ve never seen anything else with Ashton Kutcher in it. I don’t even know who he is. I reckon I haven’t missed anything important?

      I loved Run Lola Run so much that I rewatched it immediately after watching it the first time. Such a fun and unusual little film. It’s like a great music video that you want to hear over and over again.


      December 17, 2012 at 11:26 am

      • No, you haven’t missed much, he hasn’t been in that many movies. He starred in “Dude, Where’s my Car?”, which was funny (if you like that kind of humor) and had some TV shows. He will also play Steve Jobs in an upcoming movie.

        Have added Run Lola Run to my watchlist!


        December 17, 2012 at 11:32 am

  5. I haven’t watched this for quite a long time and I thought it was OK but didn’t think it was brilliant. I also thought it was one of the most depressing films I’ve ever seen. I should probably give it another go at some point though, I can’t remember that much about it anymore. Nice write up!

    Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop

    December 17, 2012 at 10:26 am

    • Thanks! It really goes into dark places, much darker than this type of movies usually visit from my experience. All in all, it’s rather bittersweet. It might be worth a revisit.


      December 17, 2012 at 11:28 am

  6. It’s been a while, but I really enjoyed this one as well Jessica. It’s critical panning is certainly unfair and dwarves more attention. You’ve put me in mind to watch it again.

    Mark Walker

    December 17, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    • I think it would hold up for a revisit. It turned out that my husband had already seen it, but he thought it was good for a second go. It’s not completely twist dependent thanks to the dark drama.


      December 17, 2012 at 10:44 pm

  7. Like you, I don’t understand the hate and revulsion this film gets. Personally, I thought it did what it said on the can – time travelling sci-fi flick. Pretty enjoyable, maybe a bit forgettable. But certainly not a bad film. I remember a lot of hate getting thrown in the cast’s direction – especially Ashton Kutcher. Don’t understand why, thought he did fine.

    Maybe it was the fact that it was a post Donnie Darko film and critics were expecting something along those lines rather than what they got.


    December 17, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    • It appears as if this Ashton Kutcher bugs some people. Personally I’ve never seen anything by him before watching this, so he’s an unwritten sheet of paper. Here he was just fine.

      I’m afraid I haven’t seen Donnie Darko. I definitely should.


      December 17, 2012 at 10:46 pm

      • Definitely do. It’s a terrific film. Whatever you do do, don’t watch the director’s cut. The original cut is a whole heap better.


        December 18, 2012 at 10:11 am

  8. There’s an easy answer for the critics’ hatred for this movie: it was butchered by the studio for the theatrical release. The ending was completely changed, and other scenes were removed, in order to try to give the film a different tone. When it got released on DVD, though, it was the original version from the filmmakers. People watching at home got to see it as it was intended to be and liked it quite a bit more. I wrote about this recently in my review of it, and I stressed in it to make sure people watch the Director’s cut of the film, not the theatrical release.

    And if you like time travel movies, I reviewed The Butterfly Effect as one of my Time Travel on a Budget movies. You mentioned a couple of the other films I recommended, but you might want to check out 11 Minutes Ago and Safety Not Guaranteed among those.

    Chip Lary

    December 17, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    • I watched it on Netflix. I’m not sure which of the endings that is, the one they intended or not. In any case I liked it. It was pretty downbeat/bittersweet. I think that worked.

      I haven’t seen 11 minutes Ago or Safety Not Guaranteed, but I watch every time travel movie I come across, so those will surely come up at some point.


      December 17, 2012 at 10:53 pm

      • If it was downbeat/bittersweet then it sounds like you saw the Director’s Cut. The theatrical version ended with


        him going back in time and not making friends with the girl in the first place, instead of what he did in the original version.


        If you are interested, here is a link to my parent post for all the Time Travel on a Budget movies that I recommended:

        Chip Lary

        December 17, 2012 at 11:00 pm

        • Thanks for the link! I’ll check out your recommendations.


          December 17, 2012 at 11:11 pm

  9. Jessica, I watched this last year when doing my time-travel marathon, and it was entertaining. I do think it’s sort of messy and doesn’t completely work, but I don’t have any issues with people who love it. The time-travel part of it is a lot of fun if you’re into that genre (as I know you are). I don’t think critics were fans of Kutcher or the dark tone, but he does fine. From what I’ve heard, the video sequels don’t work so well, though.

    Dan Heaton

    December 17, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    • I’ll stay away from those then. I remember your time-travel marathon. That’s definitely a marathon in my taste!


      December 17, 2012 at 10:55 pm

  10. Love this film. Very good and as you mention bittersweet a feeling I love when it´s in the movies. I have seen the film and as far as I know it has three differnt endings. Donnie Darko is confusing but thats another movie i love. Triangle is ok and i really liked Mr.Nobody but the directors earlier movies The eight day and Totos les heros is better but kind of hard to get hold on.


    December 17, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    • I feel the urge more and more now to get hold on it on a DVD so I can see all different endings and some commentary from the makers. I haven’t seen anything else by the director of Mr Nobody but it seems like something I should try to see given the opportunity.


      December 18, 2012 at 6:03 pm

  11. While I don’t remember that much of the movie, I know I’ve watched it and thought it ok. Have to say I wasn’t even aware of it not being liked.


    December 18, 2012 at 5:51 am

    • I didn’t know either until I checked it up. I was pretty surprised.


      December 18, 2012 at 6:02 pm

  12. As someone said, Ashton Kutcher might be a reason for critics not to like it, or rather not daring to like it. 😉 Myself, I thought it was decent, almost very good. A good idea but a little bit to repetitive. 3+/5 was my grade when I saw it in the cinema. I’m a sucker for time travel paradoxes so I couldn’t help not to like it. 😉


    December 18, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    • You’re always a little cheap with your ratings! But I think we’re pretty much on the same page.


      December 18, 2012 at 6:00 pm

  13. Awesome post, Jess 🙂


    December 20, 2012 at 5:53 am

    • Thanks Fernando! Sorry for being a bit absent this week, but your support is always so appreciated.


      December 26, 2012 at 10:51 pm

  14. I haven’t seen this movie but there are plenty of movies I love that for some reason the critics just loathe. I actually enjoyed John Carter for example. I think they over-analyze everything. I often wonder if the movie critics actually love movies as much as the regular moviegoers [shrugs]


    December 26, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    • I actually think they don’t. I’ve seen it over and over again, critics getting jaded. I think it’s worse for amateurs though. Film fans who have seen too many movies start to get very whiny after some years. They probably need a break from their hobby.


      December 26, 2012 at 10:52 pm

  15. I loved it, seen it twice and it’s a great movie. No idea why the critics hate it so much but heck, they’re wrong about this movie.


    December 27, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    • I think you’ve even recommended it to me, haven’t you? I always take your recommendations seriously.


      December 27, 2012 at 5:31 pm

      • I probably did when you saw one of the other time travel movies like Primer. I much preferred this movie over that one 🙂


        December 28, 2012 at 12:47 am

        • Indeed! I’m not a Primer fan. If I was a great deal smarter maybe I would bee…


          December 29, 2012 at 2:10 pm

  16. I’ve never seen it, but I’ll get on that. (I love movies with time travel/parallel universe plots, too.) Good luck, and know we all have films like that. Herbie Rides Again (5.4 on IMDb) and I are sitting over here all alone.

    George Watches Things

    December 28, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    • Go ahead and see it! It’s better than the rating it sits on. But again: IMDb rating is quite puzzling sometimes.


      December 29, 2012 at 2:16 pm

  17. […] The film that the critics seem to hate for reasons I don’t get […]

  18. […] The film that the critics seem to hate for reasons I don’t get […]

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