Screenplay : David Seltzer and Brandon Camp & Mike Thompson (story by Brandon Camp & Mike Thompson)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2002
Stars : Kevin Costner (Dr. Joe Morrow), Kathy Bates (Miriam), Robert Bailey, Jr. (Jeffrey), Jimmy Leeward (Pilot), Linda Hunt (Sister Madeline), Susanna Thompson (Dr. Emily Morrow)
Dragonfly is a silly--though it takes itself very seriously--supernatural mystery-thriller about a man who believes his recently deceased wife is trying to communicate with him from beyond the grave. It attempts to take its place in the recent cycle of eerily dramatic ghost stories epitomized by the The Sixth Sense (1999) and The Others (2001), both of which are far superior to Dragonfly in virtually every respect. Unfortunately, Dragonfly's ideas are New Age lite and its visual tropes are rehashed and poorly done. Director Tom Shadyac makes a rather extensive leap from directing gross-out comedies (1994's Ace Ventura and 1996's The Nutty Professor), although he would probably argue that Patch Adams (1998) was his cross-over movie into more "serious" territory. He should stick with comedies.
Kevin Costner, still sliding from his early-'90s peak, is stoic and boring as Dr. Joe Morrow, a successful Chicago doctor whose liberal-hearted wife, Emily (Susanna Thompson), is killed in Venezuela while on a Red Cross relief mission to help sick children. The heart of the story is supposed to be how devastated Joe is by his wife's death, but because we never see them together--with the exception of a few brief flashbacks, in one of which they are fighting--we have no real sense of their relationship and what has been lost.
After a few strange, seemingly supernatural occurrences, including a couple of child patients in the pediatric oncology ward who all draw the same squiggly cross symbol and tell Joe that they have spoken with Emily during near-death experiences, Joe becomes convinced that she is trying to reach him. Of course, the script (by Omen veteran David Seltzer, rewriting the work of Brandon Camp and Mike Thompson) establishes at the beginning that Joe is an atheist who doesn't believe in an afterlife, thus he gets to learn something important by the end of the movie, namely that there is one. Joe's colleagues begin to suspect that perhaps he is losing his mind, as does his friendly next-door-neighbor, a down-to-earth law professor (Kathy Bates) who knows what it is to lose someone dear.
But, Joe is determined, and Dragonfly keeps alternating romantic syrup with horror cliches of all sorts, from a creepy/benevolent nun, to light bulbs that mysteriously go out, to animals gone mad (in this case, a geriatric parrot). It eventually winds to a climax that finds Joe in Venezuela, rushing through wet jungle foliage in search of a remote Indian tribe where his wife may be, dead or alive. The ending becomes more and preposterous, stretching the limits of emotional resonance even when it becomes all-too-clear what Emily's big "revelation" will be. Costner continues to give it his all, though, making his face more and more steely until you're afraid that it might freeze that way, even if there's a happy ending.
One of the problems with Dragonfly is that, unlike the movies it so desperately wants to emulate, it isn't rigorous in the set-up or execution of its premise. Both The Sixth Sense and The Others had shocker twist endings that worked because they played by particular rules that were established from the get-go and were never violated, even if you were unaware of the existence of these rules until a second viewing. Dragonfly, on the other hand, wears its desperation on its sleeve by doing anything it can to try to scare and confuse you before reassuring you that it has all been in the spirit of New Age-y pietism.
On even the most basic level, why would Emily's spirit have to limit herself to speaking to Joe through the near-death experiences of others when it is made blatantly clear that she can exert power over physical objects, including returning an entire stack of clothing to a closet, removing a dragonfly paperweight from a box, and scrawling a sign in dirt on the floor? There is a vague pretense that Joe is losing his mind and perhaps doing all these things himself, but it such a weakly attempted red herring that I doubt anyone would fall for it.
Dragonfly is symptomatic of what happens when Hollywood sees a cycle of successful films and misunderstands what makes them work. The success of the recent supernatural thrillers is a result of a combination of well-choreographed old-fashioned chills and deep emotional resonance. Dragonfly, on the other hand, is all surface. Its chills are generated by awkwardly mechanical means, even at one point using a child who is intended to be sympathetic in a cheesy "boo" moment that one can see coming from a mile away. It can't come up with organic scares, so it manipulates anything and everything to generate the requisite "creepy" atmosphere while simultaneously trying to ply our emotions without truly earning them.
|Distributor||Universal Home Video|
|Release Date||July 30, 2002|
| 2.35:1 (Anamorphic)|
The anamorphic widescreen transfer is excellent throughout. Dragonfly features a number of dark scenes that are well-realized without being murky. Detail remains high throughout, although the overall image looks just a tad soft. Colors are solid and natural-looking. (The film is also available in a separate pan-and-scan release.)
| English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, DTS 5.1 Surround, French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround |
As with the recent spate of ghost thrillers Dragonfly makes good use of surround effects in its creepier moments, using the surround channels in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Both the Dolby Digital and the DTS channels are excellent throughout, with crisp, clear sound and creative use of imaging and directionality.
| Audio commentary by director Tom Shadyac |
Director Tom Shadyac states it right up front: He's a comedy director. Thus, it is not surprising that Dragonfly, his first non-comedic movie, didn't turn out all that well, something he alludes to surprisingly often in this screen-specific audio commentary (he keeps saying things like "I wish I could have that scene back" or "I would do that differently now"). He also addresses some obvious issues, such as the movie's thematic resemblance to The Sixth Sense, although he goes to great lengths to explain how his movie is different. He also discusses quite a bit the work that went into the movie after test audiences saw it (apparently, 50% predicted the ending, which required much reworking).
Spotlight on Location: Dragonfly: A Spiritual Journey
Betty Eadie on Her Near-Death Experience
Original Theatrical Trailer
Cast and filmmakers
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick