Whatever your feelings about the sequels, reboots, and spin-offs, there’s no doubting that the original Ghostbusters captured lightning in a bottle in a way that not even the original Ghostbusters could match. When the right people appear at the right moment and in the right place, the cosmos blesses us with a timeless classic.
Celebrating 20 Years of Evolution with The Other Ghostbusters
Of course, this hasn’t stopped studios from attempting to recreate the magic with similar projects, and while we’re all excited for Jason Reitman’s upcoming Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Ivan Reitman’s other attempt at a spiritual successor to his most iconic franchise is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Naturally, I’m referring about Evolution, the underappreciated monster film from 2001. Initially conceived as a hyper-serious horror/sci-fi thriller by screenwriter Don Jakoby, Evolution quickly moved into an entirely other path once Reitman joined the production. The director envisaged the film as a potential Ghostbusters for the new millennium, with an updated cast of amusing oddballs fighting extraterrestrial mutations instead of supernatural beings, inspired by the notion of a group of friends working together to battle an otherworldly threat. The company began looking for an ensemble cast with franchise potential after a series of comic rewrites.
Following the success of The X-Files, David Duchovny was cast as the group’s sarcastic leader, with Orlando Jones serving as his best buddy and accomplice in crime. Sean William Scott was also cast as the team’s affable everyman, with Julianne Moore rounding out the ensemble as a fumbling scientist with a golden heart. College professors Ira Kane (Duchovny) and Harry Block (Jones) study a bizarre meteorite that lands in the Arizona desert in the finished picture. Unfortunately for us, the meteorite contains microscopic life-forms that quickly adapt to their new surroundings, undergoing millions of years of development in just a few hours as they mutate into gigantic creatures hell-bent on conquering the Earth. Knowing that an extinction-level event is approaching, Ira and Harry join forces with Dr. Allison Reed (Moore) of the CDC and aspiring firefighter Wayne Grey (Scott) to investigate the extraterrestrial threat and formulate a strategy to preserve the world, all while battling an ineffective military reaction. Although the alien invasion plot may sound old, Evolution’s structure is sound enough for it to succeed as a light-hearted sci-fi frolic with plenty of amazing creature designs and memorable character moments. Despite attempting to be “the new Ghostbusters,” the film manages to stand on its own as a retro-styled comedy with an early-2000s twist, and I believe it’s a shame that no one really talks about it anymore. I’d argue that the movie is at its best when it revels in its own ridiculousness, from hilarious moments like watching the aliens acquire a primate-like level of intellect to exciting set-pieces like the team attempting to bring down a mutant dragon in the middle of a crowded shopping mall. That odd ending, in which dandruff shampoo suddenly saves the day in what can only be described as a cellular enema, is one I’ll never forget.
Although Evolution stumbles in its obvious attempts to replicate Ghostbuster’s success (even Dan Aykroyd makes an appearance, and the poster’s three-eyed smiley face is clearly meant to emulate that film’s highly marketable anti-ghost logo), the film’s insanely charming cast helps to smooth out the rough edges. Even Sean William Scott gets an opportunity to shine with outrageous amounts of “dudebro” energy, despite the dated humor and predictable clichés. Despite her famed acting talents, Moore is restricted to lame gags, making Dr. Reed the sole character who suffers from the poor screenplay. There’s also the issue of the film’s strong reliance on early-2000s CGI during action sequences. While there are a few real puppets on show, and the designs are all rather inventive, the most of the creatures are brought to life by wacky computer visuals that haven’t aged well. Thankfully, the film’s lighthearted tone keeps the effects from being distracting, though I do wish they had stuck to the original intention of making the alien’s final form a fleshy humanoid kaiju rather than a massive cell. Personally, I believe Evolution was one script (and possibly a Ray Parker Jr. song) away from becoming a classic, but I really admire how it faithfully recreates great monster movies for a modern audience. The film captures the 50s sci-fi cliches without feeling like a joke, from setting the action in the Arizona desert to having a clumsy military force be saved by pariah scientists. Even the “actual science” on exhibit here is about as realistic as it was in earlier films, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a sequel contained radiation transforming lizards and insects into huge monsters.
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