Ben Ramsey has apologized for writing Dragon Ball Evolution, but how does he feel about your reaction?
The news of Ben Ramsey’s apology went viral on Tuesday, May 3rd. It received coverage on pop culture news networks, 1,323 shares and 482 comments on my Facebook post, a ‘trending’ link in the sidebar, translation into over a dozen languages, over 200 comments on my blog post, and hundreds more on forums and news sites.
It was big news! And a lot of people responded to it.
But how did Ben handle their responses?
Here is the summary of the fan’s comments.
Negative: ‘Apology not accepted!’ ‘Sorry doesn’t cut it.’ ‘FUCK YOU!! I WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU!!’ and quoting verbatim, “This sin can only be paid with blood.”
Positive: ‘Apology accepted.’ ‘You didn’t have to apologize, and we can’t forget the movie, but it’s appreciated.’ ‘You weren’t the one most at fault.’ ‘It takes courage to do what you did and be honest that you were just in it for the money.’ ‘You made a mistake, but you learned your lesson.’ And, ‘I liked Dragonball Evolution! Am I the only one?’
One Dragon Ball blogger even wrote an article on his feelings.
While most sites just copied my article verbatim with a small link to the source, my favorite headline comes from The Outhousers:
Dragonball Evolution Writer Apologizes for His Part in Cinematic Crime Against Humanity
You can read more of the media’s reaction and engage in the comments:
IGN, io9, Anime News Network, Otaku Mode, A.V. Club, MoviePilot, Forbes, CinemaBlend, GoBoiano, Uproxx, CrunchyRoll, Comic Book Resources, Kanzenshuu, HypeBeast, NeoGAF, OperationRainfall, DarkHorizons, and more.
Ben Ramsey’s Reply
“Man, it’s all good. I’ve been here before. I’m encouraged by all the positive responses. The negative ones don’t bother me. It’s all part of the game.
I didn’t know the reaction would go as big as it did. But after this I’m putting Dragonball Evolution back to rest in my book, and focusing on my original work.
What’s funny is the news became this big vicious thread on this Facebook group I’m a part of, and I joined in the thread, chatting with the fans and letting them beat up on me. It was actually kind of fun.”
So it seems Ben is taking it in stride. After all, the movie came out 7 years ago. But don’t tell that to the fans, because a lot of them are just as angry about the movie now as when it first came out, or even more so.
The big question a lot of people are asking is, ‘Why now? Why 7 years later?’
As part of the research for my book, USA DBZ, I contacted Ben and the other people involved with Dragonball Evolution, including the actors and staff at 20th Century Fox.
I did this because I wanted to extend an olive branch of trust and to tell their untold stories. I don’t want the people behind the film to be demonized and hated for the rest of their days, even if it is deserved. Plus, it would make for a good story.
Ben replied in a big way. But why send an apology instead of answering the request?
A few fans speculate that he sent the apology because he wanted to remove ‘the stain’ from his name so he can work on other projects or regain some fame.
That’s cynical, but I can’t rule it out.
I suspect Ben sent the apology because he saw that I had a platform to reach Dragon Ball fans, and up to now, he didn’t feel compelled to share his sentiments elsewhere.
It’s likely that if I hadn’t reached out to him and said I’m writing a book that discusses his work, that we would have never received an apology in the first place.
“I just wanted to apologize for disappointing so many fans. You guys deserved better. I sincerely hope that you will get the Dragonball movie you deserve. A movie made with love and passion for the universe.”
Is his apology 7 years too late?
Most fans are saying, “Better late than never.”
Why was Ben the Writer?
Why was a screenplay writer with no passion for Dragon Ball chosen to write this movie that requires so much passion to do well?
Ben says he was approached after he had written the feature film script for an adaptation of the Luke Cage comic book.
“There was a lot of buzz on that script at the time. When you have a hot script around town you tend to have jobs thrown at you. I had gotten “Dragonball” at Fox and “Roses Are Red” at Paramount around the same time. “Roses” would have been the third in the Morgan Freeman Alex Cross series. Unfortunately, the project got derailed by a regime change down at Paramount and Luke went into development hell.”
So Ben was a popular guy in Hollywood and he got offered the job.
It seems strange to think that just because he could write a Western comic book adaptation that he could also write a Japanese manga adaptation he knew nothing about. But alas, that was their thinking.
So why did Ben take the job?
Ben said in his apology:
“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.”
How much of a big payday? According to Variety Magazine, Ben was paid $500,000.
On top of that, Dragon Ball has a huge following and I suspect it would have earned him residuals if the film did well. But even if it didn’t, that’s a huge opportunity for any writer.
For half a million and a chance to become an A-List writer, what would you have done?
Not a Fan
Ben had prior success with writing The Big Hit (1998), so it’s not as if he didn’t have any talent. The problem here is that he wasn’t a fan of the Dragon Ball source material.
He was doing this to survive as a freelance movie screenwriter. That’s understandable, because this is a tough profession to be in since you never know when you’ll get paid.
But the truth is, even if he did research the series, Dragon Ball isn’t something you can write about well without being a fan. It requires an enormous investment of time, energy, and commitment to understand how Akira Toriyama thinks, and then write an original screenplay that stays true to his vision.
I often get contacted by fans asking me to write their Dragon Ball screenplays, or to partner up with them and write a feature film. It’s happened 4 times in the last 2 days. But in almost every case their ideas have little resemblance to Toriyama’s vision. And these are the fan’s ideas, not an out-of-touch executive.
It’s not enough to read the manga, watch the anime, play the games, and be a hardcore fan. You have to understand the heart of the series, the characters, what motivates them, why they face the conflicts that they do, how they overcome those challenges, and then how this inspires the fan who becomes so engaged with their adventure that they want to do the same. You have to live Dragon Ball for years and internalize its spirit until you’re able to express that spirit through the written word and convey it to the audience.
Not to mention the 5,000 years of culture, pop culture, history, martial arts spirituality, and humor that Toriyama infuses into his work.
If you don’t do all of that, then it’s not Dragon Ball. It’s something else.
So it isn’t easy to grasp all of this, and it’s even harder to express it to someone else. As a result, there are few people willing to do this for money, and even fewer who actually want to do it regardless of whether money is there.
In the end, Ben has learned the lesson that you shouldn’t do things you aren’t passionate about just for the money. Especially if other people are going to be affected. And especially if it’s for the world’s most recognized anime and manga, with hundreds of millions of fans!
Is Ben to Blame?
But, is Ben to blame?
Ben says, “When I came on the project there was a Dragonball Z script. Some of my early drafts had Emperor Pilaf, Mai, and Shu.”
Okay, so the truth of the matter is that Ben came into the project when there was already a script written by an unknown author for a Dragon Ball Z adaptation. But this movie was never made. Instead, Ben was told to write an original screenplay for a ‘Dragon Ball’ adaptation, and his original drafts were closer to the source material of the first story arc.
In fact, I’ve discovered Ben’s original Dragonball Evolution script, which you can now read.
This script has West City, Capsule Corporation, and some other things you expect to see. However, Goku is still in high school, and everything about it is off the mark.
Even so, this tells us he did do research, and he tried to make it resemble what we love.
Ben added in a comment to that post:
“I wrote about 10 drafts before they turned it over to production. This was about 4 or 5 I believe. The earlier drafts were much closer to the manga. Each subsequent draft they wanted more canonical content removed to try and make it more ‘mainstream.'”
Ben says that Fox was more interested in the Dragon Ball property for its name recognition, and wanted to make a movie for a general audience, not the fans.
As a result, his early drafts were then changed through production notes from the producers and director, James Wong, who had zero familiarity with the series before getting the job.
After Ben delivered his final script, it was then transformed even further into the final product. That’s why I don’t think Ben is the one that all of the blame should fall onto. Some? Yes. But all of it? No.
The producers and director are the ones that made most of the changes. This is a common occurrence in Hollywood.
Speaking from personal experience, my scripts for the Dragon Ball Z: Light of Hope series have been changed without my consent. The first episode was more or less true to my script—minus some rearrangements, unfilmed scenes, or cuts. But episode 2 has been changed a great deal despite my protest, and I’ve been told that episode 3 is a “complete rewrite.” I did my best to convince them to follow Toriyama’s vision, but the producer and director disagreed. This led to a falling out and my leaving Light of Hope.
That’s how Hollywood works, and the same thing happened to Ben.
For that reason, I don’t think he’s the devil that we should condemn.
For all these years I never even thought of blaming Ben for the film. And I’ve never seen anyone else do so either. The blame has always been directed at the higher-ups.
So why did he choose to fall on the sword in his apology?
I can’t say for certain, but a lot of fans are saying they respect his decision to not shift the blame onto others. They’re saying it takes a lot of grace and character to do that. Especially in the face of continued criticism.
Sure it does, but is it accurate?
You’ll have to be the judge.
Why is this apology such a big deal to so many people?
The answer is closure.
Fans were hurt by Dragonball Evolution. It felt like somebody took their childhood, everything that they grew up watching and that has melded into their minds, bodies, and spirits, and then desecrated it.
By normal standards, the movie is dull and generic.
But to a Dragon Ball fan it’s blasphemy!
This is because it takes everything that was great about the series and steps all over it. It disrespects the source material while at the same time tries to appeal to fans, yet also to a general audience. In so doing it appeals to no one and alienates the fans in particular.
I’ve heard from fans all over the world who said they were moved to tears after seeing the movie, but not in the good way!
The writer, producers, director, and in some cases the actors, just did it for the money, didn’t care about the source material, and essentially shit all over the fans.
And even worse, they never said anything about it. Or they lied before its premiere and said the movie was going to be great.
No apologies, no ‘we could have done better,’ or anything else to acknowledge that they disappointed the fans. They just took their money and left.
The result was a lot of angry fans!
They felt betrayed. It was like a real wound that opened in their hearts. This wound festered for years to the point of hatred and a grudge against everyone responsible for the movie.
In response, the fans turned Dragonball Evolution into the butt of countless jokes and the new benchmark for crappy films moving forward.
Worse yet, 20th Century Fox fumbled so poorly with Dragonball Evolution that we haven’t received a live-action Dragon Ball film since then, despite the massive success of similar films in the Marvel and D.C. universe. This movie is the main reason why fans distrust Hollywood’s ability to adapt anime and manga series.
Dragonball Evolution ruined everything.
It’s true that the hatred cooled down after a few years, but the pain still remained because there was no closure.
Finally, 7 years later, on May 3, 2016, Ben Ramsey apologized.
This apology was important to a lot of fans because it was cathartic to read somebody, anybody, saying ‘sorry.’
The reason some fans don’t accept his apology is because the pain and hatred is still so strong in their minds, or because they see it as a cop-out. They argue, ‘Is it enough?’
I’d argue that it’s a start, but like I said, Ben wasn’t the person most at fault. He did his job, received his money, and left. Then the producers and director changed it to match their ‘vision.’
So if anything, what those angry fans really need is a statement from the higher-ups that explains why the movie turned out the way that it did. Although I don’t think we’re ‘owed’ one for a pop culture movie that is supposed to be for entertainment.
It’s simply that anything other than silence would be appreciated. When someone feels betrayed, they want an explanation. Of course, that probably won’t ever come.
So as it is, Ben has apologized when he didn’t have to, and he has said goodbye to this part of his life. I think we as Dragon Ball fans should do the same.
Let’s close off that wound the best we can, and walk forward.
It’s what Goku would do.
Another Dragon Ball Movie?
Does Ben want to write another Dragon Ball movie?
Some fans said, ‘Apology accepted, but please make it up to us by doing it properly the next time.’
Ben replied, “Man, I’m not touching anything Dragonball ever again. I’m not the best guy for the job. The studio should hire Derek Padula. He rocked it with Light of Hope. Give that guy a budget and turn him loose.”
So rest assured that Ben is not going to make another Dragon Ball movie.
And the oft-mentioned rumor of a Dragonball Evolution sequel has never come to fruition, titled ‘Dragonball Reborn.’ Its script is sitting somewhere in a Hollywood vault, likely embarrassing the other scripts by its presence.
Dragon Ball’s Renaissance
In contrast, fans are also saying that Dragonball Evolution was a blessing in disguise.
Dragonball Evolution was so bad that it made Toriyama want to take personal responsibility for DBZ films moving forward. Toriyama said:
Dragon Ball once became a thing of the past to me, but after that, I got angry about the live action movie, re-wrote an entire movie script, and now I’m complaining about the quality of the new TV anime, so it seems that Dragon Ball has grown on me so much that I can’t leave it alone.
This resulted in Battle of Gods, Resurrection ‘F’, and Dragon Ball Super.
So we have new Dragon Ball content from Toriyama because of Dragonball Evolution!
Ben Ramsey’s apology for Dragonball Evolution is a polarizing issue.
Many fans accept his apology, but will never forget what he has done.
Others accept it and choose to imagine that Dragonball Evolution doesn’t exist.
Still others condemn Ben Ramsey and the staff at Fox to the 7th Circle of Hell!!
Overall, I’d say that about 80% of people are willing to forgive him.
How should we view this apology as a moment in history?
Perhaps RocketNews said it best: “Just as many Dragon Ball villains eventually see the light and repent, so too does Ramsey seem to have learned from the experience. … It’s a change in philosophy that we think Goku would be proud of.”
As a result, the fans finally have closure and can move on, if we choose to.
Is it time to let Dragonball Evolution go?