Daily Archives: September 1, 2005
A Sound of Thunder, based on the classic short story by Ray Bradbury, is a movie that no one is going to see by design. It was shot way back in 2002, traded directors when Renny Harlin left to make Mindhunters and Peter Hyams (End of Days, The Relic) stepped in, sat on a shelf for two years, and now is being released without a peep. I have not seen a single TV ad, a single trailer, and until a few days ago I hadn’t even seen a poster for the film. It’s like the studio doesn’t want anyone to know that A Sound of Thunder exists and that they?re responsible. With zero advertising, the only people who are going to pay to see this are those familiar with Bradbury’s story. A Sound of Thunder will be gone in the blink of an eye. It doesn’t help that the movie is awful.
In the year 2055, time travel is here and available to those with deep pockets. Charles Hatton (Ben Kingsley) runs a service that allows rich people to travel back millions of years for the ultimate big game hunt — dinosaurs. The time squad is led by Travis Ryer (Edward Burns), a brilliant scientist biding his time working for the man. The time travel inventor (Catherine McCormack) warns about the dangers with playing around in the past. The tiniest alteration could drastically change the future. Hatton assures everything is safe; they hunt the same dinosaur that is just about to be destroyed and touch nothing else. Of course something does go wrong. On one hunt the clients run off the safe path and accidentally step on a butterfly. This causes “time waves” to sweep the present-day Earth and kick start some evolutionary changes. Travis is left to figure out what went wrong and fix it before humankind is wiped off the planet with the next wave.
The movie pretends to play with brainy sci-fi principles, but A Sound of Thunder is really an empty vacuum of logic. As a precautionary measure, the team only travels back in time and hunts the same damned dinosaur. This dinosaur is special because it’s minutes away from getting stuck in a tar pit and then being obliterated by an exploding volcano. The team picks this dinosaur because hunting it won’t disrupt the fabric of time. Gotcha, but then why does stepping on a butterfly even matter? Is a butterfly seriously going to survive the oncoming volcanic blast and wall of ash? If the butterfly is just moments away from it too being destroyed, then why does killing it seconds earlier affect all of evolution? And how come these changes in time are always disastrous? Can’t someone just as reasonably step on a butterfly and wipe out cancer?
Let’s talk about A Sound of Thunder‘s alternate evolutionary timeline. In this world, because of our infamous butterfly stomping, apes and dinosaurs have inexplicably become linked. They’ve evolved into some weird hybrid, with a baboon head and the body of a dinosaur. This seems entirely implausible to me that two very different creatures would just blend together. At least A Sound of Thunder could have gone all out and had other animal mash-ups, like a whale/hummingbird or a walrus/cheetah. A Sound of Thunder could be rivaled by The Wuzzles in evolutionary theory (please tell me I’m not the only one who remembers The Wuzzles). I would have been more interested if A Sound of Thunder presented the future dinosaurs as fully evolved after an additional 65 million years. Let’s see dinos with industry, tools, community, language, and maybe even popular culture. It sure would be more interesting and imaginative than big dumb monsters.
A Sound of Thunder isn’t a sci-fi puzzler; it’s really a monster movie in disguise. After the evolutionary wrench, the film descends into a banal series of chase scenes, with our characters being plucked one-by-one by different monsters. The characters still manage to spout sci-fi dribble while on the run. Of course the characters can’t stop themselves from doing stupid things. A guy warns our team to be quiet lest they awaken the hordes of sleeping baboon-dinos hanging overhead. So what do they do? They make sure to shine their flashlights repeatedly in the creatures? faces. A Sound of Thunder is more preoccupied with what can go bump in the night than sci-fi brainteasers.
A Sound of Thunder has some of the worst special effects I have ever seen. I’m talking about effects that would be shown up by some half-baked video game from the mid ’90s. It’s really hard to fully explain how profoundly bad the effects are. The green screen work is ugly and painful, with characters surrounded by halos and walking on invisible treadmills. The future’s boxy cars look like they were assembled by Lego. The look of the dinosaur is curiously retro, all sleek, entirely green or brown, and lacking definition. It looks like what people in the 1950s thought dinosaurs looked like. In the wake of Jurassic Park, a less realistic, more reptilian dinosaur is not the way to go. The film tries to save money by using the same dinosaur and repeating the scene with diminishing returns. Every special effect in A Sound of Thunder comes across as flimsy from the wildlife, to the skyscrapers, to the dinosaurs, to even a subway car and rising water. Every effect is so terribly obvious and obviously terrible.
The film’s acting is expectantly dull. Kingsley hams it up and has great fun as his money-grubbing business tycoon. He adds a zest to his lines. Burns plays every role so dead-panned that I doubt I will ever see an emotion from him that isn’t accompanied by a smirk. The rest of the actors couldn’t find their way with an industrial flashlight to shine in a monkey-dino’s eyes.
A Sound of Thunder is an inept sci-fi flick more concerned with hungry monsters than ideas. The special effects are abysmal, the acting is wooden, the plot holes are glaring, and the atmosphere is laughable. This giant schlockfest is so bad that it achieves a fun campy value, destined to become a drinking game for science fiction nerds. Only Ray Bradbury fans will be at the theater to see A Sound of Thunder, so in turn that means only Ray Bradbury fans will be disappointed with how terrible the film adaptation is. Everyone else will be at home scratching their heads; certain that a film called A Sound of Thunder never existed. Just like the studio wants.
Nate’s Grade: D-