A Sound of Thunder

© 2005 Ray Wong

Stars: Edward Burns, Ben Kingsley, Catherine McCormack, Jemima Rooper, Wilfried Hochholdinger, August Zirner, Corey Johnson
Director: Peter Hyams
Writers: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, Gregory Poirier (based on a Ray Bradbury’s short)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, partial nudity and language
Running Time: 103 minutes

Script – 4
Performance – 6
Direction – 5
Cinematography – 5
Music/Sound– 6
Editing – 7
Production – 6

Total – 5.6 out of 10

OK, let’s get it out of the way: A SOUND OF THUNDER is a “bad” movie. What you might have heard about this film is probably all true. But, in my opinion, it’s also the kind of bad movie that is often misunderstood. Like GODZILLA or the SWAMP THING, a Ray Bradbury’s story about time travel shouldn’t be mistaken for high art.

The year is 2055. Charles Hatton (Kingsley) is an entrepreneur who, through the advance time-traveling technologies he acquired, is building his money-making empire by offering clients prehistoric safari hunting trips. Dr. Travis Ryer (Burns) is his top scientist and safari tour guide (HR budget must be tight). During the “highly-controlled” excursions, clients are instructed to never step off the path and change anything in their surroundings. Their nitrogen-guns can only be fired after Ryer’s first shot. The animal (in this case, a T. rex-like dinosaur) must be destroyed at the last seconds of its life, so its death won’t inadvertently change history. They must observe the three rules: 1) never change anything; 2) never leave anything behind; and 3) never take anything back.

Of course, accident happens, and on one of their trips, a client does inadvertently change something in the past. Something has altered the chain of evolution. Soon, ripples of “time waves” hit the earth and new species of plants and animals begin to appear and terrorize the world. Ryer and his team, with the help of Dr. Sonia Rand (McCormack), must find a way to find out what happened, go back in time and set things right before mankind is changed forever.

As the hero-scientist, Burns (ASH WEDNESDAY) is the unlikely choice for the role. It’s not just that he’s a pretty boy -- one could easily imagine someone like Matthew McConaughey as Travis Ryer. Burns, better known for his urban comedy-dramas, is wooden and unconvincing as the brainy-yet-macho hero. Burns’s performance is even more expressionless than Keanu Reeve’s. Kingsley (SUSPECT ZERO), on the other hand, manages to get the most out of his 2-dimensional role as the greedy, soulless boss. I have to wonder, though, besides money, what drives someone like Kingsley to play such a character in such a production?

The rest of the cast, mostly comprised of TV actors, is actually not bad. McCormack (SPY GAME) is at least interesting as the smart physicist-heroine. She’s the brain behind Ryer’s brawn. And she’s pleasant to look at. Rooper (SNAP SHOT) plays Jenny with a nice dash of sweetness. German actor Hochholdinger (SPEER UN ER), Zirner (SPEER UN ER) and Johnson (HELLBOY) are adequate in their minor supportive roles.

Now the bad parts. For a film with a reported $80 million budget, the special effects are surprisingly cheesy. One speculation is that the advance screenings went so badly that the studio simply dropped the ball and cut their losses. I mean, the creatures look like bad Ray Harryhausen imitations, and what’s with the bad green screen rear-projection/treadmill shots on the streets of a futuristic Chicago? The cityscape looks like bad matte paintings done in the 60s. The Jurassic safari looks like a huge soundstage left over from ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.. How can a big budget movie with stars like Ben Kingsley and a pro like Peter Hyams be so consistently bad?

So, I have a theory. It was deliberate. Director Hyams (THE MUSKETEERS) must be trying to re-create the cheesy look and feel of yesterday’s B-movies. From the shoot-from-the-hip writing (by SAHARA scribes Donnelly and Oppenheimer) to the clichéd story and dialogue to the cheesy FXs. To be fair, I think they’re actually very endearing. By now, we’ve heard the “butterfly effect” enough that Bradury’s original tale sounds trite and silly. But we have to agree: it was, and still is, an intriguing idea -- how something as small as a butterfly can change the future. Granted, there are enough plot holes and logic flaws to baffle the mind, but I sort of expected that. I have yet to find a time-traveling story that doesn’t require a high dose of suspension of disbelief. The truth is, I was thoroughly entertained. It’s predictable but fun. Still, one thing leaves me baffled: What the heck does the title, A SOUND OF THUNDER, mean?

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