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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review

A Sound of Thunder (2005)

Directed by Peter Hyams
Cast: Edward Burns, Catherine McCormack, Ben Kingsley, Jemima Rooper, David Oyelowo, Wilfried Hochholdinger, August Zerner, Corey Johnson
2005 – 103 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, partial nudity and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 1, 2005.

Filmed in 2002 and plagued by unmet release dates for the last year and a half, "A Sound of Thunder" is finally seeing the light of day during the first weekend in September, a notorious dumping ground for distributors' bastard stepchildren. The politically correct reason (read: excuse) being attributed to the film's problems is that the production company went bankrupt in the middle of post-production and the producers had to search for further funding in order to complete it. This may have been the initial and only case—had it opened on its original target of April 2004. In order to explain the delays since then, one only needs to sit through the haphazard first ten minutes for the real truth to crystallize.

Based on a short story by Ray Bradbury, there is a potentially great film (or, at least, a potentially intriguing idea) buried somewhere in the carcass that is "A Sound of Thunder." Part "Jurassic Park," part "Godzilla," part "The Butterfly Effect" and part "Timeline," the futuristic tale is set in Chicago, circa 2055, where an amazing new technology has been invented allowing scientists to travel through a time portal into the prehistoric era. Their intentions are not to perform research, but rather to make money as a high-dollar tourist attraction known as Time Safari. During one particular trip, something unbeknownst to them occurs that sets into motion a disastrous ripple effect through time.

Once back to 2055, the Time Safari team, led by Travis Ryer (Edward Burns), begin noticing increasingly calamitous changes in their environment. It starts with the weather—unseasonably warm temperatures in November—and then deteriorates from there. Before long, the entire population is threatened for extinction when dinosaur/baboon hybrids and other unsavory creatures show up to retake the planet. With the help of the environmentally conscious Sonia Rand (Catherine McCormack) and fellow colleague Jenny Krase (Jemima Rooper), Travis must find a way to correct the change they made in the past in order to properly realign the evolution process and save their future.

Directed by Peter Hyams (2001's "The Musketeer"), "A Sound of Thunder" is a DOA dud of monstrous storytelling and nonexistent characterizations, a humiliating claptrap for all involved that looks as if it was made using the cheesiest of special effects available in 1971. The movie could also be described as a cinematic dog, but that would do a total disservice to the canine persuasion from which the description derives. The notion that the smallest change in the past could mangle the outcome of the future is provocative, if not exactly new (2004's "The Butterfly Effect" did an infinitely more interesting, ambitious job of portraying this same idea), but screenwriters Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer (2005's "Sahara"), and Gregory Poirier (2001's "Tomcats") don't have the foggiest idea of what to do with it, let alone set it up with any sort of coherence.

There is no satisfactory explanation for how the time portal works or what Ryer, lorded over by Charles Hatton (Ben Kingsley), hopes to achieve by going into the prehistoric era for five minutes at a time only to poke and shoot at a dinosaur. Furthermore, how they can record their journeys and replay each trip on a whim to satisfy the needs of the flimsy plot are also vaguely explored. There is little sense of a specific time and place and way of life aside from what is described, and when the ripple effect begins to have a negative effect on 2055, the city's residents conveniently disappear altogether so the heroes can race around the rubble without anyone getting in their way.

If certain audiences don't care about story cohesion and only want to see a lot of creature mayhem, they will feel just as shortchanged. There are plentiful glimpses and attacks by dinosaurs, to be sure, but they are carried out by some of the most unthinkably awful modern-day visual effects work in memory, giving the recent "The Cave" a run for its money in this department. Never once do the creatures look real; they come equipped with jerky, jumbling motions and low-rent CGI that would have been rejected by the makers of 1993's "Carnosaur," let alone 1993's big-budget dinosaur epic, "Jurassic Park." Simple establishing shots of the futuristic cityscape and scenes of characters walking around outside are just as ill-conceived, with green screen work that never meshes the backgrounds with the forefront action, and seems to have been filmed in a big living room with repetitious shots behind the actors of the same cars turning onto the same animated street over and over.

If director Peter Hyams deceptively appears to have never made a film before this one, then the cast members seem to be at just as big of a loss. Edward Burns (2002's "Life or Something Like It") and Catherine McCormack (2001's "Spy Game") are positively painful to watch as leads Travis and Sonia, not because they are bad but because they look perpetually confused as to how they ended up in something so insultingly banal. They never get a firm grasp on their characters, not that they have much of characters to play, and try to make up for it by doing a lot of running and jumping and (in the only sequence remotely resembling inspiration) swimming in a flooded subway while fending off an underwater monster. And then there's Ben Kingsley, who seems dead-set on undermining his fine work in 2003's "House of Sand and Fog" by appearing in this and 2004's "Thunderbirds." He does nothing but stand around and give bewildered expression.

The real question that ultimately befalls "A Sound of Thunder" is not why the film took so long to come out, but how it got released on the big screen at all when direct-to-DVD would have been seriously pushing the level of exposure it deserves. It goes without saying, but author Ray Bradbury would be rolling in his grave if he was dead. Fortunately, he is still with us, and must face head-on the mockery that is this adaptation. Inept on all imaginable levels and birdbrained, to boot, perhaps the most enraging thing of all is its contemptible squandering of time, money, talent and solid source material. The only sound of thunder destined to be heard will be audiences stampeding in droves out of the theater to escape sheer torture and misery.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman