Sound of Thunder, AReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/02/05 00:34:54
The new time-travel extravaganza “A Sound of Thunder” is based on a famous short story by the legendary author Ray Bradbury in which a group of dopes go back in time, screw up the time-space continuum and then have to restore things before the destruction of all mankind. I suspect that if he had the ability, Bradbury himself might this very moment be frantically attempting to build his own time machine so that he could go back and prevent himself from writing the story in the first place and therefor preventing the destruction of his work in the service of one of the stupidest and shoddiest films to achieve commercial release in recent memory. Yes, I am aware that I may have said similar things about many of the other big-budget bombs over the last few months but this sucker really takes the cake.For those unfamiliar with the story, it was Bradbury’s interpretation of Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty–that thing that suggests that the flap of a butterfly’s wing on one end of the globe can somehow lead to tidal waves or Ashton Kutcher movies on the other and that states that any interference can lead to unpredictable and possibly catastrophic rips in the fabric of time. (For those not attuned to advanced physics, both the principle and the story served as the basis for an exceptionally amusing “Simpsons” Halloween episode involving a time-traveling toaster.) In the year 2055 (as the opening title card states, possibly in homage to the lyrical stylings of Zager & Evans), the secret of time travel is discovered and a time machine is built that will actually take people into the past and back. Of course, this miraculous invention has fallen into the hands of craven zillionaire Charles Hatton (Ben “Thunderbirds” Kinsgley) and he uses it as the basis for a luxury leisure-trip business in which the wealthy and idiotic can pay exorbitant fees to go back 65 million years and hunt down an dinosaur. There are some important rules: you can’t step off the prescribed path, you can’t leave anything behind and, most importantly, you cannot bring anything back with you.
Perhaps as the inevitable result of having the hunting parties led by the likes of Ed Burns, once again bludgeoning viewers with his grating “regular guy” vibe, at least one of those rules is broken during an expedition and the results are immediately noticeable: Chicago hits 80 degrees in November, weird vegetation begins to spring up overnight and Ben “Without a Clue” Kingsley begins to sprout a head of decidedly unnatural hair. (Okay, actually this is seen before the time-travel begins but something has to account for it.) It turns out that Ed and his group of morons have changed the fabric of time and thrown evolution wildly off-course with “time-jumps” occurring every 24 hours that bring new evolutionary horrors to the world–killer brambles, weird monkey-dinosaur hybrids and a variety of other creatures that look like nothing more than especially cheap and shoddy screen-savers. It is up to Ed and the comely scientist who designed the time-travel program (Catherine McCormack) to battle these creatures (with a straight face) and get back in time to correct the original mistake before mankind evolves itself right off the face of the Earth.
None of this is even the least bit interesting–there is nothing to the story that hasn’t been dealt with in infinitely better time-travel films such as “Time After Time,” “Back to the Future II” and “Donnie Darko”–but even if it had been, it is doubtful that anyone would have noticed because the look of the film is stunningly inept and cheap-looking. It isn’t just the fact that the creatures look shabby in comparison to the likes of the still-impressive creatures of “Jurassic Park”–although they are so badly done that they resemble rejects from a made-for-Sci-Fi Channel epic. Even such seemingly routine things as the blue-screen process shots are deployed with a level of incompetence not seen since the old Roger Corman films of the 1950's. With those, Corman at least had the excuse that he was making those films in the space of a couple of weeks on budgets too small to be considered microscopic. Obviously director Peter Hyams had a lot more money and time at his disposal (especially since this film has been sitting on a shelf since at least 2003) and yet there are moments here, especially a bit with Burns and McCormack arguing in the street as incredibly unconvincing cars whizz past), that would have been laughed off the screen in 1955, let alone today. This is especially inexplicable when you consider that Hyams, the Ron Burgundy of the Directors Guild–he used to a news anchor in Chicago before he went Hollywood–has always served as the cinematographer of his own films and they would usually at least look good, no matter their other faultsPerhaps they blew their effects budget by somehow convincing Ben “Bloodrayne” Kingsley to appear in the film and then by upping his pay to convince him to stay once he saw the first day’s footage. In the annals of spectacularly bad post-Oscar performances, the deranged chewing of the scenery on display here rivals Cuba Gooding Jr’s entire career all by itself. He screams, he howls and rants like some kind of wild and untamed creature and this all occurs before the evolutionary changes begin to kick in. And yet, although some of the other people get to mutate into strange monsters, we are inexplicably denied the sight of Kingsley going through such a transformation–the only possibly explanation is that, having already made himself look and act like an evolutionary cul-de-sac all by himself (starting with that hair, which looks as if he stapled Brigitte Nielsen’s “Beverly Hills Cop II”-era scalp atop his own), any additional changes would come off as lateral moves at best.
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