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A Sound of Thunder
Reviewed by Gary Mitchel, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Peter Hyams
Genre:   Science Fiction
Released:   Sep. 2, 2005
Review Date:   September 06, 2005
Audience Rating:   Rated PG-13
RevSF Rating:   3/10 (What Is This?)

“Need I remind you that you signed a contract and you have to do this?” — Charles Hatton

I am really coming to dread the end of summer. I am tempted to swear off heading to the theatre from August to October, but there are a few gems that manage to squeak out this time of year; and besides, some movies stink no matter when they are released. Also, if I go see a stinker and can warn others, then at least my suffering will have served a worthy purpose. Think of me as your canary in the movie coal mine. If my review can prevent one person from seeing A Sound of Thunder, then my money was not spent in vain.

This flick is loosely based on the short story of the same name by Ray Bradbury — much the same way a toddler’s finger-painting is based on Matisse. I can understand some changes and expansions have to be made to stretch a short story to about ninety minutes, and many of his works have been turned into excellent TV shows and movies. Sadly, this one misses the mark by miles.

The film stars Edward Burns (Saving Private Ryan) as Doctor Travis Ryder. Ryder is a biologist/adventurer who leads expeditions back in time to kill dinosaurs for Time Safari, a company run by Charles Hatton, played by Ben “Species” Kingsley — as opposed to Ben “Gandhi” Kingsley. I really think his quote at the start of this article explains his presence here. Or he lost a bet, one of the two. However, his performance is one of the few high points in the movie.

The rest of the main cast is his support team, consisting of kid-sister like videographer Jenny Grace (Jemima Rooper), Dr. Lucas (Wilfried Hochholdinger) and Tech Officer Payne (David Oyelowo). They all do a pretty decent job with the material they’re given, but it’s obvious that Kingsley is having the most fun as he gnaws on any scenery that’s not nailed down.

Anyway, Time Safari offers very wealthy people a chance to go back in time and shoot dinosaurs. Now, they are aware that if they change the past, they could cause a huge disruption to the time stream and wipe out the world as we know it. The movie explains this with a few laws about time travel, like don’t take anything back and don’t bring anything forward. They only shoot a dinosaur that’s just about to die by wandering into a tar pit just before a volcano erupts. They also have a cool-looking floating path that they are to walk on, to keep them from even disturbing the ground. But there wouldn’t be much of a movie if nothing went wrong.

Dr. Ryan isn’t too pleased to be leading people back in time to kill dinosaurs, but it gives him the opportunity to do vital virtual research, scanning the dinosaur to get a full DNA map so that he can undo some sort of nasty virus that has not only wiped out almost all animal life on earth, but mutated their DNA so they can’t be cloned. Well, almost all animal life, as people are still around. We must all be vegetarians in this future.

The first problem that crops up for the company is the party-crashing by a Dr. Sonia Rand (Catherine “Shadow of the Vampire” McCormack), who assaults a group of just-finished hunters like some sort of animal rights activist, spraying people with blood. Except it must be paint, since all the animals are gone. Dr. Ryder escorts her out and comes to discover that she actually built the time travel device and due to a loophole in her contract was completely shoved out of the company when she objected to Hatton’s plans for it. She warns that something could go “horribly wrong,” while he reassures her that it’s perfectly safe.

Of course, the something going “horribly wrong” during the very next hunt. Due to a weapon malfunction, the team almost dies at the teeth of the dinosaur, and one of the expedition steps off the path. This sets up a ripple in time, and as each wave comes forward, the world changes. It starts with the simplest organisms, plants and insects, and will eventually end with the most evolved, mankind, if the damage isn’t undone. This is the kind of science fiction where they ought to put the "science" in quotes.

The ripple effect gives us a chance to have a nifty CG wave effect, and to have the city of Chicago overrun by wild plants and strange refugees from Jurassic Park. Our team has to outrun these savage beasts, figure out what went wrong, and then with the help of Dr. Ryan go back in time to prevent it from happening.

Plot wise, there’s a lot wrong with this movie. Monsters attack out of nowhere, like a swarm of strange insects that suddenly appear, then vanish, or poisonous mobile vines that grab only one character but no one else nearby. It has setups that never pay off, and payoffs that were never set up. The only character with a clear and consistent motivation is Hatton, and he’s just greedy.

Then there’s the biggest plot hole, which I will spoil because you already know it if you’ve read the story or watched the previews. All the changes are because one guy stepped off the path and flattened a butterfly. That, I can deal with. But this butterfly was killed by the character just before a volcanic eruption levels the entire area! The characters even have to flee this same eruption in one of the “tense” scenes of the movie. So this butterfly was going to die anyway. There’s nothing like having a huge logic bomb in your movie, just so you can have another action scene.

The movie is pretty bad effects-wise as well. There are a few decent effects scattered about here and there, but overall it looks worse than the average direct-to-Sci-Fi Channel movie. It has glaring green screen and CGI effects and obvious sets. I’ve seen fan films on the internet with better effects than this thing.

The only decent things in the movie are Kingsley’s performance and the setup at the very beginning. After that it devolves into a badly lit, badly written, badly directed movie that looks like a video game. Please, do not see this movie. Just hunt down a Bradbury compilation with the original story instead. That's ninety minutes much better spent.

RevolutionSF contributor Gary Mitchel just went back in time to make himself not see this movie. But his review is still here!

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