A Sound of Thunder (Widescreen Edition)
by Peter Hyams (Dir.)
Review by Rogan Marshall
Warner Home Video DVD ISBN/ITEM#: B000CZ0PNK
Date: 28 March, 2006 List Price $27.98 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Cast: Armin Rohde as John Wallenbeck * Heike Makatsch as Alicia Wallenbeck * Jemima Rooper as Jenny Krase * David Oyelowo as Payne * Wilfried Hochholdinger as Dr. Lucas * Edward Burns as Travis Ryer * August Zirner as Clay Derris * Ben Kingsley as Charles Hatton * Catherine McCormack as Sonia Rand * Alvin Van Der Kuech as Young Technician * Andrew Blanchard as George, the Doorman * William Armstrong as Ted Eckles * Corey Johnson as Christian Middleton * Nikita Lespinasse as Newswoman on TV * Scott Bellefeville as Onlooker
Adapting this particular Ray Bradbury time travel story (yoo no tha wun eye meen) at feature length is ill advised to begin with. As is usually the case with fantasy short stories written around a punchline ending (John Collier and Rod Serling being other able practitioners of the type), the logic sort of unravels, when you continue the lines of the story, past their original limits. To begin with, even my paltry smattering of science indicates that the death of any single butterfly, contemporary with any dinosaur, would find it difficult to directly affect any human genetic heritage. (Of course, Bradbury used a butterfly so he could produce a delayed chuckle in any reader familiar with the butterfly effect upon reconsideration of the title after reading the story.)
I know, some of you haven't read the story. I'll explain how this movie goes, and you can all see what I mean, about serious logic problems: in the year 2055, time travel is developed by one Charles Hatton, a mannerism-bedecked Ben Kingsley (who, God bless him, obviously loves silly SF movies). Hatton exclusively devotes this technology to mounting dinosaur safaris for rich hunters. (There's no point in getting into it, but boy, does this movie make a mess of explaining that one!) A particle accelerator opens a time portal; the safari party walk through and go back in time; while carefully keeping to a digital "path," they kill a big carnivore right before it was about to fall into a tar pit anyway. They stay on the path the whole time, and wear special suits and use special dissolving bullets, because the slightest change to the past environment could have incalculable consequences in the future.
After a time safari during which a customer, unobserved, steps on a prehistoric butterfly, our heroes end up back in a future wherein successive distorting time waves wash through all of reality and instantaneously install fully developed alternate ecologies, overlaid atop what's already there – the urban futurescape is suddenly overgrown with jungle, and crawling with various monsters, including packs of lizard baboons, or maybe they’re baboon lizards, and giant man-eating bats. The time travelers have to set things right, by returning to the past and rescuing the butterfly, before the last time wave occurs and wipes out humanity.
This nonsense, which is full of holes even when boiled down to two short paragraphs, took three writers to concoct, all of whom have that age-old Hollywood screenwriter's issue, of not only being utterly unfamiliar with the kind of science fiction they're writing here, but completely contemptuous of it, as well. On top of that, the dialogue is awful; like the worst bits of a weak Emmerich or Shyamalan picture, it doesn't even seem like honest bad dialogue, but only a cloddish imitation of bad dialogue. The production also looks cheap, oddly enough, because it obviously isn't. Perhaps the budget was stripped at the eleventh hour; perhaps the producers bit off more than they could chew in a calculated manner, and failed to pull it off – in any case, though the movie is chock full of effects and setpieces, almost everything looks kind of shabby.
Worst of all, Hyams himself, who usually rises above flawed writing as a matter of course (if not personal form), seems to have given up on this one, upon walking in the door. Even the cinematography rarely displays his trademark style; like Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes, this movie is almost entirely missing its auteur's familiar touch – there's just enough of a trace of it, to keep reminding you to miss it.
Even Bradbury completists should keep one eye closed, while watching A Sound of Thunder, if not both. But out of respect, I'll end on a forced positive note, and recommend Outland on DVD again; I'll also recommend my personal favorite Bradbury adaptation, Disney's flawed but charming Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is still lots of fun, especially if you have kids in the 8-11 range who like creepy movies, to watch it with. That's available in a beautifully transferred special edition DVD from Anchor Bay. And here's a classic outside the genre that you might not know about: Ray Bradbury wrote the screenplay for John Huston's 1956 Moby Dick, which is still pretty neat – Gregory Peck plays Ahab, but Orson Welles steals the show in his one scene as the nautical preacher.