Friday, June 15, 2012

From a Ray Bradbury Story: A Sound of Thunder

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 95 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux


A Sound of Thunder (2005)
Running time: 102 minutes (1 hour, 42 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for sci-fi violence, partial nudity, and language
CINEMATOGRAPHER/DIRECTOR: Peter Hyams
WRITERS: Thomas Dean Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer and Gregory Poirier; screen story by Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer (based upon the short story by Ray Bradbury)
PRODUCERS: Moshe Diamant and Karen Baldwin
EDITORS: Sylvia Landra
COMPOSER: Nick Glennie-Smith

SCI-FI/FANTASY/ACTION/THRILLER with elements of horror

Starring: Edward Burns, Catherine McCormack, Ben Kingsley, Jemima Rooper, David Oyelowo, William Armstrong, and Corey Johnson

The subject of this movie review is A Sound of Thunder, a 2005 science fiction and time travel movie from director Peter Hyams. The film is based upon a Ray Bradbury short story of the same title that was first published in 1952 (in Collier’s magazine). The film follows the efforts of a scientist who tries to save his world after a group of “time tourists” accidentally change the present by interfering with the past.

In the year 2055, a company based in downtown, Chicago, Time Safari, Inc., is an elite time travel agency. The corporation’s owner, Charles Hatton (Ben Kingsley), has cornered the lucrative time-travel market with something called a “prehistoric hunting package.” For a very high price, rich adventurers can travel back to the Prehistoric age and hunt a real life dinosaur. The trip has only three essential rules: (1) Don’t change anything in the past; (2) Don’t leave anything behind; and most of all (3) Don’t bring anything back – because the slightest alteration of anything that existed in the past could alter the existing course of evolution in unimaginable ways. But someone breaks the rules…

Before long, a series of time waves is rippling across the world. The change is slow at first – just the climate and weather. Within 24 hours, the major changes begin. Plant life grows to monstrous proportions, busting through concrete and pavement, overturning cars, engulfing entire building inside and out, and covering the city. Soon voracious insects are running amok in the city, and then come the hostile new creatures – primates in reptilian form that can move with blazing speed and that feed on humans.

The two people who have an idea of what is happening are Dr. Travis Ryer (Edward Burns), a scientist who leads the Time Safari expeditions so that he can further his genetic research, and Dr. Sonia Rand (Catherine McCormack), the brilliant physicist who developed much of the technology that Time Safari, Inc. uses to make its expeditions into the past possible. Now, Ryer needs Rand’s help if he is going to figure out exactly what went wrong on one of his expeditions that is causing the time waves. With the world collapsing into pandemonium around them, as deadly plants and monstrous new animal life forms attack humans, Ryer and Rand have to figure out a way to go back into the past and correct the error that will save themselves and the human race from extinction.

Once A Sound of Thunder missed its release date of March 2005, it was clear to fans that the distributor, Warner Bros. Pictures, probably thought the film was a bust. Without much advertising and little fanfare, the film finally appeared in early September of 2005, and failed at the box office (grossing less than $2 million domestically). The film was beset by production delays (the great floods of Prague in 2002 damaged the set), causing the film to miss its original release date of 2003. The original director, Renny Harlin, left in 2004 to helm another film (Mindhunters), and the production company went bankrupt, and there was no money to finish the film.

Still, what finally emerges is a rather entertaining, above average, B-movie; in fact, this is a glorified B-movie, a big budget version of the sci-fi monster movies that show up on the Sci-Fi Channel on Saturday nights. Some of the special effects are poor, especially some of the street scenes, which look phony and cheap; the viewer can practically see the “seems” between where the actors and real environment end and the CGI begins. The dinosaur that is the object of Time Safari’s hunts is so poorly animated, especially when compared to the kind of CGI dinos we get in mega productions like Jurassic Park. Part of that is because when the production company went bankrupt, the filmmakers hadn’t begun such post-production work computer animation. When money was finally received to finish A Sound of Thunder, the effects had to be cheaply done.

The script also takes great liberties with its source material, a classic Ray Bradbury science fiction short story, in order to become a full-length film. In the original story, the death of an insect changed an election’s outcome. Here, so much padding had to be added to turn a short story into a feature length film.

Otherwise, I liked the execution of the film’s plot, and its visual choices in terms of set design and art direction. The film’s monsters are also enjoyable even though they look more fake and plastic than the old-time movie monsters that were handmade. And A Sound of Thunder really is a monster movie, except it is set in the milieu of science fiction rather than of horror. In many ways, A Sound of Thunder is the kind of action oriented, sci-fi/horror thriller that director Peter Hyams delivers every blue moon – The Relic being a good example of one of his enjoyable B-movie, sci-fi/horror, action flicks. In Hyams’ films, the genre, be it sci-fi or horror, is just a setting for an action movie starring a solid, macho, can-do male hero. As simple entertainment, they work if you don’t think too much about the flaws and holes.

This flick likes the audience rather than take them for stupid, and it wants to give you a good time. The ending is too abrupt, unsatisfying, and doesn’t really resolve the story. However, A Sound of Thunder is fun, meant to be enjoyable even when the mistakes are right in front of your eyes.

5 of 10
B-

Sunday, May 7, 2006

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