Images of Destruction

September 03, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

Like many of those reading this column, I have been glued to the television this week watching coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The images are stunning, like something out of a Hollywood blockbuster. This is reality but, in a way, it's difficult to grasp as reality, especially for those far away from Katrina's path. Similar comments were made after 9/11/2001, when people distant from New York had trouble connecting with the tragedy of the day because it seemed surreal.

But this column isn't really about Katrina; it's about Warner Brother's unintentionally bad timing. There are scenes of mass destruction in A Sound of Thunder that look eerily like some of the aerial photographs we have seen of the Gulf Coast disaster areas. When a city has been smashed, it doesn't matter if it's Chicago in 2055 or New Orleans in 2005. It's not a good connection to make.

Should Warner Brothers pull the movie? I don't know. But how many people are going to be in the mood for a science fiction disaster movie in the wake of such real-life devastation? After 9/11, the Arnold Schwarzenegger thriller Collateral Damage was pushed back by four months because of concerns that it came too close to reality.

I had my own uncomfortable post-9/11 experience. On September 14, while I was still at the Toronto Film Festival, I saw a screening of the movie Serendipity. The original cut, which was shown at the festival, showed the New York skyline, including the World Trade Center (the shot was subsequently removed for the theatrical and home video releases). That was not the way to start a lightweight romantic comedy. The movie didn't have anything to do with terrorism or the attacks, but that single shot - as innocent as it had originally been - impacted the viewer's mindset.

A Sound of Thunder has nothing to do with flooding or hurricanes, but helicopter shots of a ruined city will trigger a connection for anyone who has been watching the TV news coverage. This isn't Warner Brothers' fault, but it will make some viewers uncomfortable. (The film is probably too close to its distribution date for WB to pull the plug now. The prints have been shipped and the publicity machine is in full gear.)

There are times when we can view fictional disasters comfortably. This is not one of those times.