Sound of Thunder, A (United States/Germany/Czech Republic, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

A Sound of Thunder takes a thought-provoking science fiction short story by Ray Bradbury and turns it into a noisy, messy Hollywood action/adventure extravaganza. This approach isn't unique or inherently bad (it worked, for example, with Blade Runner and I, Robot), but its success relies heavily upon execution and how the screenwriters choose to adapt the source material. The effectiveness of A Sound of Thunder is spotty. It begins and ends strongly, but the narrative gives way to video game plotting in the middle. This protracted segment serves no purpose beyond giving the characters something to do for 30 minutes so that the movie doesn't clock in at an unacceptably short 70 minutes.

The year is 2055 and the place is Chicago. Time travel has become the new frontier, and the pioneers are Time Safaris, led by silver-tongued entrepreneur Charles Hatton (Ben Kingsley). For the big game hunter with the big wallet, Hatton runs a trip back to prehistoric Illinois, in which the client gets to bring down an Allosaurus. The time-tripping team includes paleontologist Travis Ryer (Edward Burns), who relishes the opportunity of studying dinosaurs first-hand. But the original time machine designer, Dr. Sonia Rand (Catherine McCormack), believes that Time Safaris should be shut down, because the potential for accidentally altering evolution is too great. Indeed, despite the safety checks put in place, something goes wrong on a time excursion, and Armageddon strikes. Then it's up to Travis, Sonia, and their companions to fix the past to avoid losing the future to a series of "time ripples" that are re-shaping the present.

The premise and underlying ideas are fascinating, but one would expect no less from a movie that uses Ray Bradbury as its jumping-off point. Where the film goes wrong is in forcing the characters to travel from point A to point B to point C picking up "quest items" along the way. So there are scenes of them running around a devastated futuristic Chicago being chased by baboon/dinosaur crosses and giant mutated bats. There's not a lot of suspense to be found in this portion of the film. Interactivity is needed to generate excitement from by-the-book chases. I'm sure the video game will be fun.

Speaking of video games, that's what the computer generated graphics reminded me of. Too much of this film was designed using a keyboard and a mouse. That's only a bad thing when it's obvious, which is the case here. We are overexposed, and a lot of things appear "unreal." The Allosaurus, for example, looks more like something from a B-movie than Jurassic Park. It's like that with many of the effects in A Sound of Thunder - and this movie is effects-rich. Some are effective, like the aerial shots of 2055 Chicago, but all it takes is a few bad CGI moments to ruin things, and A Sound of Thunder has more than a few.

There's more to suspension of disbelief than accepting special effects. The question of casting can come into play, as it does here. Edward Burns is a limited actor whose range does not extend to playing a paleontologist or filling the action hero role. Granted, this isn't as bad a choice as, say, having Mrs. Charlie Sheen play a nuclear physicist, but it's close. Catherine McCormack is accomplished enough that we can accept her as a scientist, and Ben Kingsley can credibly portray any character, including a slimy, fast-talking businessman, but accepting Burns as Travis is a stumbling block.

Like The Island, A Sound of Thunder takes an interesting science fiction concept and relegates it to the secondary role of servicing a limp action/adventure movie. Director Peter Hyams is no stranger to the genre - he has done some workmanlike efforts (2010, Outland) and some duds (Timecop, The Relic), and this is somewhere in between. Hyams never succeeds in imbuing A Sound of Thunder with the juice necessary to keep an audience involved. Despite a lot of running around, there's not much in the way of energy. The ending seems predestined, and the overlong, tepid journey getting to that point isn't worth the price of admission.

Sound of Thunder, A (United States/Germany/Czech Republic, 2005)

Run Time: 1:43
U.S. Release Date: 2005-09-02
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1