A Sound of Thunder is about a team of scientists and safari hunters who travel back in time, accidentally change the course of evolution, and then spend the rest of the movie trying to prevent that accident from ever happening. They know that, if they are successful, their memories of everything that happens in this film will be erased completely. And by the end, you may wish that you could go back and prevent this movie from happening, too.
The film is based on a famous short story by Ray Bradbury, which was published in 1953 and has since been adapted or spoofed in several venues, including a Halloween episode of The Simpsons and an episode of the 1980s TV show The Ray Bradbury Theater. In one very tiny way, this film may actually be an improvement on its source material. In the original story, after someone explains that killing a single small animal many years ago could wipe out generations of animals of all species and prevent the growth of entire civilizations, it turns out that all the characters do is change the outcome of an election that took place the day before they went back in time. That, plus English words are spelled funny now.
The film, on the other hand, takes seriously the idea that tiny events can have major long-term consequences; and so, when our characters return to the year 2055, they begin to notice drastic changes in their climate, the vegetation, the wildlife and, ultimately, themselves. But the story still doesn't make any sense, of course. Each of these changes takes place as "timewaves" ripple around the Earth at fairly regular intervals, each one bringing a new set of changes to the world. Why doesn't all of history change instantly? Well, because if it did, there wouldn't be much of a movie any more, would there?
To judge by the credits, the script was originally written by Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer, who appear to be protégés of Breck Eisner, the son of Disney studio chief Michael; they collaborated on Breck's old-fashioned buddy-adventure-movie Sahara, and Breck is one of this film's many producers, too. After that, the screenplay was given another going over by Gregory Poirier, who, according to IMDb, started out as a writer of porn films before he wrote the witless family movie See Spot Run and the utterly tasteless hot-young-stud movie Tomcats, which he also directed. Whether any other writers were involved in this dull, plodding mess, I do not know. But I do know that it definitely bears the imprint of its director, Peter Hyams, whose films—which include The Musketeer, End of Days and Timecop—tend to be dull, pedestrian, and full of exposition.
At least some of Hyams' films have gotten by on interesting ideas, decent visual effects, and reasonably capable actors. John Lithgow's spacewalk over one of Jupiter's moons in 2010: The Year We Make Contact is one of those scenes I go back to every now and then on DVD, without necessarily watching the rest of the film. But A Sound of Thunder is lacking in nearly every department. The dinosaur safari scenes reek of cheap computer graphics, as do the futuristic scenes, in which overgrown toy cars zip by constantly on virtual streets. Sky Captain and Sin City could get away with this sort of thing because they were supposed to look stylized. But we are supposed to accept this world as real, and we don't.
The actors don't seem to be terribly invested in what they are doing, either. Edward Burns gives another one of his bland, sarcastic performances as Travis Ryer, who leads the safaris and takes charge when it comes time to put things right. Travis sort of has a conscience—he cares about the planet's wildlife, all of which is extinct before the story starts—but he also thinks nothing of taking the company's younger, female clients to bed when they show up, unannounced and naked, in his apartment. Braveheart's Catherine McCormack plays Sonia Rand, the scientist who developed the time machine and spends most of her time ranting about its misuse or rattling off the dialogue that tells us what will happen next. And then there is Ben Kingsley, who keeps himself amused (and very few others) as Charles Hatton, the airy, shallow businessman who owns the time machine, and who thinks nothing of compromising its safety protocols if it helps him to stay just that little bit richer.
The monsters fall somewhere in that place where the unimaginative meets the improbable. They include a species of reptiles with baboon faces; instead of looking like a completely different branch of the evolutionary family tree, it looks like someone took parts of two toy animals and stuck 'em together. What's more, despite their bulk and size, these animals sleep by hanging from the ceiling, like bats. Among other things, Travis and his companions are also pursued by swarming insects, giant sea serpents, and predatory vines.
The film gets cool points, and half a star, for a scene in which the characters stand around a table watching a detailed hologram of their earlier activity; that must have been a fun sequence to prepare, shoot, and put together. And, true to its name, the film certainly has lots of noise; from the pounding steps of the dinosaur to the mighty volcanic eruptions and the rushing ripples of time, this film is full of rumbling sounds that will make your innards tremble (at least in some theaters). But that's about all the film has going for it.
A Sound of Thunder feels like it was trying to be a summer movie—actually, it feels like it was trying to be a lot of summer movies—but it's coming out in September, instead. It was originally supposed to come out last year, but the studio held it back, before dumping it on theaters now. For this film, these may be the deadliest temporal anomalies of all.Discussion starters
- If you could go back in time, would you? How would you try to anticipate or deal with the possible consequences?
- How do you anticipate or deal with the possible consequences of your actions in this time? Does a film like this affect how you see the relationships between things in this world?
- Do you think stories like this allows for the freedom of the Creator, or for the freedom of human individuals? Or is it all just cause and effect? How do we cause things that affect other people and other creatures? How are we affected by them?
- If you found out that the past had been changed, would you try to change it back? Do you think the past has to be the way it was? What role is there for Providence? Consider how one of the ancestors of Jesus and King David was born as the result of a man mistaking his daughter-in-law for a prostitute; cf. Genesis 38, Matthew 1 If you went back in time and that man or woman asked for your advice, would you try to prevent them from committing that sin? Did that sin have to be committed?
- How important do you think it is that you were created with the body you have right now? What if humans had been created with some other kind of body?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
A Sound of Thunder is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence, partial nudity and language. The film assumes an acceptance of evolutionary theory, and most of the profanity involves taking God and/or Christ's name in vain. Travis comes home to find a naked woman sitting in his living room, but we don't see much beyond her bare shoulders.
Photos © Copyright Warner Brothers
Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 09/08/05
When Ray Bradbury wrote a clever time-travel adventure called A Sound of Thunder, he probably had no idea that Warner Brothers would eventually turn it into a movie so bad that critics would write about their desire to time-travel and prevent it from being made. Director Peter Hyams isn't winning any new fans with this misguided, preposterous picture. And it's a mystery how such talented actors as Ben Kingsley were drawn to the project. A Sound of Thunder has critics complaining about the sound of lunacy.
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "There is one thing Darwinists, intelligent design proponents and creationists can all agree on: In the survival-of-the-fittest world of the box office, this movie will quickly go the way of the dodo."
Tom Neven (Plugged In) writes that Bradbury "deserves much better than this movie. Dialogue is silly in places. Pacing is glacial. And viewers are left to ponder plot holes big enough to accommodate several Allosauri. Perhaps worst of all, the special effects are laughable—in a 1950s B movie sort of way—which is unforgivable in an age when moviegoers have been dazzled by the likes of the Jurassic Park series and George Lucas' Star Wars flicks."
Mainstream critics rate it as "a real contender for the worst movie of the year."