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A Sound Of Thunder (2005)
Director: Peter Hyams
review by Christopher Geary
2055 AD. Time-travel back 65 million years for the ultimate safari. Rules: stay on the path, never bring anything home, don't mess with evolution's timeline.
Making a short story into a feature film is not easy. Ray Bradbury's classic SF tale, A Sound Of Thunder (1952), posits an extraordinary hunting expedition, offering time travellers the unique opportunity to kill a dinosaur. Well, the Time Safari techies have already found suitable prehistoric prey, and they know for certain the hunter's target is doomed, anyway; so there'll be no re-writing of history to worry about. It's perfectly safe...
Considering his previous genre works (conspiracy adventure Capricorn One, space western Outland, underrated 'Space Odyssey' sequel 2010, monster movie The Relic, and - especially relevant here - Timecop), it's no surprise perhaps that Peter Hyams signed up for this mix of sci-fi mystery and apocalyptic thriller. Sir Ben Kingsley is drafted in to supply the $52 million production with requisite Hollywood star appeal as Time Safari CEO, Charles Hatton, a slick but utterly charmless salesman with no perceptible redeeming features, whose fiery inspirational speeches mark him out as more of a caricature than a dramatic character. Hatton's science guy is one Travis Ryer (Edward Burns, star of 15 Minutes and Confidence but hardly 'leading man' material), the obvious hero figure of this nearly disastrously-cast disaster flick, who sadly lacks any noticeable leadership qualities, and so barely holds his own against British actor David Oyelowo (Danny from Spooks) who plays mission techie Payne, or safari video maker Jenny (Jemima Rooper, from TV series Hex).
Time waves bring sweeping changes to mid-21st century Chicago, remaking the city environs into a perilous new world of carnivorous bugs, predatory reptilian baboons, giant vampire bats, and a man-eating eel in the flooded subway. There's also beached fish, toxic thorns, concrete-shattering super-trees, and miles of weird creeper vines that ensnare even the tallest buildings. With a flash heatwave in November, it literally becomes a jungle out there as - due to one seemingly insignificant mistake - the course of recorded evolution is derailed.
"There's a first time for everything."
The failings and guilty secret of reluctant protagonist Travis are revealed during some early scenes with Dr Sonia Rand (Catherine McCormack, Spy Game, The Weight Of Water), the actual inventor of the time machine. McCormack gets a melodramatic entrance (ambushing Hatton's stinking-rich clients' celebratory toast, and showering them with red wine - or blood?) and, from then onwards, she's the one who handles (or gets lumbered with) most of the expository speeches, and does so with assuredly poker-faced aplomb. However, she isn't really allowed to do very much except save the foolish hero from drowning, just so that he can then hog all the glory, later on... by saving the world. Well, okay, that's a Hollywood tradition, but it's also a very blatant cliché that doesn't work nowadays, unless it's being parodied (not the case here), and director Hyams certainly knows better even if his team of three screenwriters (all relative newcomers to craftsmanship?) don't.
But the film's problems are not limited to a lack of imagination. One remarkable gaffe sees a spherical data-storage medium referred to as a 'disc'. The big sets, and even the old-fashioned large-scale miniatures, are plausibly realistic but, when the near-future urban exterior scenes are bumper-to-bumper with obviously CGI traffic, and many of the creature effects are rather less convincing than those dinosaurs from Spielberg's decade-plus old Jurassic Park, pessimistic viewers can only sigh, scornfully, and then unenthusiastically go along with these crummy digital visuals, hoping that the rest of the film is, at least, good cheesy fun.
There are the usual pithy moments of character building, like when the stuck-up one-time medic reveals that he knows how to hotwire a car. Cool! The costume designs include some retro postwar fashions (perhaps in a nod to Blade Runner?). Our hero scientists get the essential Hollywood lock 'n' load prep time, while readying themselves for their excursion, into a windy city now overtaken by rampant tropical vegetation and teeming with peculiar nocturnal wildlife, intending to fix the climatic flipside of Day After Tomorrow on fast-forward problems with a last desperate causality-defying jaunt backward to issue a warning for their other-selves who started it all.
As a time-travel drama, A Sound Of Thunder lacks anything resembling a genuinely mind-boggling paradox, but viewed as a generally straightforward and amusing 'ride' movie, yes, it delivers on the promise of being fun.
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