A SOUND OF THUNDER isn’t just a bad movie, it is one that is so hopelessly ridiculous, so relentlessly inept, that it sullies the art of filmmaking as a whole. It may have even knocked the concept of art itself down a few notches. That is also mangles a classic Ray Bradbury short story only serves to make the experience even more irksome.
It’s 2055 and the secret of time travel has been unlocked. We learn all the whys, the wherefores, and the why-we-shouldn’t-haves during the first ten minutes in a series of pedantic expositional conversations that don’t even try to pretend that they’re anything but. There’s the money-grubbing entrepreneur (Sir Ben Kingsley) who sells dinosaur hunts in the Upper Cretaceous to the ultra-wealthy, there’s the biologist (Edward Burns who has the good grace to look embarrassed by it all), the team leader for the five minute expeditions who’s only there in order to gather DNA snapshots in order to repopulate the world’s wildlife that has been wiped out, there’s the angry scientist (Catherine McCormack), who invented the machine and has since seen the error of her ways, and there’s the plucky girl (Jemima Rooper) who is also on the expedition team because every team needs a pluck girl along. There’s also a government agency formed just to watch over the operation and, of course, The Rules. Don’t bring anything back, don’t leave anything there, and whatever you do, don’t change anything.
A feeble attempt is made to explain away how a dinosaur can be killed without violating the rules, but it’s a stretch at best, with the dinosaur slated for an ugly end at the same time its shot with frozen nitrogen bullets. Still, it’s the only stab the writers make at something resembling an internal logic. The rest is just so much incoherence strung together with special effects and a whole mess of hoo-ha once something goes wrong, because it’s a rule of pedantic filmmaking that once the rules are explained, one or more of them must be violated and violated before the audience has a chance to forget what the rules are.
If you’re familiar with the story, you know what it is. If you aren’t, it really doesn’t matter because the twist, as it seems to have been intended, is telegraphed in those first 10 minutes and done so with the same delicacy as the dinosaur lumbers towards the time travelers. What does matter is that once rule is broken and the future is changed, everyone seems to notice, not just the time travelers, which might, possibly, have worked. Alas, that would have been a different film. In the flick with which we are stuck, the change is not only noticed by everyone in the present, it comes in waves that look like tsunamis, with each succeeding wave changing things even more according to where things stand on the evolutionary hierarchy. An assumption that humankind was the last to evolve and, hence, the last slated to be changed, shows the sort of hubris, not to mention ignorance, at work here.
The landscape of Chicago sprouts aggressively thorny vines with odd appetites and hybrid critters ruling the land, sky, and subway while hunting down hapless humans as the intrepid time travel team scampers about trying to fix things. Never mind how. Their judgment calls that come thick, fast, and stupid, are enough to make you root for the new kids on the block who are taking evolution in a direction that can only be an improvement. Actually, it’s when Kingsley, in white pompadour wig and silvery goatee, reveals his character at the outset to be a campy Oomp-loompa that it becomes obvious that evolution as we know it has gone horribly, horribly wrong.
There was a time when studios seeing that they had a mess on their hands would do the humane thing for all concerned and release it quietly and direct-to-video. It spared them the humiliation of trying to promote a turkey and spared the rest of us the spectacle of watching them try. A SOUND OF THUNDER is the best argument I can think of for restarting that practice.