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2055, Charles Hatton has made a fortune by founding 'Time safari', which offers rich 'big game hunters' short time travels to kill off dinosaurs just before their natural death. When Travis notices the weather and wildlife are not behaving as usual, he consults Dr. Rand, the contractually invisible inventor of the supercomputer which controls the time travel. They soon face 'time waves', each worsening the effects in 2055 of evolutionary distortions, lower lifeforms first. They attempt to identify and rectify the past alteration, but each attempt gets harder in their distorted present. Written by
The possibilities of time travel make for complex science fiction. As one of Sci-Fi's great writers, Ray Bradbury saw the potential for making a point and used it to a frightening end. As a lame-duck director, Peter Hyams saw the opportunity to make one more project and maybe give his career some much-needed resuscitation. The misaligned dichotomy simply results in a mess.
In the mid-21st Century, Travis Ryer (Ed Burns) leads prehistoric hunting safaris, from which the Time Safari (groan) company earns its bread and butter. Having seized the time machine built by Sonia Rand (Catherine McCormack), Charles Hatton (Ben Kingsley) built up his company to overcharge the indulgent rich who seek to have a new experience. On a trek with a pair of thrill seeking buddies, a couple of things go wrong, and although everyone survives, the mistake causes changes in time and evolution. It is at this point where the noticeable deviation from Bradbury's story occurs. In the original tale, there was no going back to fix the problem, and the time travelers were left to face the horror of a world which had been subtly altered to permit ignorance, bigotry and fascism to be the dominant qualities of mankind. In the hands of these screenwriters, the mistake simply becomes a vehicle to generate a variety of creepy-crawly monsters that stalk the people of the story as they try to literally race against time and fix the mistake.
The script drags all the clichés out and leaves the actors to cover them. There is the greedy CEO, the disillusioned scientist, the noble hero, loyal sidekick and even a corrupt official. The scientist expresses her outrage at the corporate abuse of her invention to the hero who is a better man than she expected. All the actors do everything they can to rail against the pitfalls they are presented with. Ed Burns conveys an easy hero's swagger and knows that he'll get more mileage out of underplaying than by shouting. Catherine McCormack does a highly competent job of spouting endless reams of technobabble while managing to sound like she actually knows what she is talking about, but she and Burns simply have no romantic chemistry. How Academy Award Winner Ben Kingsley ended up as part of the production is anyone's guess, but the quirks that he piles into the carnival-mouthed "Charles Hatton" are the single best bit of entertainment.
Hyams fumbles the details to the point of insulting the audience. People make all sorts of irrational decisions just to forward the plot or introduce a set piece. When someone makes a mistake, they usually recheck their work. Here the tech drops a piece of equipment and visibly damages it. He re-stacks it and ignores it. Even the hero, at one point, declares that the party must go down into the dark, abandoned, unstable and partly flooded subway tunnels because "it's the only way". Presumably, it's better to have the odds stacked against you where you might run into bloodthirsty creatures instead of staying on stable ground where you might run into bloodthirsty creatures. Although there isn't any sort of racial subtext, the movie goes so far as to sacrifice the only major African-American character as a distraction to hungry monsters so the white people can run for their lives. It doesn't seem to be making any sort of real-world point, and the editor does struggle against this obviously outdated plot moment. However, it ultimately plays out badly and without dignity.
There is also no reason (other than it looks cool) to believe that changes in time would occur in visible waves of force that knock people and cars around, but not buildings or animals. One can imagine that this might have been at least fun in the hands of a militantly perfectionist filmmaker like Jim Cameron who beats even clichéd celluloid moments until they resound with the exact shape and feel he demands. In spite of making several films throughout the 90's and recent years, Hyams peaked with "2010: The Year We Make Contact" in 1984 - while standing on Stanley Kubrick's cinematic shoulders. Even taking the troubled production history of "A Sound of Thunder" into account, Hyams butchers the possibilities here.
The audience is denied the simple delight of watching special effects during a sci-fi adventure because of the shoddy craftsmanship and a lack of money. Several virtual sets were created to make a more complete city of the future, but they often look unrendered and more like a very good artist's drawing. However this is not a substitute for a good set, and it is painfully clear when actors are standing in front of a green screen. This was originally slated for a 2003 release, which would have put it ahead of the virtual productions of "Sky Captain" and "Sin City". Had things not been derailed by the original production company's bankruptcy (see the "Thunder" trivia section on IMDb.com), then maybe this would have been noteworthy in its attempt to push special effects boundaries. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, there were many times when the audience at this screening burst into laughter at some of the sights. The one thing that Hyams' FX team does get right is the gang of computer-generated creatures that should have been the design for the villain in his 1997 movie, "The Relic". As cool as the things look, it is 8 years and 3 movies past due.
Failures in effects and leaps of logic can be forgiven, but only up to a point. This is not a misfire form an otherwise successful director. This is a poor turn by a weak hand who refuses to respect his characters or the audience who has come to be entertained. Only the actors make the weak production bearable. "A Sound of Thunder" got a second chance to pull things together, but look into your own future and avoid watching this mistake.
2 out of 10
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