A SOUND OF THUNDER
A Sound of Thunder is a big-budget film based on the Ray Bradbury short story. Well before its release, A Sound of Thunder had the death knell of a disaster in the making. The film was originally to start shooting in Montreal in 2001 under director Renny Harlin, of Die Hard 2 (1990) and Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) fame, and starring Pierce Brosnan but ended up being delayed. Harlin was later replaced by veteran genre director Peter Hyams (see below for Peter Hyamss other genre credits). Hyams version of the film started production without financing entirely in place. One of the films major producing partners, QI Quality International GmbH & Co. KG, financially collapsed part way through production. Bolstered up by a host of other international production companies, the film ended was shot in the Czech Republic in 2002, only to then be struck by massive flooding that wiped away several of the sets. Even more ignominiously, when finally released after more than a years worth of delayed release dates, A Sound of Thunder earned only a pitiful $1.1 million in its opening week (despite having a $52 million budget) and received reviews that ridiculed it to high heaven. In most countries, the film sidestepped any theatrical release and went directly to videostores.
The big question when finally sitting down to watch A Sound of Thunder is is it the disaster that everything about the film would seem to indicate it is? The answer is a resounding yes. One gets a sinking feeling from the opening title cards where we are informed: In the year 2055. A new technology was invented that could change the world ... Or destroy it. A man named Charles Hatton used it to make money. With this kind of tired harbinger headline ringing, one realises even before the film has begun that Ray Bradburys theme which was merely a demonstration in the unforeseen problems of causing change in the past has been upstaged by lurid Luddhite warnings and the addition of the clich greedy capitalist who is earmarked as a villain from the moment he appears. Ray Bradburys story had a slim succinctness; the film makes the mistake common to many feature-length expansions of short material it overburdens the story in a way that no longer makes sense. In building the story out, the film is required to explain far more about how this future works to the point that the original concept ends up looking ungainly. In adding the character of Ben Kingsleys Hatton as a greedy industrialist, it is hard to believe, for instance, that people would come up with a discovery as wide-ranging as time travel and that all that someone would do with it is to create dinosaur hunts.
Ray Bradbury has not had a happy history of being adapted to the screen disasters like The Illustrated Man (1968) and The Martian Chronicles (1980) and A Sound of Thunder can quickly be placed atop the junk pile. There are parts of the film that are ridiculously written. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is invoked to mean that you cannot have zero tolerance in a system, that accidents do happen. All that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states is that it is impossible to know the velocity and position of a moving sub-atomic particle at the same time; here it is transformed into something akin to chaos theory, the same way that chaos theory was used in Jurassic Park (1993) as a justification for Murphys Law, that if there are unpredictable elements in a system they will inevitably cause everything to go wrong. (In fact, the more one thinks about it, the more one realises that Michael Crichton must have substantially borrowed from the A Sound of Thunder short story when he wrote Jurassic Park A Sound of Thunder led to the notion of the Butterfly Effect, and Jurassic Park and its dinosaurs are largely an illustration of chaos theory in action).
There are logical holes to the film as well. It seems that (because of cheaply recycled special effects scenes) the hunters are travelling back through time to hunt the same dinosaur but surely if that were the case we would see multiple hunting parties all arriving at the same moment and trying to kill the same dinosaur. The most absurd notions come with the ideas of the timewaves where the changes affected in the past seem to occur in increasingly more severe waves. This is a piece of nonsense invented solely to give the middle of the film dramatic tension as the heroes race across a city having to deal with prehistoric menaces gone out of control (an aspect that does not exist in the Ray Bradbury short story). In actuality, making a causal change in the past would be like adding a new pathway in the timeline everything that happens from that point on would travel in a different direction and the familiar present would no longer exist. Peoples memories would be different, some people would not be born and history would happen differently; what causality is not like is a rubber band that ripples when tweaked. I found it a difficult stretch to believe the causal dilemma in Bradburys original story the wider one would get from the original event, the more widespread the changes would become. It is difficult to believe that one change 64 million years ago would still have paralleled the present so much that the same dictator would have been born and the only difference being that he is now in power. This entails the alternate present mirroring the other one so much so that everything transpires near identically right up until the present. In a way, the films changes are far more credible because they are likely alternate paths from a prehistoric change vast sweeping evolutionary changes to lifeforms and the ecosphere. On the other hand, one finds it a little hard to understand how the death of a single butterfly can cause an entire new evolutionary chain to manifest. (Peter Hyamss Timecop (1994) is a film that creates a far more logical and internally coherent story about the changes in causal effect).
The most absurd part of the film is the notion of creatures that have evolved as half apes, half-dinosaurs Its reptilian with a bit of primate thrown in, one character says. Aside from the basic biological absurdity of the idea, which is something that even somebody in a high school biology class would know enough about to laugh at, the sight of seeing creatures that alternate between apes and dinosaurs like some kind of changing trompe loeil effect looks incredibly ridiculous on screen. The film is something that only barely touches base with Ray Bradburys short story. Bradburys story with its dark ending was a neat, succinct demonstration of the dangers of causal accidents; the film however embellishes it out into an sf/action film about people being hunted through a devolving present by ape/dinosaur hybrids and other evolutionary monstrosities and where the original twist ending is supplanted by a new upbeat one where the hero must go back in time and prevent the butterfly from being crushed.
The special effects are decidedly on the cut-price side. They have a routine competence but the scenes of the futuristic streets of Chicago with vehicles busily buzzing in the background leaves one never less than certain that the actors are merely standing in front of a blank screen and that the vehicles and street backdrop have been digitally inserted. As mentioned above, the film even cheaply recycles the same CGI sequence with the dinosaur charging the tourists twice over. A fine and celebrated actor like Ben Kingsley is clearly only in the film for the paycheque and gives a performance where he plays broadly to the gallery. None of the other performances hold any worth when it comes to the character of William Armstrongs Eckles, his fear and nervousness is overstressed to the point of hitting us over the head with a blunt instrument.
Peter Hyams is a multi-disciplined director with a veteran genre background. In the 1980s, Hyams made a trio of fine science-fiction films with the faked Mars landing film Capricorn One (1978), Outland (1981) set on one of Jupiters Moon, and then the 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) sequel 2010 (1984), his single best film to date. He also produced the quirkily appealing Universal monster homage The Monster Squad (1987). For several years, Hyams fell silent within the genre, directing action thrillers like Running Scared (1986), The Presidio (1988) and Narrow Margin (1990). He made a return to genre material in the 1990s with films like Stay Tuned (1992), Timecop (1994), The Relic (1997) and End of Days (1999), interspersing these with action films like Sudden Death (1995) and The Musketeer (2001). While Hyams science-fiction films of the 1980s marked him as a promising talent, his work throughout the 1990s has been disappointing to see indifferent hackwork where Hyams seems to lack any creative interest in the work and is present as nothing other than a hired gun director. Here Hyams engages in some cutely self-referential asides. Ben Kingsley has a line: Today you stand shoulder to shoulder with Columbus discovering America, Armstrong landing on The Moon, Brubaker discovering Mars in Hyamss film Capricorn One, about a faked Mars landing, the team commander played by James Brolin was a Colonel Brubaker. Later in the ruins of the Chicago, we see a Spotas Market with Spota being the name of the assassin hunting Sean Connery in Outland.
Other Ray Bradbury screen adaptations include: the classic atomic monster movie The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) from Bradburys short story The Foghorn (1951); the alien invader classic It Came from Outer Space (1953) from his original screenplay; Francois Truffauts adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 (1966); the anthology The Illustrated Man (1968); the tv mini-series The Martian Chronicles (1980) from his classic book; the tv movie The Electric Grandmother (1980); the screenplay for the fine Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) from his own novel; his screenplay for the animated adaptation of the classic comic-strip Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989); the tv anthology series The Ray Bradbury Theater (1986-92) where Bradbury adapted his own stories and hosted the series; the screenplay for the animated childrens film The Halloween Tree (1993); Stuart Gordons adaptation of The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (1998) about a seemingly magical suit; and Chrysalis (2008).