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A Sound of Thunder

There might be a good reason A Sound of Thunder sat on the shelf for a while--great premise, lousy execution. Where's Steven Spielberg when you really need him?


In this adaptation of a short story by Ray Bradbury, time travel is a lucrative business in the year 2055, especially for Charles Hatton (Ben Kingsley). His ''travel'' agency specializes in escorting wealthy clients on exclusive hunting trips back to the Prehistoric Age. Under the watchful eye of seasoned scout Dr. Travis Ryer (Ed Burns), it's all carefully choreographed, with strenuous guidelines put in place to protect the creatures' natural habitats and prevent time travelers from impacting the course of evolution. Of course, something goes awry on one certain ''jump'' and rules are indeed broken. When the hunting expedition returns, they discover their world is a markedly different place than it was when they left. In fact, things are soon going to hell in a handbasket. Ryer must team up with Sonia Rand (Catherine McCormack), the inventor of the time travel technology, to figure it all out and stop the catastrophic events now threatening to erase humanity from existence. The moral of the story? Don't go back in time and kill a prehistoric butterfly.


The cast is fairly ineffectual, save for scenery chewer Kingsley, as the callous Hatton. Sure, the Oscar-winning actor must be doing sub-par movies for a paycheck (Thunderbirds?), but at least he puts a little heart into it. Come on, he could read the phone book with a paper bag over his head and still be good. Burns once again plays the same deadpan wiseacre he's perfected in films like The Brothers McMullen and Confidence. But as a studious scientist trying to justify meddling with time travel and evolution, he's not nearly as convincing. Neither is McCormack (Braveheart) as the raving voice of reason, telling everyone how it isn't nice to fool with Mother Nature while making a makeshift time machine out of spare parts. How very MacGyver. There are other minor characters, too, but they serve more as food for all the ''evolved'' creatures hunting them down.


Besides taking Bradbury's clever story and reducing it to clichéd mumbo jumbo, Thunder's biggest drawback is how juvenile it looks. Honestly, veteran director Peter Hyams should know better, having directed some lean and serviceable otherworldly thrillers such as TimeCop and End of Days. We are subjected to shot after amateur shot--at least in this day and age--of actors against a very obvious green screen; street scenes of a ''futuristic'' Chicago, with ''futuristic'' cars zooming by as the actors walk and talk; and the not-so-scary dinosaur nearly attacking the group. And then there are those evolved creatures--half-baboon/half-dinosaurs, giant flying bats. It's just embarrassing to watch. You have to wonder at some point what the film would have been if Master Spielberg had taken the helm. This seems like it would be right up his alley.

Bottom Line

What starts out as a fascinating idea, full of potential, A Sound of Thunder eventually turns into a green-screen mess without much rumble.