A Sound of Thunder (2005) (part 2 of 13)

The movie opens, appropriately enough, with the sound of thunder, played over ominous music. The following pre-credit exposition appears on a black screen, sentence by sentence.

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.

Ugh. First of all, this little “clue” to Charles Hatton’s motivation is completely unnecessary, given the amount of scenery Sir Ben will be chewing later. It’s not like the average viewer will have any trouble later figuring out Hatton’s intentions.

Secondly, the e-e-e-e-evil capitalist thing is getting to be such a cliché, that this is sort of like having a title card that explains how Dracula is a mean, blood-sucking vampire.

Caption contributed by Mark M.

You made money? You bastard!

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Now having explained that the sky is blue and water is wet, the movie gets on with the credit sequence. A few credits roll over an introductory scene, set in a primordial jungle. A transparent, shimmering path slides into view, and a group of space-helmet-clad hunters stroll out onto the path.

The man at the front of the pack, John Wallenbeck, is bitching up a storm. He’s complaining that they haven’t seen any wildlife yet, he’s too hot, blah blah blah. Wallenbeck’s daughter, Alicia, is also with the party. She seems to be along mostly to try and keep her dad calm.

Given the spacesuits, we can’t really tell who’s who until each character gets a close-up and delivers some dialogue. So, let’s have some inane banter to meet the cast, shall we?

Dr. Lucas, team physician, is monitoring Wallenbeck’s vital signs. The equipment technician, Payne, chimes in, betting $100 that team leader Ryer will sleep with Alicia tonight. Jenny, the adorable holographer, calls that a sucker bet. Dr. Lucas says something about the bet that’s made unintelligible by the space helmet, as well as his thick accent.

Still bitching, Wallenbeck continues along the path until he finds Ryer, played by Edward Burns. He demands to know when they’re going to see something. Ryer shushes him like he’s a five-year-old, and tells him to listen and get ready. Ryer explains to everyone that their weapons won’t fire until his does.

Then, in true Jurassic Park style, we hear something… big. A deep bass thump shakes the camera, followed by another, and then another. The Wallenbecks start to freak out, while Ryer, Jenny, Payne, and Dr. Lucas act very businesslike. The government regulator on the scene, Clay Derris, reminds everyone not to step off the path.

Even if you didn’t know the central plot of A Sound of Thunder, that guy named Spielberg made sure that the prehistoric jungle and the thumping footsteps would make you think of dinosaurs. Big, meat-eating dinosaurs.

Right on cue, a large Allosaurus (I think; I don’t have a five-year-old around to ask for sure) comes crashing through the trees. The cheesy, cheap, possibly unfinished CGI special effects are already showing: As the Allosaur tromps towards the hunters, trees topple like dominoes. I’m not using a figure of speech, either—the trees rigidly fall over, as if they were telephone poles. This is nothing compared with what’s to come, but it definitely doesn’t look good.

Back in the movie, Jenny calls the Allosaur “cute”, while the Wallenbecks crap their space-pants.

Caption contributed by Mark M.

Geez, this is my own personal Groundhog Day, you know?

Unconcerned by the two-metric-ton carnivore bearing down on them, team leader Ryer takes time to berate Wallenbeck a little, telling him they don’t have stuff like this in Pittsburgh. Well, when I think of ugly, hairless monsters with miniscule brains that hail from Pittsburgh, I think of Terry Bradshaw. So Ryer has a point, I guess.

The Wallenbecks continue to soil their pressure suits, all the while telling Ryer to shoot. Ryer waits until the dinosaur is nearly upon them, then yells, “Now!”

Hey, c’mon over here for a little aside time, will you?

You may recall that a few paragraphs back, I mentioned Ryer’s explanation of the hunting party’s weapons. No? Feel free to go back. I’ll wait.

So, it’s been well-established that nobody’s gun will fire until Ryer fires first. Got that? Good!

That should do it for my aside. Thanks for coming!

So, naturally, Alicia’s gun is the first one we see firing. Morons. I have confirmed this with a frame-by-frame analysis, in another example of “meta-idiocy”.

I’ll harp some more on continuity later in the recap, but this particular incident goes beyond a mere continuity error. The difference, of course, is that in this instance, the script tells us what should happen, but the visuals immediately contradict the words. I mean, come on! Remember the “There can be only one!” line in the Highlander movies? Imagine if right after that line, we immediately found out there were always more immortals.

Hah! See, so you get my point: this movie is that stupid. And we’re just getting started.

Caption contributed by Mark M.

“Stop, or my daughter will shoot!”

The whole hunting party blazes away and shoots the dinosaur real good. It collapses into the bubbling goop underneath the path, and slowly sinks into the tar. And it sinks in all the way, despite the fact that the tar was only a foot or two deep a moment ago. That’s weird.

Wallenbeck literally collapses in relief, while Alicia makes goo-goo eyes at Ryer. Well, as best she can, through the space helmet. So, I’m guessing Ryer will be sleeping with Alicia tonight. Jenny told you it was a sucker bet, Payne!

Jenny focuses her camera on Wallenbeck, but all he can do is babble. Then we pull back from his sweaty, helmeted face, and the scene shifts to the post-hunt party. Safely back in 2055, everyone is dressed up and celebrating the successful kill. Ice sculptures and classical music establish this as a fancy event. Wallenbeck chuckles in a good-natured way, while the holograph of his babbling is replayed.

Hey… why are they playing a holographic recording on a flat-screen TV? ‘Cause, you know, later on in the movie, all holographs appear as fully-realized three-dimensional recordings. Just wondering.

So, it wouldn’t be a bad movie without some good, old fashioned scenery chewing, so let’s meet our villain, Charles Hatton. Oops—hope I didn’t spoil anything for those of you that didn’t read the exposition cards before the credits!

Hatton, the head honcho for Time Safari, proposes a toast to the Wallenbecks on their successful hunt.

For the character of Charles Hatton, the powers that be decided to adorn Ben Kingsley’s normally bald pate with a shock of white televangelist hair, plus a miserable little white soul patch on his chin. His look plays nicely into the movie’s need to make Hatton e-e-e-evil, but it doesn’t make him look like someone you’d want to do business with.

Caption contributed by Mark M.

Cripes, I wouldn’t buy a used car from this guy, much less a trip to the Jurassic!

Hatton’s toast begins with this line, which I highlight because it’s relatively nifty, and I won’t be able to say that very often in this recap.

Hatton: Gentlemen, and lady: today, you stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Columbus discovering America, Armstrong stepping on the moon, Brubaker landing on Mars.

This is a nice little bone thrown to movie nerds—in 1978’s Capricorn One, James Brolin played Col. Charles Brubaker, the leader of a faked Mars landing. Peter Hyams, the director of our present subject, also happened to direct Capricorn One, and this little hidden gem of line may just have something to do with his presence.

Caption contributed by Mark M.

From left to right: Payne, Adorable Jenny, Dr. Lucas, Napoleon, and Slut Daughter.

After the toast, Hatton lays it on pretty thick, praising the courage and skill of the Wallenbecks. John Wallenbeck throws the BS flag a little, saying that he was scared out of his mind and his heart is still pounding. While Dr. “Wet Blanket” Lucas gushes forth with logical medical reasons for these physiological reactions, Alicia sees her opportunity to slink off to find Ryer.

The scene shifts to the cavernous lab housing Time Safari’s time travel equipment. Ryer, the hunt team leader, is sitting in front of TAMI (the Time Alteration Mainframe Interface, as I’m sure we all know), the semi-sentient computer that controls the time jumps.

Caption contributed by Mark M.

“Yeah! I finally have enough RAM to run Vista!”

Government Agent Derris is wandering around, apparently checking the suits and equipment used on the Wallenbecks’ jump. Ryer and Derris exchange small talk about how Derris is planning to retire early. Ryer seems surprised that a government employee would be paid enough for that. Derris doesn’t respond, but rather turns his back and exits the scene.

Hey, you don’t suppose that Derris is taking bribes from Hatton, do you? I mean, that would be totally unprecedented, having an e-e-e-evil capitalist and an e-e-e-evil government agent, together in the same movie! Someone must have had a two-for-one sale on clichés.

Ryer shakes it off and starts up a conversation with TAMI, and yes, the computer can talk, and it speaks in a female, British voice. Ryer wants the computer to analyze the Allosaurus DNA, and TAMI bitches a little bit about how she was designed for controlling jumps in the time-space continuum, and not this kind of private research venture. Their back-and-forth banter is obviously supposed to sound like the bickering of a husband and wife, and as such, it’s… icky.

Hatton interrupts (thank you!) and reminds Ryer that he’s contractually obligated to mingle with the clients at the post-jump party. And then Hatton makes the pre-credits exposition card totally unnecessary, when he states that the reason he operates Time Safari is to make himself rich. So why bother telling us that with a title card at the beginning of the movie? Did the folks that made the title cards even get to read the script? On the other hand, we have precedent already, where the script says one thing and the movie does another, so maybe they’re just playing it safe.

Oh, and what’s this? A business owner who operates his business in order to make money? The horror! I think the cliché here allows for two possible outcomes for Hatton, then. In the happier ending, Hatton realizes the errors of his greedy ways and has some sort of redemptive experience. The other possible ending is considerably more… sticky.

Caption contributed by Mark M.

“TAMI’s got a totally bitchin’ car stereo!”

Ryer rejoins the party. He presents the Wallenbecks with mementos of their hunt: their space suits and a “holo-disc recording” of the proceedings. The holo-disc appears to be a large, red Christmas tree ornament. Disc, sphere; same thing, right?

Ryer then launches into a spiel about how he thinks it was Wallenbeck’s shot that brought down the dinosaur. To make it clear that this is a part of the Time Safari “experience”, Jenny and Payne are mouthing Ryer’s words behind everyone’s backs.

So, not only have we learned that Hatton is e-e-e-evil, we’ve also learned that Ryer has sold his scientific soul to Hatton. Ryer, therefore, must find some way of earning his redemption by the end of the movie. That’s what my Plot-O-Matic 3000™ tells me, anyway.

Everyone enjoys hors d’oeuvres. Suddenly, Hatton spies an extremely pissed off woman stalking into the party. He nearly chokes on his cocktail weenie, then clears his throat and calls for security.

Enter our heroine (Gag! Really?), Dr. Sonia Rand. Dr. Rand is played by Catherine McCormack, who also provides the voice for TAMI. And no, not like in a cartoon, where Casey Kasem or James Doohan does every other voice—there’s actually a reason she does the computer’s voice. All will be revealed shortly, I promise!

Dr. Rand yells out that she has a toast for all the “mighty” hunters. She then pops the cork on what looks like a big champagne bottle, but which actually sprays everyone in the room with blood. She yells that if they keep messing with the past, they’re going to jeopardize the future. She singles Ryer out, saying that he should know better, being a scientist and all.

By the way, “shrill, blood spewing harpy” is a pretty apt description of the way McCormack portrays Sonia Rand for most of the movie.

Caption contributed by Mark M.

Where, exactly, does one procure carbonated blood?

Security hustles the harp—Rand, I mean—out of the Time Safari building. The guests start mopping blood off their brows while Hatton tries to disarm the situation with a lame joke: “Harder and harder to get good waiters.” Hah. Kill me.

The joke suffices for Wallenbeck, who starts busting a (substantial) gut. The Time Safari crew, however, remains freaked out.

Hatton continues on, calling Rand a crackpot, much like the ones who were worried about biotech and the Internet “a century ago.” Except the title card said this was 2055, and you’d have to be a real crackpot to be worried about biotech and the Internet in 1955. No sir! Back then it was the commies, and fluoride in the water!

Sir Ben completely rushes through his lines (here and elsewhere), so it’s hard to catch everything he says. I’ve seen this movie several times now (“meta-idiocy”, indeed), and now that I’m recapping it, I still have to resort to turning on the subtitles to get all the dialogue.

But Ryer seems even more troubled by Rand’s blood spewing antics than the rest of the employees. We only know this by his future actions, by the way, because Edward Burns is only capable of displaying one facial expression in this film. Plank from Ed, Edd ‘n’ Eddy is more expressive, for Pete’s sake.

Caption contributed by Mark M.

Ryer’s Facial Expressions, #1: Just spewed with blood.

Mark M. Meysenburg

Mark teaches at Doane College, a liberal arts college in Crete, Nebraska. Most of his teaching involves computer science, but Mark also occasionally teaches mathematics and the history of science; he has also been known to offer three week courses on the worst movies ever made. Mark's bad movie obsession was kindled in the early 1980s by the Medved brothers, then fanned to full flame by late-night showings of Plan 9 from Outer Space. Who could have predicted the long term effects of satin-pajama-clad, mincing alien menace? Mark's other interests include homebrew beer and wine, and practicing and teaching martial arts.

Multi-Part Article: A Sound of Thunder (2005)

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