A Sound of Thunder (2005) (part 1 of 13)

The Cast of Characters:
Edward Burns as Travis RyerTravis Ryer (Edward Burns). Leader of each Time Safari jump. He justifies his participation in such a—gasp—grossly capitalist venture with crazy talk about studying dinosaur DNA so he can recreate lions. I think. He’s only slightly less stiff than the fossilized bones of the dinosaurs they hunt.
Catherine McCormack as Sonia RandSonia Rand (Catherine McCormack). She invented time travel, so I guess she’s supposed to be the strong, smart woman who defies stereotypes. McCormack succeeds in defying stereotypes, though not in the way you’d expect—she actually plays the least likable love interest ever.
Sir Ben Kingsley as Charles HattonCharles Hatton (Sir Ben Kingsley). Okay, so is Kingsley supporting a Shakespeare revival theater somewhere? Feeding a ferocious monkey on his back with pharmaceuticals? Paying child support for dozens of illegitimate children? What’s up with the roles he’s chosen lately? BloodRayneThunderbirds… This movie…
Jemima Rooper as Jenny KraseJenny Krase (Jemima Rooper). Time Safari staffer with two main roles in the movie. First, she records holograms of each safari. Second, she looks nummilicious.
David Oyelowo as Marcus PayneMarcus Payne (David Oyelowo). Another Time Safari employee. Seems to be in charge of maintaining the time travel machinery, and delivering enormously wordy slabs of exposition.
Wilfried Hochholdinger as Dr. LucasDr. Lucas (Wilfried Hochholdinger). Medical representation on each Time Safari jump. One of those doctors who totally doesn’t get why people aren’t as excited about medical science as he is, and is therefore a drag at parties. Also speaks with a thick accent, making him unintelligible much of the time. Considering his lines, that’s probably a blessing.
August Zirner as Clay DerrisClay Derris (August Zirner). Government regulator along for the ride on each jump, charged with making sure that nobody alters history. (We’ll see how well he succeeds soon enough.) On the take from Hatton, of course.
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Before I get started, I want to give special thanks to the Agony Booth forum members who provided suggestions on improving this recap. Also, special thanks to Ivan Druzhkov, who allowed me to pillage from his own partial, unfinished recap of A Sound of Thunder. Thanks, folks!

Roger Ebert defines an idiot plot as “any plot containing problems which would be solved instantly if all of the characters were not idiots.” The 2005 Ray Bradbury desecration—er, adaptation, A Sound of Thunder is a lot like an idiot plot fractal. The plot as a whole is an idiot plot, and no matter how far down into the details you wallow, you still find a whole new, glorious idiot plot.

There must be a kernel of pure, unadulterated idiocy somewhere in the center of this movie, surrounded by wave after wave of nonsense. These waves eventually break upon a humble recapper such as myself, and then the recapper engages in a sort of “meta-idiocy” by writing a lengthy, snark-filled recap about it. Now the waves of preposterousness are washing over you, dear reader. Enjoy, but don’t let yourself be washed away.

Bradbury’s short story, originally published in 1952, is one of those stories that everyone seems to have read. In fact, the story is so famous that even folks who haven’t read it probably know the rough outline: hunters use a time machine to travel back to a prehistoric jungle to shoot a dinosaur. Unfortunately, one of the hunters steps on a butterfly, changing the course of history. When they return to the future, they find that the outcome of the most recent presidential election has been reversed, among other subtle changes. The way the death of an insect in the distant past changes things in the present—leading to a fascist president, most notably—provides a relatively understated, but horrifying, conclusion to the story.

Unlike most science fiction short stories, “A Sound of Thunder” has definitely had legs since it was first published: it’s one of the most reprinted sci-fi stories in history, and it’s also permeated into the popular culture.

To name just a few examples: “A Sound of Thunder” was made into a comic book in the 1950s, featured in a graphic novel in 2003, and referenced in the “Treehouse of Horror V” episode of The Simpsons. It’s even managed to become associated with the term “Butterfly Effect,” a lay explanation for the concept of sensitivity to initial conditions in chaos theory, a term that was coined by mathematician Edward Lorenz in the 1960s.

Most folks that have a casual grasp of the Butterfly Effect probably think of Bradbury’s story first. Few will remember Lorenz, and fewer still will remember the Ashton Kutcher debacle of the same name. And both people that saw The Butterfly Effect 2 are still institutionalized, so we won’t count them at all.

I’ll save a more detailed discussion of the short story, and how it differs from the movie, for the end of the recap. Because if I were to include these differences in the main text, my comments would mostly be limited to “that didn’t happen in the story”, repeated ad infinitum.

But that in and of itself shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. It’s pretty obvious that when scaling up a short story into a feature-length film, lots of material needs to be added. That’s not necessarily always a bad thing; for example, Minority Report is based on a short story by science fiction author Philip K. Dick, and last I checked, Minority Report didn’t suck. Heck, Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” also “inspired” Total Recall, and I liked that movie, too. The point being, adapting a short story for the big screen doesn’t always result in crap.

But it really, really depends a lot on what you add. If you pad the story out with crap in order to make it movie-length, then you’ll get a movie that’s, well, full of crap. But calling the stuff added to Bradbury’s story “crap”, however, is demeaning to crap. My dogs poop smarter than this movie.

Not only is A Sound of Thunder a veritable black hole of stupidity, but its production history seems to have been cursed. The movie was shot in Prague, and production stalled when floods in the summer of 2002 damaged the sets. The European shooting location explains the cast as well, although Europeans trying to fake American accents is the least of this movie’s problems.

And as if that weren’t enough, the original production company, Franchise Pictures, was forced into bankruptcy after losing a lawsuit involving an investment scam worthy of The Producers.

Basically, Franchise was padding the budgets of their films in order to rip off their investors—much like Cannon Films a decade prior. Investors thought they were financing about half the cost of the movies, when in fact they were carrying almost the whole burden. Then, if a film happened to make some money, Franchise would reap the windfall. One of the films in question was Battlefield Earth, on which Franchise allegedly spent only $44 million, rather than the $75 million they claimed.

I doubt a skuzzy company with a track record of putting out horrible movies (Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, anyone?) would’ve done a great job with A Sound of Thunder, even without the bankruptcy. Especially with this script, which so neatly wraps up Bradbury’s story with layer upon layer of dung.

But the bankruptcy during post-production seems to have done a number on the “special” effects which, as you’ll see later in the recap, are incredibly cheap looking. It’s entirely plausible that when the money ran out, some accountant just walked in and unplugged the render farm. The movie was “finished” with whatever CGI was complete when the power was cut.

More evidence of the curse: the director originally hired, Renny Harlin, bolted and was replaced by Peter Hyams. Hyams has written and directed some pretty good films, like Outland and 2010, so his mere presence isn’t an immediate harbinger of doom. Actually, Harlin seems to have far more stinkers on his record (Cliffhanger, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, etc.), so maybe the director swap was an upgrade. At least in theory.

Not only that, but Agony Booth Repeat Offender Pierce Brosnan was originally slated to star. Unfortunately, he was replaced by a wooden marionette that looks a lot like Edward Burns.

And would you believe, there are still more problems?

The actors don’t emote, other than Ben Kingsley bugging his eyes out every five minutes. The characters don’t care about each other. People talk funny, blathering on for paragraphs at a time. Most of the movie is as dark as the inside of a coal mine at midnight. Scientific accuracy is bitch-slapped to the point of unconsciousness. Most of the characters aren’t likable. Ben Kingsley’s hair.

I could go on… and I will. This is the Agony Booth, after all.

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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