Something has gone terribly wrong. Somebody went back in time and disrupted the delicate balance of nature, causing an inexplicable anomaly to surface here in the present. Warner Bro. released a sci-fi vfx thriller with sub-par digital animation, uninspired acting and laughable action sequences. In an unadulterated reality, all these factors should add up to one big turkey, but, somehow, A Sound of Thunder manages to be enjoyable Saturday matinee fun.
The limited theatrical release for Thunder is obviously part of Warner Bros.’ plan to recoup some of its reported $80 million investment in the home video market. The film will surly do a bit better in this arena if it doesn’t arrive with that straight-to-video red flag. And while I certainly don’t recommend everyone rush out and catch it on the big screen, It’s definitely worth a look to those who are suckers for rampaging monsters and goofy science. You know who you are.
A Sound of Thunder is the kind of movie critics love to hate. You can sense the glee and self-satisfaction in comments like, "Why didn’t they go back in time and keep this film from being made?," or "The only sound of thunder I heard was from all the people running out of the theater." These are obviously not people who love bizarre movies or stay home on a Saturday night to catch SCI FI Channel originals like Frankenfish or Mansquito.
Had it been handled by someone like Steven Spielberg, with effects by Weta or ILM, this film could have been the next Jurassic Park. But it wasn’t, and it isn’t. Once you get past that, you can start to have fun with A Sound of Thunder. For instance, when Allosaurus footsteps cause the camera to shake violently, you can have an old-school Star Trek flashback and imagine William Shatner struggling to keep his footing on some fake-looking planet. And when otherwise smart characters make dumb decisions like going down into a flooded subway system, you can say, "Hell yeah! Probably some cool monsters down there!"
I’m not saying A Sound of Thunder is 100% cornball cheesiness. There are actually some good ideas here. Based on the Ray Bradbury short story of the same name from the 1950s, the movie explores the theory that gong back in time and damaging something as minor as a single butterfly can alter the course of evolution and dramatically affect the world as we know it. It’s a cautionary tale that also makes one ponder the role that every living organism plays in nature’s overall scheme. At the very least, it may give you pause before crushing the next spider under your Timberlands.
Real physicists are no doubt having a field day picking apart some of the half-baked science employed in the movie, but it’s fun to watch where it goes with the whole Butterfly effect thing. Changes in the modern world are brought about through time waves, which wash over the planet like a giant tsunami. Each of these waves alters the landscape and gives rise to terrifying new species such as giant bats and overgrown lizards with baboon faces. I kid you not. These babies are worth the price of admission alone.
The movie’s CG animation ranges from slightly better than video games to fairly convincing. At the latter end of the spectrum are the aforementioned baboonasaurs, or whatever they are. As goofy as they may sound, these ravenous flesh eaters are nearly as menacing as the raptors in Jurassic Park. In this flick, evolution is like a box of chocolates, except you’re the candy-coated treat and you never know what’s going to be trying to eat you.
The various effects companies involved in this production would probably prefer that I didn’t mention names, but I’m sure everyone set out to do the best they could with whatever constraints they were under. Director Peter Hyams, who directed the engaging 1997 monster-on-the-loose chiller, The Relic, seems to have been inspired by recent green-screen productions like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. In Thunder, he often has his actors walking down futuristic city streets alive with 2055-model cars. None of the CG background elements look convincing, but the overall effect calls to mind the noir films of old where a gumshoe may be seen walking in place while stock footage of an urban jungle is layered behind him.
In the years since the momentous release of Spielberg’s benchmark dinosaur movie, we have seen a plethora of films arrive with state-of-the-art digital effects but very little to say with all this technology and artistry. A Sound of Thunder serves as a reminder that it really is all about story, and it’s really hard to screw up a Bradbury yarn too badly. Someday, someone will make a really good adaptation of this tale, but until then, let your inner 13-year-old take over and enjoy this one for what it is, a good, old-fashioned B-movie that just might stir the ol’ imagination despite its technical gaffes.