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Time travel has its pitfalls

September 02, 2005|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Director-cinematographer Peter Hyams' ambitious but majorly disappointing "A Sound of Thunder" suggests two things: One, that a large-scale sci-fi disaster movie must have state-of-the-art special effects to have a prayer of succeeding; Two, even if an enormous budget were available for the most spectacular effects imaginable, the timelier-than-ever Ray Bradbury short story upon which this movie is based might well have been brought to the screen far more persuasively in animation instead of live action. Indeed, it's possible to imagine "A Sound of Thunder" as a knockout Japanese anime.

The film in turn demonstrates two hard truths: First, that despite all the experience, dedication and energy of Hyams and a team of Hollywood experts, the Czech Republic's venerable Barrandov Studios, source of many a Czech film classic, is not up to creating world-class special effects, even though the picture was long in post-production. Second, that for all his accomplishments, Ben Kingsley can be an insufferable, over-the-top ham without strong material and firm direction.

It's 2055, and Kingsley's Charles Hatton is the superrich proprietor of Chicago's Time Safari company, which for an exorbitant fee, offers a time-travel hunting expedition back 65 million years when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. Leading the expeditions is Dr. Travis Ryer (Edward Burns), who believes that time travel will allow him to secure DNA to revive long-extinct species. (It also seems that sometime in the next half-century a virus will wipe out virtually all wild animals not in captivity.) Apparently, Ryer's responsibilities during the expeditions and his idealistic scientific passions so occupy his attention that he somehow manages to overlook what a ruthless huckster and greedy jerk Hatton is.

Hatton has managed to steal the technology developed by physicist Dr. Sonia Rand (Catherine McCormack) that makes the time travel possible, and she tries to sound the alarm that under Hatton's control the technology could inadvertently trigger evolutionary catastrophe. The rules of the safaris into the prehistoric age are: Don't change anything in the past, don't leave anything behind; and above all, don't bring anything back, because any of these things could mess up the existing course of evolution in unimaginable ways.

When a tiny object has been brought from a safari this triggers a series of "time waves," which wash over Chicago, re-creating evolution with increasing speed as each wave crashes. In short, Chicago overnight becomes a tropical jungle inhabited by dinosaurs, giant bats and the like. What's there to do but for Ryer and Reed to join forces to locate the foreign object and travel back in time to set evolution back on its course?

Virtually nothing in "A Sound of Thunder" is convincing, although Burns and McCormack deserve credit for their determined staunchness. The picture looks as murky as its story line, the sound is tinny, much of the dialogue is flat or confoundingly technical or merely risible, and most everything on the screen looks patently fake.


'A Sound of Thunder'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for sci-fi violence, partial nudity, and language

Times guidelines: Too intense

for small children

A Warner Bros. Release. Director-cinematographer Peter Hyams. Producers Moshe Diamant, Howard Baldwin, Karen Baldwin. Screenplay by Thomas Dean Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer and Greg Poirier; from a screen story by Donnelly & Oppenheimer based on the short story by Ray Bradbury. Editor Sylvie Landra. Music Nick Glennie-Smith. Costumes Esther Walz. Production designer Richard Holland. Set decorator Richard Roberts. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.

In general release.

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