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A Sound of Thunder

Uninspired Sci-Fi /Action Storyline

Based on a short story written in 1952 by science fiction writer/fantasist Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles), A Sound of Thunder marks the return of Peter Hyams (Timecop, The Relic) to the science fiction genre. Viewers familiar with his work will look at his return with skepticism, doubt and, maybe, a smile or two. In a career now spanning four decades, Hyams has managed to carve a niche for himself as a modestly talented craftsman providing audiences with minimally entertaining, escapist experiences. Alas, even these low expectations remain unmet by the time A Sound of Thunder fades to black and the end credits mercifully roll.

Set in the Chicago of 2055 C.E. (cityscapes courtesy of Syd Mead, who designed a dystopic, futuristic Los Angeles for Blade Runner), Charles Hatton (Ben Kingsley, sporting a laughter-inducing white wig that seems to have been borrowed from Marlon Brando's wardrobe from Superman) owns and operates Time Safari, Inc., a unique travel service that promises its wealthy, powerful clients the experience of a lifetime (in this case, traveling back in time to the Cretaceous Era to hunt long-dead dinosaurs). Three rules apply to "safe" time travel: (1) don't change anything in the past; (2) don't leave anything behind; and (3) don't bring anything back into the present.

Sonia Rand (Catherine McCormack) is the inventor of the time traveling technology and, for the film's purpose, the only voice of reason who warns about the dire consequences of altering the time line and changing the present. Early on, Sonia provides rapid-fire exposition as she explains how Hatton tricked her out of the patent for the time traveling technology. She fears that the technology will be misused or the protocols (see rules 1-3 above) not followed, resulting in catastrophic "time waves" that can change the face of evolution. The time waves also function as a dramatic device, helping to escalate the dangers faced by our intrepid heroes.

Travis Ryer (Edward Burns), team leader, experienced field guide and scientist for Time Safari, Inc., becomes the presumptive hero when an expedition he leads into the distant past results in increasingly catastrophic consequences for the present. Travis' team includes Jenny Krase (Jemima Rooper), a young woman interested in him, and Tech Officer Payne (David Oyelowo), the obligatory Mr. Fix-It character (and, it goes without saying, the token minority unlikely to survive into the last reel). In other words, A Sound of Thunder delivers all too familiar caricatures instead of credible, three-dimensional characters.

A Sound of Thunder falters and eventually fails to live up to expectations due to a derivative storyline borrowed from countless "Star Trek" episodes that uses action scenes to cover for plot holes, paradoxes, and other time-travel conundrums (i.e., how a Time Safari, Inc. team can return to the exact same point in the past and not re-encounter themselves yet, at the climax, the central character does just that). Furthermore, the CGI suffers badly from strained resources. Flying, bat-like creatures and an underwater prehistoric eel look unforgivably cheap. The dinosaurs barely pass the credibility test (e.g., skin textures are too smooth) and look no better than the giant, CGI dinosaurs created for in Jurassic Park ten years ago. For no discernible reason, Hyams also stages some of the early, outdoor dialogue scenes using green screens, adding backgrounds, cars, and additional characters in post-production. These scenes -- painful to watch -- will at least remind older audiences of films from Hollywood's Golden Age, when backscreen projection for outdoor dialogue scenes was the norm. Then, too, were audiences sophisticated enough to perceive the difference between the "real" and the "fake."

Sadly, with its overly familiar storyline, perfunctory performances (only Ben Kingsley as the villainous CEO rises to the level of the pulpy material), and action scenes hampered by poor CGI, there's little reason to recommend A Sound of Thunder. There is one notable exception, the all-CGI, half-reptile, half-primate predators (mandrills) that stalk the lead characters in the second half of the film. Why the CGI for these predators succeeded while others failed is a mystery (unless these CGI creations were handled first and the others afterward, when budget limitations were at their most pressing). It shouldn't come as a surprise for readers to learn that A Sound of Thunder sat on studio shelves for two years before finally obtaining a theatrical release.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars