22 April 2009

A Sound of Thunder (The Movie)

When I wrote my list of favorite comedies of the 2000s, I made mention of a few hilarious films that I didn’t put on the list because they actually weren’t meant to be funny. I did a full review of one of these hilarious disasters three years ago for my older, lamer, blog. I dug up that review and have revised it and polished it a bit to give you . . .

A Sound of Thunder (2005)
Directed by Peter Hyams. Starring Edward Burns, Ben Kingsley, Catherine McCormack.

A friend told me back in 2005 that I should go see the movie A Sound of Thunder during the two weeks it actually played in theaters. I asked him why. The film had gotten nothing but scathing reviews. It had suffered from numerous delays—originally slated for a 2002 release—and had “bomb” sketched all over it. Did he actually think it was good? This is a friend who, on occasion, has gone against the flow of critical opinion, so maybe there was something about the film which I should know. No, he answered. The film really was flat-out awful. But he promised me that I would never forget the experience of seeing it.

Good enough for me. But not good enough to get me to part with eight to ten bucks of my own money to see the movie in a theater. I’m not that starved for entertainment. So I patiently waited, and for approximately two bucks through Netflix (that’s the average price of a DVD rental for me based on my level of rental activity) I eventually watched A Sound of Thunder.

Yes, I certainly won’t forget it. It isn’t Battlefield Earth or Batman and Robin bad, but it was as good a shot as theater audiences got in 2005.

Right before seeing the movie, I asked my friend what exactly he thought was wrong with the film. He couldn’t pick out anything particular. He simply told me that everything on every conceivable level was wrong with it, and it would feel unfair to pick one or two. I have to sternly disagree with his assessment for two reasons:

First, not everything in the film is wrong. In one scene, two of the characters wear really nice fedoras. So one thing is right with the movie. Or do the two hats each count as something right with the movie? Oh hell, let’s give the flick a break: there are two things right with it.

Second, the visual effects are so above and beyond execrable that it seems incredible not to pick them out as deserving mention. Yes, everything else is awful (except for those two hats), but the visual effects attain a level of phoniness absolutely stunning for an A-budgeted picture.

There is so much I could complain about concerning A Sound of Thunder: the ludicrous science (no matter how much biological history changes, somebody remembers to build Chicago), the half-assed performances from a cast that apparently knew the film was destined for the bargain bin, the who-gives-a-crap script, and Ben Kingsley’s hairpiece.

But how can I possibly get over these visual effects? Cripes, if the actors had stood in front of a blue-screen projection of somebody’s game of the first Grand Theft Auto, it would have looked substantially better. The dinosaur in the opening scene has no shading anywhere on it. It’s like a smooth-moving kid’s toy, and the moment I saw it my jaw unhinged so that I looked like a snake about to eat an egg. Then I started yelling “You’ve got to be kidding me!” at the screen. The mix of live action and digital effects is pathetic. The actors appear completely removed from their environments, just two-dimensional cut-outs placed in front of shallow CGI images, and sometimes clumsily walking along on obvious treadmills. Any made-for-Syfy movie does far better than this . . . and with significantly more imagination.

At a certain point the VFX just start turning into insults. I’ve enjoyed plenty of films with poor special effects because the filmmakers did the most they could with their limited means. They were at least trying. But the folks here, with $80 million with which to play, couldn’t be bothered to give a damn.

Is it any wonder that the film’s production company, Franchise, went out of business before the movie’s release (thus delaying it for three years)? Franchise’s record of mediocrity is quite stunning, and owner Elie Samaha got in deep legal trouble for skimming off the top of the budget of many of his films. Perhaps Samaha raised $80 million to make the film, kept $79 million for himself, and let director Peter Hyams see what he could do with the rest of it. Most of it must have gone to Ben Kinglsey, who probably ponied up millions just to keep the movie from ever getting into theaters. Which means that Ben Kingsley’s money ran out after three years.

If you have a yen to see exactly how bad CGI can actually get in this day and age, A Sound of Thunder should get on your must-see list.

A few days after I originally posted this review, I ran into another online review of this film that made this interesting observation: “Ray Bradbury must be rolling over in his grave at the effort put forth in making his short story into a movie.” Well he isn’t, and I can tell you why: he was then and as of this writing is still alive. Believe me, if Bradbury had died, I would have heard about it. But if he were dead . . . yeah, he’d be doing some rollin’. I later returned to the review and noticed the reviewer had changed this description; he must have gotten a flood of negative emails.

Bradbury’s short story is a classic, and definitely worth your time. I also recommend the similarly-themed “Rivers of Time” stories by L. Sprague de Camp.