Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Sound of Thunder (2004)

2055 – New technology was invented that could change the world…
or destroy it.

A man named Charles Hatton used it to make money (i.e. destroy it ).

I take back all the nice things I’ve ever said about Ben Kingsley (notice I’ve demoted him from Knighthood). Look, Kingsley was legitimately great in Gandhi. He was pretty fun in Sexy Beast. I remember he was in Bugsy and that movie won over some critics, so maybe he was pretty decent in that one too. Seriously though, what else? Certainly not this piece of crap. He's lucky to have Uwe Boll.

Sound of Thunder takes place in the somewhat near future. It’s sad to learn that in such a short time, no real animals will be left in the wild, having been killed off by a virus and/or poachers. Charles Hatton played hilariously badly by Ben Kingsley (BloodRayne) is upset that there are no more animals left to kill. So, he contracts himself some genius scientists, including Travis Ryer played by Ed Burns, to lead some tourists back in time for top dollar. What if, he thinks, we can go back in time and kill the same animal over and over again? And, since we’re already going back in time, why not just go all the way back to the Jurassic period so we can kill us some dinosaurs! Them’s good eats. Actually, they’re not allowed to eat the dinosaurs since there are 3 rules of “time jumping”:

1. Don’t change anything
2. Don’t leave anything behind
3. Don’t bring anything back

So, I guess if you were to eat the dinosaur you would technically be bringing something back. It probably wouldn’t be too easy to get it back through the time portal anyway, the set up of which looks about as scientific as a loop less rollercoaster, one you’d find at a county fair. Anywhoo, the rules sound simple enough, but would you really trust the fate of the world, as we know it, to a couple of mother fucking asshole tourists? You can talk all you want about precautions, but when it really comes down to it, plenty of tourists out there are nothing but dumbfucks (not you!) that don’t really know that much about the laws of the universe. So, what did they really expect when two dipshits, Mr. Echols and Mr. Middleton (two clowns that make the American clients in Hostel 2 look like geniuses), happened to fuck up the space time continuum? Should they really be that surprised?

I suppose it’s not easy to get a time travel movie right. Whenever a time travel picture is released, there’s an army of nerds waiting around the corner to point out inaccuracies and ignored paradoxes. In the case of Star Trek IV, you’ve got to contend with twice the nerds. The best time travel pictures sometimes forgo logic and instead concentrate on action and special effects (Terminator 1-3), story and characters (12 Monkeys), or comedy (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure)…or all of the above (Star Trek IV and Time After Time). Sound of Thunder does none of these things. At least, none of them well.

This picture contains some of the lousiest special effects I have ever seen in a theatrical release. The shots of Chicago go for a retro-futuristic look, not one that looks lived in (such as Blade Runner), but one that someone designed on their MAC in about five minutes. I swear if they held a shot of a city street long enough (say ten seconds) we would see the same car repeat itself as if on a continual loop. If you’re a fan of Sci-fi originals you’ll love the beautifully realized, amazingly life like Tyrannosaurus Rex (The unfortunate bastard that gets shot everyday by aforementioned tourists. Oh, it’s ok because he was about to get stuck in tar and then covered in lava or something. Well, who knows, maybe this time he’ll be able to latch onto the man made time bridge and bring himself into the future where he’ll wreak havoc on Tokyo. Assholes.). I’m just kidding. This is actually the worst looking T-rex I’ve ever seen. Ok, it looks more like a T-rex than the T-rex in King Kong (1933), but at least that T-rex had the distinction of being in a classic picture. The only thing classic about Sound of Thunder is the short story from which it’s taken. Also, The Simpson’s Tree House of Horror episode featuring the time traveling toaster.

This movie is probably currently resting in a dollar bin at Blockbuster, which is a shame because I have a lot of respect for Peter Hyams. He’s the director behind the criminally underrated 2010 as well as the enjoyable The Relic. I really hope he gets it right next time. The Sound of Thunder reeks of studio interference, so I’ll just give him the benefit of the doubt. Better luck next time.

Of the performances, I can say the best was given by Ben Kingsley’s platinum hair. Kingsley, himself, was pretty awful. He was basically a one dimensional money hound. Kingsley took the part, I suspect, because like Michael Caine, he simply cannot turn down a paycheck (Jaws the Revenge, anyone?). He does get to repeat a line after each successful time jump that I liked; "Today you stood shoulder to shoulder with Columbus discovering America. Armstrong stepping on the moon, Brubaker landing on Mars. You are true pioneers on the very last frontier: Time." After that, I guess Edward Burns (Saving Private Ryan) was somewhat adequate as the genius scientist Ryer. I have to confess something. I’ve seen this movie twice now. I saw it back in 2004 and again recently on DVD. The best thing I can say about Burns’ performance is that when I reflected on his character (before watching it again) I thought he was played by Aaron Eckhert (a much better actor). So, for a minute, I thought Burns gave an Eckhert-like performance, until I realized I wasn’t thinking of this movie at all. I was thinking about The Core. So, yeah, via my fading memory, I thought Burns was decent for a moment. Catherine McCormack (28 Weeks Later), as Sonia Rand, wasn’t too dreadful playing an ex-scientist turned P.E.T.A. member , or should it be P.E.T.T. (People for the Ethical Treatment of Time)? After one successful Time Jump, she crashes the after party by spraying everyone with a champagne bottle filled with blood. Whose blood it was, I am not sure. McCormack’s character is also the inventor of TAMMY, the supercomputer that helps to administer the Time Jumps.

Of course, we wouldn’t have a picture if something didn’t go wrong. One of the asshole tourists brings something back. Ok minor spoiler. It’s a bug. A butterfly actually, that flew too close to the bridge and then apparently landed on the underside of a boot in a flattened state. End minor spoiler. This is only possible because Hatton, to cut costs, disabled the bio-filter. So, we’re now left with a race against time, literally, to figure out what was brought back, so they can go back and fix it because every couple of hours brings a new time wave. Each time wave results in a major evolutionary change and it’s only a matter of time before humankind is turned into ape-like lizards, or worse. These are some major changes we’re talking about. Fish are committing suicide and giant ants are attacking people in apartment buildings. In one amazing scene, Ryer and Rand, to escape death by killer ants, jump out of a window a few stories up. Lucky for them, the last time wave saw fit to install a bushy tree there or they would have splattered on the pavement. After jumping, they actually comment about how that tree wasn’t there before. Seriously, they do. I’m not making it up.

In another hilarious scene, Ryer sends himself back in time to try to fix the damage. Unfortunately, he’s accidentally sent back to a movie set in 1940s Hollywood where they are in the middle of filming a Cowboys and Indians picture. Anyway, with each time wave the situation gets more and more fucked. Chicago is covered in vegetation and it’s more difficult to go back in time to just before the disastrous Time Jump. Apparently, they can’t penetrate the time waves, so they have to go over them….wormhole…..something something…blah blah. Don’t worry, they also made it up as they went along, I’m sure.

Ok, there were a couple of things I enjoyed. I liked the nearly indestructible primate-lizards. They were kinda fun. I liked how they hunted in packs and could only be killed with a shot in the throat. At the same time, they weren’t very intelligent either because they kept exposing their throats and puffing out their chests as if to say “I dare you to kill me”. I liked the nitro guns the humans used. They seemed like they’d also be good for the environment. I also kind of liked the vampire bats. Where did they evolve from? I liked how when we finally found out the cause for this nightmare, we got to hear the line minor spoil…ahhh fuck it, “It wasn’t a bug that he stepped on, it was evolution”. Another thing I liked was that Ryer (a scientist!) ACTUALLY asked, “What’s that smell? Rotten eggs?” And he was serious.

The movie had ONE taut scene in an underwater subway car, involving a giant eel-type thing. Unfortunately, the picture’s basic premise never really allows us to grow too concerned for any of the characters. We know, that if everything is put back the way it originally was, anyone who dies will be fine. It’s an inherent problem in this type of movie and basically kills the suspense. Hyams should have said "fuck the studio" and inserted a different ending where Ryer goes back in time, prevents Middleton from stepping on that bug while accidentally killing an ant (unbeknownst to him) or something. Then when he comes back and everything seems normal, except for the antennae sticking out of Rand’s head or the tail coming out of Hatton’s ass, he could shrug and say “eh…..close enough”.*

* Yes, It’s a Simpson’s reference. I’m not ripping them off, nor am I smart enough to think that one up myself.


steve said...

So what are our votes, for the best time-travel movie of all, er, time? I'm naturally predisposed to 'Star Trek IV,' but I think I have to give the top spot to 'Time after Time' ...

brian said...

Wow, I don't know if I can limit myself. Superman the Movie involves time travel. Would that count? Here's a top five:

5. Time After Time
4. Star Trek IV
3. The Terminator
2. Twelve Monkeys
1. The Terminator 2

I also love Time Bandits and all 3 Back to the Futures. You know what, I even liked the Butterfly Effect. I think the order of my list might change daily.

brian said...

Wait! Is it too late to change my rankings? I completely forgot about Beastmaster 2!

steve said...

And I myself forgot about 'Time Bandits,' which is, clearly, the best time travel movie ever made. Don't know how I could have forgotten it.

Anonymous said...

You guys should check out the movie Primer. I thought it was a great little head scratcher about 2 business partners who accidently invent a time machine and use it to cheat the stock market and get rich. Very low budget but worth checking out.

brian said...

I have seen Primer. It's a cool little movie actually. It could have used more explosions, but that's a minor complaint.