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A Sound of Thunder

Want to know how to make a really bad movie? Take “Jurassic Park”, “Timeline”, “Congo” and half a dozen other Michael Crichton novels, cram them together, siphon out all the good parts and shake the rest violently until they are unrecognizably combined into a plot that makes no sense. Next, hand it over to an ex-porn writer and the two screenwriters of Sahara to ensure that there is plenty of inane dialogue and pointless action. Throw in some low budget special effects that look stolen from unaired episodes of “Xena: Warrior Princess”. For good measure add undeserved credibility, black mail Ben Kingsley into playing a role and put him in a funny white wig while making minor adjustments to the plot so that you can slap Ray Bradbury’s good name on it. Lastly, pray people shell out for tickets before word gets out just how awful your movie is.

Director Peter Hyams has earned himself the distinction of creating what may be the worst ever adaptation of a Ray Bradbury story. Bradbury is a name synonymous with words like unique, thought provoking, and exciting. It’s heinously ironic that a movie based on his work is derivative, mind numbing and dull. What’s even more confusing is that Hyams has somehow managed to take a step backward in filmmaking. His past directorial efforts, which include Timecop, The Relic and The Musketeer, may not be Oscar caliber, but A Sound of Thunder may be the worst film Hyams has ever made.

In general, the story circulates around the concept of Jurassic Park, except instead of the dinosaurs being brought into the modern era, people are taken back in time. It’s the year 2055 and a company named Time Safari takes the richest of the rich on a four minute safari where they hunt and kill the same prehistoric beasty over and over, all in the name of luxury entertainment. All the while an Ian Malcolm like character in the form of the lovely Catherine McCormack prophesies gloom and doom on the aberration of science for profit. Sure enough, on one trip something unexpected happens, a minor event begins to alter the evolutionary chain and the entire world is put in harms way. Bad science, tedious action and shameless plot theft ensue.

What begins as a moderately intriguing sci-fi movie quickly descends to a low brow thriller. Out of nowhere the story takes a sudden twist and becomes an action flick, followed by a brief stint as a creature horror film before coming full circle to end on a sci-fi note. I’m all for incorporating different styles into a single movie, but the kind of genre hop-scotch A Sound Of Thunder plays is annoying rather than creative. To top it all off, the science presented makes no sense, confusing more often than complimenting. Granted, Bradbury’s original text isn’t very good science either, but he was out to make more of a sociopolitical commentary, not a sci-fi story. It just doesn’t translate well for a movie adaptation and the result is one heck of a convoluted plot.

Edward Burns, who plays Time Safari mission leader Travis Ryer, has the depressing task of carrying the film and in turn gives his most disheartening performance ever. He seems to understand just how crappy the movie is and doesn’t even bother trying. Scene after scene he delivers dead pan lines with all the emotion of a corpse. Whether he’s being threatened by his boss, chased by a dinosaur-baboon, or being propositioned by an amorous woman, Burns looks and sounds like someone sitting down for a tax audit.

The rest of the cast muddle their way through a script that offers them only laughable lines and zero character development. I weep for Ben Kingsley who does his best to maintain some kind of dignity in that hideous white wig. Like a true professional, he plays his role to the hilt, seizing every moment and making the best of each scene. It’s a sad example of a great talent completely wasted.

As I watched the tragedy of A Sound of Thunder unravel before me, I was most stunned by the utter garbage that I was expected to accept as special effects. The prehistoric sequences look only a couple of notches above “Land of the Lost”. I half expected Cha-ka to appear. As the story progresses, more and more layers of the alternate evolution are unveiled and the effects only grow weaker and weaker, culminating in a version of the human species stolen straight out of the video game Oddworld.

The original short story “A Sound of Thunder” was really more of a political work than a sci-fi piece, and while it may not have been Ray Bradbury’s best or most intriguing achievement, this movie isn’t worthy to bear the name. It’s a blight on the world's cinematic landscape and easily one of the worst films this year, or maybe even this decade. Rest assured, that noise you hear from the theater isn’t thunder, it is the sound of thousands of movie-goers moaning in pain.