A Sound of Thunderrecommended viewing

Inept, yet awesome
★★★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2005
Director: 
Peter Hyams
Starring: 
Edward Burns, Sir Ben Kingsley, Catherine McCormack
The Setup: 
Edward Burns, not unlike the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, has to travel back to the past in order to save the future.
Discussion: 

It came out of nowhere! I had not heard one bloomin' thing about this movie [though my actual job HAS been irritatingly cutting into my movie news surfing time lately], and then suddenly there it was in the theater, with reviews like the one in the NYTimes saying "It's so bad you almost have to see it. almost." Readers, when I hear shit like that I HOT-FOOT IT to the theater, as it is so rare these days to see such a floridly bad movie on the big screen, and, seeing as this one made a mere 1.18 million during its first weekend, this may be utterly gone by next week! Run, do not walk!

I wish I even knew where to begin. Here's the gist: in the not-so-distant future of 2055, this company called "Time Safari," run by Sir Ben Kingsley in a platinum white wig, sends rich tourists back to the Cretaceous in order to feel like they're pretending to hunt real dinosaurs. But when they come back, time waves begin to change their world, and they realize that something in the past was changed, causing the future to change to an alternate path of history and biological evolution.

The movie begins with a "time jump" back to the Cretaceous, where an allosaur is about to get caught in a bog, and they shoot it seconds before it does. It just so happens that the volcano in the background is going to blow five minutes after this, so they have to get in and out. I don't know. if I was going to go back to the Cretaceous, I would want to be able to look around a little bit, not just be in and out in five minutes. The first sign of the foolish production is this large plant-bulb thing that can barely be made out, and it looks like a dinosaur in the distance. and you're like: "WHAT is that?" And it keeps distracting you throughout the movie, cause they keep using the same shot again and again. Then we come back and have some character development that tells us that Sir Ben Kingsley is an unscrupulous and greedy businessman, Edward Burns is an honorable person who is just doing this to research extinct species [he really just loves animals!], and lots of establishing shots of future Chicago-which are there because the city is going to start to be destroyed soon.

On the next jump someone kills a butterfly, which we know because we've read the reviews of this movie, and seen Jurassic Park, and The Butterfly Effect, though the script here doesn't "reveal" this until the ending. During the long scenes of literally mind-numbing exposition one of the characters explains for the "slowies" in the audience that the death of a single bee [not a butterfly, a bee-that's screenwriting variety!] could alter the course of history. Now I thought-wow, these ideas [not to mention the talking computer named TAMI, which stands for. something] are so banal they must have come from an old Ray Bradbury story from the '60s or something, but no-they come from a Ray Bradbury story from 1986! Ray, dude, I thought you were a little further along than that!

Anyway, so the butterfly bites it in the next trip back, and when they return "time waves" begin to alter the world at first in subtle, then ever-greater ways. There is some exposition given to why this doesn't happen all at once, but everyone knows that the real reason is for purposes of extending the story and giving it shape. Nevertheless, this is where things start taking a turn for the AWESOME as suddenly our heroes face hordes of giant ants, slithering vines, Mandrill-Lizard thingies [not Barbara Mandrell-Lizard thingies, though that would make for a compelling sequel], bats with wingspans of five feet, and giant eels in the flooded subways. And I'm sorry-how are giant mutated beasts hunting humans for food NOT awesome!?!? Yes, the special effects may be a bit on the Atari 2600 side, but what's happening in the story is TOTALLY FUCKING AWESOME!!

Anyway, so the rest of the plot revolves around Edward and company trying to get back to the exact moment in the past to find out what happened and prevent it, but they have to do this before the time waves make it impossible to get back at all.

Now, this movie is so shoddily stapled together, I think the only way to discuss it is through its individual elements:

> Sir Ben Kingsley's hair: explicable? Actually, I thought Ben was pretty good-he has to be, to sell his outrageously over-the-top lines and ruthless businessman character.

> Edward Burns has been criticized has seemingly having only one expression. And I'm afraid that this proves to be true. It's a cute expression, but it is only one expression. Even Mariah Carey has two expressions.

> Curious that the security guards at Time Safari stand quite so far away from the front door. Next time let's station those guys in the broom closet, how 'bout.

> Catherine McCormack, who is like a younger Charlotte Rampling, but half as bewitching, storms the Time Safari offices to get the attention of the staff and talk some sense into them. Yet when, two seconds later, Edward Burns follows her out and wants to talk to her, she is constantly rebuffing him as she throws a sarcastic snit-fit.

> Listen in amazement to the sheer TONS of exposition crammed into the Lion scene and the ones immediately thereafter.

> Watch stunned at the world's fakest walk down Lakeshore drive. These people ARE literally on a treadmill in front of a green screen. The other amazingly shoddy effect is when the street cracks open to reveal graphics that are too fake-looking for most video games. I will say, however, that the movie cannily saves its money for the effects that matter, and the Mandrill-Lizards look pretty good.

> Please note that the Mandrill-Lizards, when threatened, expose the ONE vulnerable part of their body.

> The sound editing is NOTICEABLY shoddy. There are several transitions where it is painfully clear that entire sections of conversation are missing.

> That the chief problem here IS THE SCRIPT will become apparent in a scene where Burns has to supposedly impersonate a fertilizer deliveryman in order to see McCormack, though we all know she would welcome a chance to talk to him, all he has to do is introduce himself. This is made obvious when, upon seeing him, she says: "Oh, I was expecting you."

> I love the movie convention that people who are sold to the audience as just ordinary citizens leading humdrum lives have no problem jumping off 50th-story ledges when faced with a giant fireball.

> The black guy, who does indeed die first, gets an extended death soliloquy, the purpose of which is to buy the white heroes time to escape. His intentions are negated, however, as Edward and co. just stand and watch their friend die. With, you know, mournful looks on their faces.

> You'll note that Time Safari takes great pains to ensure that their clients do not alter history, including not letting them shoot their guns, but they just TRUST them not to step off this rather narrow path. Uh, couldn't we install some guardrails or something?

> The awesome man-killing vines are called "brambles," but they only hunt and kill on the few occasions when the script calls for it. Otherwise characters can just walk around them with impunity, don't seem to worry about them at all, and sit themselves down any ol' place and walk through all the other potentially-deadly vegetation with hardly a care in the world.

> Incredibly, none of the clients of Time Safari unpack their bags after getting home, and just throw them behind the nearest chair.

> When you step on a butterfly, it remains perfectly preserved and intact on the bottom of your shoe throughout normal everyday wear and tear.

> When not wishing to wake the hundreds of sleeping Mandrill-Lizards on the ceiling, there's no need to worry about shining flashlights into their eyes for extended periods of time.

> Giant motherfucking BATS!

> When in a world where new, deadly species lurk around every corner, there is nevertheless no need to fear about wading through long, dark, water-filled subway tunnels.

> Out of about 30 people in the theater, five walked out.

> If you have a 20-second window to prevent a butterfly from being crushed, you can relax and take your time sending a long-winded message into the future, and when you turn around, that will be the EXACT moment required to save the dumb butterfly.

> This is the second movie I saw in two nights, after Supergirl, in which a magic billiard ball plays an important role.

Anyway, it's too bad that this was made in such a crappy manner, because it's a cool story, offering great possibilities. I kept thinking what Steven Speilberg could make of this, with a script by David Koepp. As I indicated, there are myriad problems here, but the main one is the script, which just can't resist jazzing the story up with insipid giant eel attacks-and then jazzing the giant eel attacks up with touches such as the lifeless eel head floating to the surface for one last "scare." Or adding insipid touches like the useless fertilizer stunt or Catherine's numerous snit-fits. Ugh. I will say, however, that this movie had about four good times when it made me jump in my seat, and, since they weren't in a horror movie in place of "scares," they didn't breed resentment.

Let me be absolutely clear: THIS IS NOT A GOOD MOVIE. There is NO WAY to describe this as good in any way. Yet the story and ideas are, if a bit hoary by now, still kind of fun, and in my book, anytime you have mutant animals attacking human beings-hello, that is AWESOME! I really loved the giant ant scene. The fact is: I enjoyed the FUCK out of this movie!

I should also note that this film itself acts as a kind of time machine, offering viewers a very clear and absolutely accurate view into the future: if you watch this movie, you WILL know what's going to be on the Sci-Fi channel nine months from now.

Should you watch it: 

YES! It's not often you get to see a movie this inept on the big screen! Plus this one has giant mutated killer animals!

RELATED MOVIES:
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT is also about trying to alter things in the past in hopes of changing the future, and is also spectacularly, entertainingly AWFUL!