By the time the much-delayed, reportedly “troubled” “A Sound of Thunder” (barely) made its way to theaters, late in the summer of 2005, there was no one in its corner. That may be one of the reasons I went to see it the weekend it opened and took to it so fondly. Like a puppy found on a doorstep, drenched in rain, big eyes all but begging for sympathy, the movie’s appearance came across as a worn down act of mercy. Surely, Warner Brothers knew they weren’t sitting on a potential blockbuster, nor Franchise Pictures, the film’s original home base, which went bankrupt before the film was finished. My wife, Julia, and I were among the only people catching the film at a near-empty Saturday matinee. From the opening scene to the last, I knew I wasn’t witnessing a lost work of art. In fact, numerous scenes felt unfinished, a shocker for something that played across America. However, even as a poor shadow of what the film was supposed to be, “A Sound of Thunder” is a fun B-movie that had me thoroughly entertained, even as the filmmakers clearly didn’t have the budget to see their vision through.
At one point, this was reportedly to be directed by Renny Harlin, starring Pierce Brosnan and provided an $80 million budget. Somewhere around the time Franchise Pictures folded (the same Ellie Samaha-run company that gave us “Battlefield: Earth,” “The Art of War” and the Stallone “Get Carter” remake), much of the budget went up in smoke and Harlin and Brosnan were downsized to Peter Hyams and Edward Burns. I like Hyams, though many of his movies are absurdly under-lit (a lighting practice he’s defended, though many of his best movies are still needlessly murky). Then there’s Burns, who I saw take the stage at Comic Con in 2007, promoting his “One Missed Call” remake and sadly joke that “my movies don’t make any money.” I like the guy, whose awe-shucks demeanor and down to earth qualities resonate in his work as a writer/director as well as an actor.
Playing the team leader of a futuristic tourist agency that takes visitors to the dinosaur age and back, Burns leads the groups, while Ben Kingsley (tearing into a C-level role with a D-level wig) runs the business. When someone goes back in time and steps on a butterfly, it changes the future in disastrous ways.
Some of the visual effects on hand are awfully cool, particularly the evil monkeys hanging upside down. Then there’s the CGI T-Rex, which looks exactly like the CGI T-Rex from “Jurassic Park” BEFORE the effect was finished. Much of the CGI lacks shading and film-ready detail. A scene where Burns is walking in a futuristic city is, hilariously, clearly the actor on a conveyor belt, with a phony effects background behind him.
Here’s the thing- “A Sound of Thunder” is such a B-movie (and not always in a hip, complimentary sense), that it’s hard to defend in terms of what made it on screen and what needs to be there. Yet, I found it charming, creaky post-production work and all. It’s based on the Ray Bradbury story of the same name. While this won’t be remembered as one of the sterling adaptations of his work but the intrigue and novelty of his tale comes through. Taken as is, this is much lighter on its feet and a lot more fun than any of the Brendan Fraser “Mummy” movies.
I don’t consider “A Sound of Thunder” a “guilty pleasure,” though I suppose that’s what it is. Here’s one last comparison to help me make my case: there’s an amusement park in Colorado called Parkside. It has rickety old roller coasters, run down rides that squeak and a look that suggests the setting of a “Scooby-Doo” episode. Parkside is the antithesis of the polish, rigorously professional and dependable thrills of Disneyland. Still, while not one of the great American theme parks, it’s a fun, cheap thrills experience that rewards those with realistic expectations. The same goes for “A Sound of Thunder.” It’s a missed opportunity and the cinematic equivalent of an unfinished coloring book, but there’s enough there to make B-movie lovers smile.