App. # 902.05/WB1.9
Point of Origin Warner Brothers
Passage Via Hayams, Peter — Burns, Edward – Kingsley, Ben
Every new year we are invariably wrapped around the mystique of the passage of chronology. This is true in cinematic circles, where we celebrate accomplishments of the past year and the anticipation of new titles and projects. It is only fitting therefore to examine a title that does a similar thing; looking far into the future as well as getting curious about the past. The result is akin to somebody walking down the street while peering intently over their shoulder – this movie manages to walk directly into a light pole, trip over a garbage can, a fall into an open manhole.
Many viewers of time travel pictures have become familiar with the theoretical concept known as the Butterfly Effect. This dramatic trope is used to explain what might transpire when short-sighted time travelers (if that term applies to those looking back millions of years) begin to monkey around in the past. As is often always the case while everyone has the point hammered into their brain pan they immediately storm out and screw things up for those of us rooted in the present.
A Sound of Thunder is based directly on a Ray Bradbury short-story. In fact, this story has become so bastardized I have an interesting time-travel quandary of my own. I wonder if Mr. Bradbury was taken back to 1952 (when he penned this tale) would he possibly toss his manuscript in the fire, knowing how many horrible movies would be made as a result of his work. To say Hollywood routinely screws up time travel would be more redundant than “Groundhog Day”, and in this case they prove once again they don’t learn from history’s mistakes.
The concepts placed upon this space-time hypothesis is has been grappled over for centuries by gifted minds such as Einstein, Godel, and Hawking. Hollywood meanwhile feels like these scientific complexities are perfectly suited for the likes of Van Damme, Swarzenegger, or Keanu. Looking into the basis reveals the stunted thinking in Burbank; the Butterfly Effect actually concerns weather physics. An MIT meteorologist, Edward Lorenz, postulated a seagull’s wings may have far-reaching effects on the environment. This was changed to a more fanciful butterfly, and as the theory arrived after Bradbury’s story it appropriated the imagery, then that butterfly flew back and became the signifier for time-travel. When a time travel “mascot’ has such a convoluted story is it any wonder Hollywood struggles with this dramatic device?
Further clouding the chronological disorder, this movie was released in the fall of 2005, one year after another lunk-headed period piece, Timecop. Thunder festered for a few years as Franchise Pictures went into receivership (partly due to Battlefield Earth). While being more recent in reality it was older, and while exploring a future further flung than Timecop it was visually retrograde — a more contemporary release with more archaic technology. And adding to the mirthful history both of those films were directed by Peter Hyams, illustrating that the director of numerous futuristic titles has not learned from the past.
VALIDATION FOR PASSAGE
A title card opens things and incrementally delivers:
- In the year 2055 /
A new technology was invented that could change the world . . . /
Or destroy it . /
A man named Charles Hattan used it to make money.
It’s always nice when a film basically offers up its idiocy on a platter for us like this. In just two fragmented sentences they posit any manner of dramatic tension may transpire, and then knock the legs out from under it with a quotidian resolution.
This promiscuously faithful adaptation begins with a hunting party walking on a set that looks as bad as a late 1980s VH-1 music video. They huddle and wait for a plastic-looking Tyrannosaurus to almost attack them, then shoot him dead with futuristic weapons. It dies in a tar pit, along with every single shred of plausibility, and our suspension of disbelief.
This excursion was conducted by the cleverly named “Time Safari”, a company the aforementioned Charles Hattan created when he harnessed the technology. So he’s literally involved in time “Travel”. Wow. For reasons that escape my MBA-deficient mind he feels the best shot at a financial windfall is to host hunting trips for rich guys who cannot score Viagra. Stock markets? Lotteries? Nah, I’ll invest billions into a risky vacation venture that can threaten the very existence of mankind instead.
There is an after-party hosted by Hatton, and Ben Kingsley plays the avaricious owner with a delivery so hammy he could be spiral-cut and set out by craft services. He preens to the chagrin of lead scientist and expedition leader, Travis Ryer. Ed Burns plays the brilliant, principled hero, who has sex with the female clients. Burns is filling out the Character Nobility Juxtaposition role, where an evil corporation always has at least one ethically upright employee to drive the story. During the celebration an unhinged woman enters clutching a champagne bottle and shrieking about all the harm they are causing, uncorking the bottle to spray fake blood on the crowd. Wait now, what the shit? Where the hell does somebody find carbonated plasma? This came out in 2005, so we know she did not steal it from the set of The Vampire Diaries.
This English harridan is brilliant scientist, Dr. Sonia Rand. Travis chases her down and she informs him that she invented their time travel computer, but Hatton forced her out so he can get rich booking vacations, somehow. Travis excuses his bad judgment, stating the planet contains no living animals any longer, so he hopes to regenerate creatures by collecting DNA during his jaunts, as well as collecting a heavy paycheck. (This treacle about the lack of animals gets ignored later as characters mention house pets in two separate instances.) Sonia intones all sorts of warnings about altering the present and Ryer, like a highly educated individual, decides she is as loopy as your average PETA activist.
The next day we learn of the operation. Their technology insures all of the trips are orchestrated to prevent influence upon the environment, lest any interaction make drastic changes to the present. As Bradbury theorized if you kill a butterfly it may not pollinate a flower, and a whole domino effect happens over the eons so we may not end up with FaceBook, or the NFL Red Zone Channel. “But wait”, you are saying, “these guys are killing dinosaurs; won’t that make things wonky in the future”? A couple of things here. First, stop using that term “wonky”, you sound like a tool. Second, they arrange it so that while walking on an electronic platform they kill a Tyrannosaur moments before it would have died in a tar pit and buried by a lava flow. They also use frozen nitrogen bullets which dissolve after use, so no harm at all can happen! This is perfect! Of course, if a butterfly’s demise could alter events, wouldn’t displacing 6 tons of thunder lizard possibly have an effect?
I was too busy allowing my mind to drift off to other issues. Here’s one; If these safaris repeatedly go back to this exact point in time why don’t we run into the previous hunting excursions? That’s the central flaw of this film; you find yourself contemplating the complexities to a greater extent than any of the script writers. Here’s another quixotic wrinkle. Later on there is low drama when Ryer’s gun jams and nobody can shoot the Dinosaur, and they all become imperiled. Except – they told us the dinosaur is shot seconds before it was to perish in the tar pit, so failing to kill the beast means it just safely sinks to its demise. These disconnects are woven throughout the narrative.
So, they prevent calamities because every segment of the trip is completely controlled. Except they are not. The next recycled plot device we see is the Industrial Complex Enterprise Paradox. This is where a highly expensive business operation gets compromised by mundane and cheap gadgets. Usually we see a company dealing with dangerous viruses with an intricate safety network in a multi-million dollar laboratory, yet they store a viral contagion in flimsy glass vials which break when some klutz fumbles the serum. In “Thunder” a blue collar clod knocks over canisters of frozen nitrogen which crack, so a few drops of fluid fall onto one of the electronic guns – which was cleverly stored ON THE FUCKING FLOOR!!!!!!. These weapons are specialized so during a safari nobody can fire until Travis shoots first. Well wouldn’t you know, whose gun do you suppose got damp? This leads to the scene of the dinosaur nearly eating the group (when it was supposed to die).
As they barely return everyone notices there are some gradual changes to their area of Chicago. First, it is about eighty degrees, in November — It’s like a nightmare! The next day trees and plants have become enormous. Travis decides that the scientific answers lie with the woman he had previously declared insane. He locates Sonia’s apartment building and sneaks into her place posing as a fertilizer delivery man. Yes, this movie paints a glittering future where anyone can have bags of manure delivered to their condo! Inside the doctor explains that something bad happened on the failed trip, and somehow she knows exactly what is wrong. The planet is experiencing a series of time waves every 24 hours which cause instant evolution, first to the climate, then the plants, then insects, animals, and eventually mankind. This upsets Ryer because it will interfere with his plans of bringing back animals and sleeping with his customers.
As they talk another time wave rolls in and immediately Rand’s home is swarmed by enormous ants. They escape by blindly jumping off her tenth floor balcony, but are become saved by landing in a large tree that was not there yesterday. Time waves: a true double-edged sword. They climb down to the street (where there are no ants I guess) and calmly proceed back to Time Safari. However government regulators have shut down the facility making it a challenge to figure out what went wrong. They check the logs and discover they returned from the trip with 1.3 grams of extra biological material. This was missed because Hatton turned off the bio-filters due to cost-cutting measures. Bio-filters are expensive to operate, but hosting opulent champagne parties after each jump is fiscally expedient. They get a crew together to march across town to find the last clients and determine if they brought anything organic back from the past.
It would be clever at this time for just ONE of these brilliant scientific-type minds to think of going back in time and fixing things – but this is not an option. Not dramatic enough! On foot they discover plants which capture and seriously wound one member. Then they encounter a pack of hilarious mandrill-lizard hybrids. These predators attack violently once you have become paralyzed — from laughter.
Anyway, the vine guy is dying, so valiantly he decides to fire upon the hoard of creatures to allow the others to escape. This becomes the second time somebody martyrs themselves, only to have the group show their gratitude by standing still to watch.
Once they locate the first client his gear is found clean, so they have to go back across town to find the OTHER customer. This time they hotwire a car, so we have to ask, why did they not drive in the first place? Their friend wouldn’t be falling under attack by Baboon-osaurs, and fulfilling the obligation of the African American becoming the first death. During their drive they get set upon by another hoard of evolved animals, only these are bats which only appear to have become larger. And they are able to peel open the roof of a moving car to pluck a passenger, so their sonar certainly evolved.
Heroically they make it to the next condo and discover this guy stepped off the path and stepped onto a huge butterfly. So now the scientists know exactly what caused all these time waves, and now . . . and now . . . well, I don’t know. Because discovering what had been killed changed nothing; they STILL need to go back in time to stop things. Knowledge of the butterfly made no difference. But they did burn some screen time crisscrossing the city, letting friends get picked off, all while time wave after time wave rolled in. Typical eggheads – over-thinking the basics.
By now we are down to three people and another time wave slams them, fortunately sending their truck into the front of Time Safari. Except now the changes mean their equipment is no longer functioning. However Dr. Rand says they can pull the hard drive and go to the nearest university because they have a compatible mainframe computer – and apparently all the other arcane and custom made technical gadgets needed to go back in time. (Really?) No, not really, but don’t ask, because now they get to travel outdoors again and become targeted by poorly rendered computer-generated creatures! Yay! (groan).
This time they have to traverse the flooded subway tunnels to get to the university (even though Chicago has an elevated train system. I guess this will be built in the future.) As they wade through they get set upon by an eel-like creature with teeth so big its mouth would never be able close (so how the hell did THAT evolve?!) and they lose another member, but Travis and Sonia make it. They work feverishly to get the computers up and running and send him back in time to fix everything. There is high tension because another wave is on the way (what happened to every 24 hours here, folks???) and he is sent back just before it rolls in. Sonia, left behind, becomes instantly evolved into a different creature.
Travis prevents the butterfly massacre, the world is saved, and I pop 4 headache tablets and wait to see how much time they take to work.
QUOTES FROM REFERENCES
- CLIENT HUNTER(on the expensive trip): What’s the point in being rich if you can’t buy things other people can’t afford?
- SAFARI GUIDE (when told they need to find a new portal): That’s easy – let’s go to Home Depot.
- CLIENT: I haven’t seen any wildlife. We could be in downtown Pittsburg for all I know. (spoken while walking in the middle of a jungle)
Oh, the tension!. However, just as much tension is dissipated by something Travis says — something that has been repeated amidst all the dramatics. Whenever somebody is imperiled or about to die, they are told not to worry, because once he travels back and fixes everything that person will become restored again. So that means that any and all pathos we may feel at the expiration of a character is erased. “Relax, I’ll go jigger with the time-space continuum and you’ll be fine. Stop whining!” Actually that is not accurate. We lose 90 minutes of our lives. And we are not fine as a result.
APPLICATION JUDGEMENT APPROVED