Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Sound of Thunder

The Sci-Fi Channel advertised A Sound of Thunder (hereafter referred to as ASOT), not as one of their original movies, but as a movie new to the channel. It aired this past Saturday at 9 PM. The movie, in typical sciffy fashion, got off to a fair to good start with a interesting premise that seemed like it might actually go somewhere worthy of note, then it all just tumbled down the hill into twilight bizarro land. But let's back up a bit. What caught my eye was the actor in the promos, Ben Kingsley. Sir Ben Kingsley, in a science fiction movie on the Sci-Fi channel? Wow!

The second I saw that promo I knew I had to see this. Alas the fact I had never heard of this before it's airing on sciffy should have been a clue. . .

The first thing that is wrong with ASOT is it's a time travel movie. The second thing that is wrong with ASOT is the premise sucks volcanic ash. No that's too kind, the premise smacks the viewer in the face with the rancid fecal Absurdity of a rabid monkey. I know that must sound like hypercritical hyperbole but this is the sum total of the ASOTs premise: Evil corporate goons (are there any other kind?) run a time travel safari that sends rich fat slobs back in time to hunt, er, I mean kill extinct animals.

To be more specific they are going back to a specific point in time to kill a T-rex moments before it falls into a tar pit. Why? Because the T-rex would have died anyway so there's no way that killing it could adversely affect the future timeline. They make a point about mentioning this at the outset by way of informing the audience that upsetting the timeline is what's about to happen. It's transparently predictable.

But, wait, here is the part I really love; not only does the T-rex fall into a tar pit a volcano goes off within a few minutes sending a massive pyroclastic flow over the area. We know this because, when things somehow go wrong (a weapon jams) the hunters, after shining flashlights in the T-rex's eyes to distract it long enough to unjam their weapon, make a mad dash for the return portal just as the volcano erupts and said pyroclastic flow is shown to rush toward the area at speed. Remember these facts.

Before we go any further let me just say I enjoyed the movie, for the most part, however the CGI beasties and time travel nonce really were epic in their ill conception. The entire premise is that, during this cluster-fork of an expedition to the past some one in the group did something to alter the timeline. It's basically the ripple in the pond, or butterfly effect, theory. That, alone, provides enough rope for a writer who's not too particularly well versed in basic logic or science to hang themselves. But it gets worse. They decided to throw evolution into the mix. Now, if you don't want the movie spoiled, read no further because to explain what's wrong I have to give major plot details away. Are you still reading? This is your last warning. .

Long story short during the "hunt" that went wrong one of the hunters (meaning one of the rich boy weasels who paid to for the privilege to put a bullet in a T-rex's head moments before it dies) steps off the safe and secure path (somehow this time travel device generates a portal with a walkway) and stomps on a butterfly. Let me repeat that: He killed a butterfly. Like I said this movie is basically about the butterfly effect, in this case the movie posits that killing one butterfly can have drastic consequences on the evolutionary timeline.

Here's where the problems arise:

First, how does killing a butterfly in a zone of destruction that, based on the scope of the CGI volcanic explosion, would likely have killed said butterfly affect evolution in the slightest? That pyroclastic flow seemed to come at the hunters in a matter of moments. They literally escaped back through their time portal by the skin of their teeth. Are we supposed to honestly believe a butterfly is going to out fly a volcanic explosion of such a massive scope? I don't think so. Granted this problem is more likely an error introduced during post by the CGI department. But even if we overlook this. . .

Second, by all that's holy and scientific there is no way in any of the circles of hell that killing a butterfly in any part of the Cretaceous period would alter evolution to create baboon faced raptors. I don't care if this is one of those deals where the CGI department introduced the error this is just stupidity of such an epic scale that the producers must have been brain dead zombies to think it was okay to green light the usage of this implausible, unrealistic, asinine garbage.

Third, the major conceit that pads the run time of this movie out is "time waves"; those ripples in the pond. What are these "time wave" precisely? They are the tidal wave alterations to the time line that wash over the world, seemingly only when the writer or director has decided they need to move the characters along or hinder their efforts. One minute the characters will think everything is fine then along comes a time wave to smash their world around them or they will be in a car being chased by giant bat creatures then a time ripple will wash over them and, well, those creatures are suddenly gone. Why is this a problem for me?

Fourth, for some inexplicable reason the characters who know what's going on decided to trek across town to find the two idiots they took into the past to try to find out what they might have done. This means leaving their time travel device and wandering through a city now overrun with primordial jungle and strange unknown CGI beasties. Me, I'd just have jumped into the time portal and gone into the past and been done with it. Why the trek across the city? Why not just go back and keep whatever happens from happening? The only answer I can think of is there'd be no movie then. And, friends, that's the problem. This is a movie that should not have been.

Fifth, before the "time waves" manifested there was one additional safari hunt to the past. The same point in the past to kill the same T-rex, but with different people! What? So they are going back to the same event over and over and killing the T-rex over and over and over? This is a bigger problem for me that the plot point introduced here, namely that there is a time discombobulating effect going on. (This first manifestation of the time wave problem.) They arrive, the T-rex is already dead, and the volcano is about to erupt. So you see the problem. No? Well if they were expecting the T-rex that they killed to be alive after they already killed it then why would the butterfly not also be similarly returned to life as if it had never been trod upon?

But let's forget this glaring implausibility for a moment and focus on something else, namely the time waves. When faced with time waves wiping out existence as we know it all around you I should think time would be of utmost importance to do something to stop them. Alas the writer, director, and obviously the producers did not seem to grasp this. Instead they tried to create a action movie in which the characters try to outrun the time waves- I can't believe I just typed that but it's what they are doing- while wasting time in a effort to find out what might have gone wrong. The quickest, simplest, and most effective way to do this would be to simply go back to the event either as an observer or active participant. Obviously the first option would be negated given the mode of transport through the space time continuum exists at a fixed point in the affected relative present; not to mention time constraints. So that means going back as an active participant, which, after all is said and done, is exactly what happens; but only after the director got to pad out the run time to feature length.

Yet I keep coming back to the fact the time safari people expected the T-rex to be alive to be killed again ad infinitum ad nauseum, yet the butterfly getting stomped on gets stomped once and throws the entire evolutionary timeline into disarray?

I give up!

ASOT presents a potentially interesting premise that, in the right hands, could have been a great movie. Sadly it was not meant to be. How they roped the likes of Ben Kingsley, Catherine McCormack (Braveheart), and Hex's Jemima Rooper into starring in this I'll never know. Yet, if the CGI were to be re-tooled, this movie could still be made to work. And that's the most telling criticism of all I can offer. The CGI ruined this movie, not because it looked bad or was poorly rendered, but because there was a total disconnect between post production and the movie itself. No one was their to tell the CGI people just because they can do something with CGI doesn't mean they should, thus ASOT gets baboon faced raptors and CGI volcanoes that explode with such magnitude that they shatter the sense of disbelief of the key plot point of the entire movie. Or, well, ugh, my brain hurts. . Must. Find. Aspirin.

Copyright © C. Demetrius Morgan

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