The Butterfly Defect My World of Flops Case File # 132/My Year of Flops II # 29: A Sound of Thunder (2005)

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When you look at lists of the biggest box-office bombs in history, as I sometimes do when looking for movies to write about for this column the Ray Bradbury-derived 2005 mega-flop A Sound of Thunder pops up an awful lot, and for a very good reason. It is an astonishingly abysmal motion picture that somehow cost eighty million dollars to make yet grossed under two million domestically and a little under ten million everywhere else, for a worldwide gross of under twelve million dollars. 

A Sound of Thunder fared just as poorly with critics. It scored a paltry six percent on Rotten Tomatoes and an appropriately pathetic twenty-four on Metacritic. 

You know how you could tell that A Sound of Thunder was destined to become one of the all-time biggest flops? Because it’s an eighty million dollar movie starring Edward Burns. Edward Burns! You end up with a guy like Edward Burns in the lead of an eighty million dollar movie when Luke Wilson’s agent won’t even take your calls. You end up with a guy like that when ten to fifteen A-listers say no, and then five more B-listers angrily reject the role in a huff, and you finally end up reconciling yourself to making a wannabe blockbuster with the guy from The Brothers McMullen. 

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There are certain types of roles Burns can play believably. He’s plausible as everything from a wisecracking Long Island bartender to a police officer from Queens to a New York police officer who used to be a bartender to, well, that’s about it. You most assuredly cannot cast this working class lunk as a “big deal scientist” out to save the animals like some manner of futuristic, time-traveling Noah without generating both intense cognitive dissonance and derisive, mocking laughter. 

Yet A Sound of Thunder does just that, casting the journeyman actor and forgettable independent film auteur as Travis Ryer, a brilliant scientist who works for Charles Hatton (Ben Kingsley) at Time Safari Inc, the least scrupulous business in the history of the universe. 

Time Safari Inc’s slogan should be “Time Safari Incorporated: Helping Terrible People Do Horrible Things That Will Probably Bring About the Apocalypse.” Here’s a life hack: if there is a good-to-great chance that, over the course of normal operations, your business will cause some manner of global devastation, maybe look into some other line of work.

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Time Safari Inc. combines the unforgivable douchebaggery of helping rich, obnoxious tourists get their rocks off murdering majestic, powerful creatures for fun and sport with the even creepier, even less forgivable transgression of messing with the evolutionary timeline solely for the sake of making a few bucks. 

The evil corporation’s M.O involves charging horrible tourists a small fortune for a hunting party where Edward Burns’ big deal scientist and potential savior of the animal kingdom Travis takes them back in time tens of millions of years back to the Late Cretaceous period so that they can hunt the mighty Allosaurus in its natural habitat. 

The time-traveling hunters can only hunt dinosaurs mere moments or minutes away from dying natural deaths anyway to keep from messing with the timeline. To further ensure that untrained idiots lumbering after dinosaurs with guns doesn’t lead to tragedy on an almost unimaginable scale, the hunters are forbidden from leaving anything behind, taking anything home from their trip through time or changing the past in any way whatsoever. 

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What could possibly go wrong, other than everything, obviously? All that’s necessary for Time Safari Inc. to stay in business and not cause some manner of civilization-ending catastrophe is for the most unscrupulous, unethical company ever and rich sport tourists for whom going on a fun, novel hunting trip is worth risking the possible end of life on earth as we know it to not make even the slightest mistake in a perilous, high-stakes scenario like, I dunno, traveling 65 million years back in time for a dinosaur hunt. 

Yes, Time Safari Incorporated is guilty of many, many crimes, including having a criminally boring name. 

Academy-Award winner Sir Ben Kingsley, borderline unrecognizable with an impressive, John Slattery-like mane of snow white hair so distractingly fake it almost feels like the product of bad CGI and not a terrible wig, is an invisible mustache-twirling delight as the kind of amoral capitalist who tells Burns’ animal-loving super-scientist, “You work here so you can study your silly animals that don’t exist anymore I work here so I can grow rich and fat and own everything that does exist!”

Seemingly channeling Kevin Spacey at his smarmiest and most achingly insincere, Kingsley plays the type of hell-bound rat-bastard who’s more than willing to risk being the primary cause of the apocalypse if it means saving a little money. Now there are some places where it is okay to cut corners and cheat a little. Time travel involving massive dinosaurs, guns, evolution and the fate of humanity and everyone else on this stinking planet is not one of these areas where you can fudge things a little and don’t entirely have to be entirely on the up and up. 

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So during a trip back in time to help singularly awful human beings realize’s mankind’s age-old desire to kill dinosaurs for sport something goes awry. The next time the scuzzbuckets of Time Safari Inc. go back in time for the shittiest, most mercenary possible reasons, things are not the same. 

These idiots’ regrettable misadventures in time tourism result in evolution changing so dramatically that streets overgrowing with foliage are now dominated by evil lizard-monkey dinosaur monsters. Yes, evil lizard monkey dinosaur monsters. And also the plants are now a deadly force to be reckoned with as well. 

New creatures combining dinosaurs, primates and lizards now rule a degraded Earth, transforming it into an uninhabitable hellhole. Honestly, it would have saved everyone a lot of heartache if the penny-pinching boss of Time Safari Inc. hadn’t prized keeping their operating expenses down over not creating “Time Waves” that change the world dramatically and permanently and always for the worse. 

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The sociopathic fools of Time Safari Inc. caused the rise of bloodthirsty plants and even bloodthirstier monkey-lizards so it follows that only they can put things right by fucking with time even further. In a movie with any trace of psychological realism, Burns’ terminally bland protagonist and his colleagues would be overcome with shame and despair and guilt over the apocalypse they brought into being through their greed and carelessness. 

Instead, Burns’ sleepwalking good guy is so blasé and nonplussed that you could be mistaken for assuming that they’d accidentally deleted a computer database or lost an important document, not UNLEASHED WAVE UPON WAVE OF KILLER BABOON-LIZARDS AND MURDEROUS PLANT MONSTERS.

Kingsley isn’t the only distinguished thespian debasing himself in this nonsense. David Oyelowo, who would go on to distinguish himself with lead roles in The Butler and Selma, isn’t just the Black Guy Who Gets It Before Anybody Else, he’s the Black Guy Who Gets It Before Anyone Else because he first gets murdered by an evil plant, a sort of psychotic descendent of Audrey II that straight up shanks Oyelowo’s character to death, at which point his body is devoured by vicious new hybrid creatures who represent evolution at its most grotesque, nightmarish and cruel. 

Baboonlizard! Name a more iconic duo!

Baboonlizard! Name a more iconic duo!

Oyelowo is as dignified as you can possibly be playing someone who is killed by a plant with a grudge against humanity, then eaten by baboon-lizards. 

The Sound of Thunder is essentially The Butterfly Effect but with dinosaurs, murderous packs of monkey-lizard monsters and killer plants, with all of the tacky fun and guilty pleasure that implies. 

Judging by the film’s egregiously bad special effects, it’d be easy to imagine that it is the product of a Neil Been or Tommy Wiseau-like outsider, not veteran writer-director-cinematographer Peter Hyams, who had decades of experience behind the camera in big Hollywood productions like 2010 and Running Scared when he embarrassed himself with A Sound of Thunder. 

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This consummate old pro did a downright amateurish job with The Sound of Thunder.  Thanks in no small part to the production running out of money well before the film was completed the special effects here are astonishingly bad.

The green screen is only slightly better than in The Room and as a time-jumping science fiction extravaganza, A Sound of Thunder is just a little more reliant on special effects than Tommy Wiseau’s erotic drama. 

This is a blockbuster with the production values of an Asylum mockbuster. It cost eighty million dollars to make and looks like it was shot for eight dollars. Seldom has a film cost so much yet looked so insultingly cheap. 

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Hyams and his collaborators take CGI back to the bad old days of the early 1990s, creating something more analogous to The Lawnmower Man or Sega CD games than cutting edge technology. 

It would be hard to imagine less sympathetic protagonists than arrogant tourists who hunt animals for sport and to feel like a big man, with the exception of arrogant tourists who hunt animals for sport and to feel like a big man who are also willing to risk ending the world in order to get their jollies. 

I can’t say I particularly cared if humanity survived or not here. To be brutally honest, I was kind of rooting for the monkey-lizard-bat monsters. They seemed to have their act together. I bet they only hunt for food. Even they would consider hunting for pleasure outright barbaric. 

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A Sound of Thunder lived up to its reputation as a flop for the ages. For long stretches, it’s so bad it’s good, a brain-dead b-movie with a ridiculously miscast lead in Burns and a wonderfully hammy Kingsley as its scenery-chewing villain. A Sound of Thunder is an unusually pure flop although I kind of wish that it had succeeded in spite of itself so that Edward Burns could go to star in a whole series of adventure vehicles as Big Deal Scientist in follow-ups like Edward Burns is Big Deal Scientist in A Sound of Thunder II: An Additional Sound of Thunder. 

Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Fiasco 

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