A Sound of Thunder chases down Bradbury's short story to its illogical conclusion
"This September, evolve or die," or so warns the advertising campaign for sci-fi flick A Sound of Thunder. Adapted from the Ray Bradbury short story that's inspired everything from a Duran Duran song to a Game Boy Advance title, Hollywood's first big-screen stab at the story perverts the cautionary tale's already dodgy science into a preposterous romp through a sort of science-less science fiction unseen since the turn of the century. Not this one - the last one.
|Take us to your T. Rex: Catherine McCormack and Edward Burns firepower their way through a future irrevocably screwed up by one false step, in A Sound of Thunder.
The story, set in 2055, revolves around a company called Time Safari, Inc. that transports big-game hunters back in time, where they have the opportunity to take down the biggest game of them all: T. Rex (the dinosaur, not the band). To prevent altering time, Time Safari has erected anti-gravity sidewalks that hover 6 inches above the ground, to avoid disturbing even a blade of grass. What about the dinosaurs they kill? Luckily enough, the beasts are predestined to die pretty much at that moment and the hunters just get in a few pokes before Mother Nature would've worked her magic anyway.
"Crushing certain plants could add up infinitesimally. A little error here would multiply in 60 million years, all out of proportion," Travis the Time Safari guide explains, referring to what physicist Edward Lorenz would in 1963 call "the butterfly effect." Some say Lorenz lifted the term from Bradbury's short story (1952), since it ends with a future changed by one of the hunters trodding on a butterfly. None of this changes how Bradbury's ahead-of-his-time thinking is undermined by a story loophole: Killing dinosaurs in any unnatural manner drops their carcasses to the earth in an equally unnatural manner, crushing plants - like grass and butterflies - in a way that would add up just as infinitesimally. Then again, the science here, while flimsy, was based on speculation and, moreover, was meant to serve as a warning against tampering with sciences we don't yet fully understand. Total Ian Malcolm shit.
A Sound of Thunder's cinematic brother begins where Bradbury's short story concludes, except, rather than just returning to a future that's been socially changed, our protagonist Travis (Edward Burns) returns from his hunt to find time slowly unravelling.
"The premise," director Peter Hyams has explained in studio publicity, "is that if you alter anything in the past it will impact the timeline in a series of ripples extending out to God-knows-what ultimate effect."
| A Sound of Thunder
Dir. Peter Hyams; writ. Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, et al., based on the story by Ray Bradbury; feat. Edward Burns, Ben Kingsley, Catherine McCormack, Jemima Rooper (PG-13)
Why anyone outside of the scribes behind the original Star Trek series would conceive of such stupid science is beyond comprehension, as is, why, if time is fundamentally altered in silly, pulsating ripples (transforming Chicago into primordial jungle and birthing über-intelligent dino-sapien thingys), do man and his creations not disappear as reality restructures itself? How's it possible that two timelines could exist simultaneously? Quantum physics' Many Worlds Theory presupposes time travel couldn't alter our present; a time traveler was present in the past already, impacting the future s/he left from even before s/he left. But even if you could alter the past, it would only create an alternate future. Scribble any of this on a chalk board for sixth-graders and you'd get the same response any average human being would have to Hyams' premise: Huh?
"We cannot predict exactly what would happen if something in the past were changed and how that would affect the present," the director says.
Actually, we can.
"But this movie allows us to speculate about one possible and frightening option," he continues.
Not really, buddy. The only frightening thing here is that A Sound of Thunder was green-lighted in the first place. •
By Cole Haddon