The more things change, the more they stay the same—A Sound of Thunder begins 50 years from now, when having finally conquered the fourth dimension, humanity is ready to get down to the truly serious business: exploiting the epochal discovery for a quick buck. Enter Time Safari Inc., a travel agency specializing in carefully controlled dinosaur-hunting expeditions for high rollers. Lured by the promise of research funding, Dr. Travis Ryer (Edward Burns) puts up with rich-fool clients and a craven boss (a delightfully hammy Ben Kingsley); it’s the type of work-place where colleagues justify their fuck-ups by appealing to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Before long, the inevitable happens: One would-be dino slayer inadvertently squashes a butterfly instead, setting off a chain reaction of cosmic proportions.
Using Ray Bradbury’s 1952 story as a jumping-off point, A Sound of Thunderdeals with the narrative troubles endemic to time travel movies by positing a scenario in which the altered past ripples through the future in waves, allowing Ryer and fellow scientist Sonia Rand (Catherine McCormack) a brief window to set things right before their own species is wiped out. Harder to explain away are the shaky CGI effects—the actors appear to have been clumsily blue-screened into the unconvincing visualization of mid-21st-century Chicago (a glance at the walls of Ryer’s apartment confirms the movie’s sci-fi status by revealing that the Cubs have won not one, but two World Series in the interim). Still, the movie recovers from a sluggish opening act to pack some real suspense in its second half, set in a literal urban jungle populated by giant bats, piranha-faced eels, and—in a harrowing scene—a pack of carnivorous primate-reptile mutants. Consistent with the spirit (if not the craftsmanship) of Bradbury’s cautionary fable, A Sound of Thunder can be read as a timely warning about climate change, but here in Mesozoic America, the movie’s most political aspect may be its quaint respect for the basic principles of evolution.