Sunday, April 09, 2006

Wigged out

I have just seen what I believe must be the worst science fiction movie of the modern era. In fact A Sound of Thunder is pure essence of badness, with not a single redeeming feature, and thus can be recommended for a fun evening at home with appallingly bad dialogue, lashings of really cheap and nasty CGI and terrible acting from what is on the face of it a decent cast.

It's based on a Ray Badbury time travel story I've read, in which an outfit called Time Safaris sends rich folks looking for thrills to the Jurassic to kill dinosaurs. One steps off the "path" from the future and squashes a butterfly -- thus changing history and sending evolution in a different direction. When they return to their own time, it is already being changed by "time waves", kind of transparant tsunamis that roll over Chicago, changing it more and more radically.

The director is Peter Hyams, also responsible for the risible Schwarzenegger vehicle End of Days and the Jean-Claude van Damme stinker Timecop. His last decent movie was Outland, in 1981, with Sean Connery. Somebody must have thought Timecop was sufficient recommendation. What we get is a movie in which character is a malleable concept, plot descends into a hopeless muddle and the whole thing finally collapses and dies.

It features what must be Sir Ben Kingsley's worst performance by a very long way. He seems to have realised what a mess he is in about 10 minutes in, and tries out several ways of saying the words, all of them totally unconvincing, laughable even, augmented by bits of business, like actorly gestures that belong in some other movie. Indeed his expression, by turns uneasy and baffled, gives away his wish to be in any movie but this one. I imagine the part was originally written for a specific American actor, a blustering, wisecracking type, though I haven't worked out which one yet. The role sits on Kingsley as uneasily as his unfeasible snowy white bouffant wig, with its tall crested coif. It appears to be about to launch itself off his head, perhaps pining for some Arctic seabird colony. It is hair as performance, and the only consistent one of the film.

A haggard-looking Catherine McCormack plays the inventor of the artificial intelligence that runs the time travel trips. She opts for hardtalking bitch mode throughout and if there is meant to be something between her and the expressionless Edward Burns (phoning in his turn as the safari leader) it isn't ever discernable.

Also nonplussed about his character and indeed his motivation is the government inspector from the Department of Temporal Affairs, which sounds like a wing of the Vatican. As Chicago is overtaken by jungle and weird forms of wildlife, he remains a mildly protesting straight man for Sir Ben. With some very sulky closeups. You'd think maybe with humankind about to be extinct, the department or indeed the Feds might just have sent in reinforcements. But plot appears to have been wrenched hither and thither by various credited screenwriters and very likely some who preferred being uncredited. Alan Smithee would have been ashamed to have his name on it.

I've done my best to describe what's describable. To get the full awfulness you have to see it.
Apparently the budget was $55 million, most of it presumably spent on the hokey CGI. Hyams has form in this department: End of Days had really cheap-looking effects too. I see he's since done a TV series called Threshhold, about the discovery of an extraterrestrial craft in the ocean by the US Navy. A team of experts is assembled. Perhaps Ben Kingsley's wig got a casting call ...

5 Comments:

Blogger Wyndham said...

To be honest

*wyndham whisper confidentially*

I'm actually a big fan of Hyams - at least, his late-70s-early 80s period. Capricorn One is one of my favourite movies of all time and other stuff he wrote and directed like The Star Chamber and Outland had a kind of cheap, but taut, muscularity.

Saying that, these days he dedicates himself exclusively to hack work and any film that stars the biggest non-star in cinema history, Edward Burns (when I sat next to him at the theatre once, people asked for my autograph) and Ben, "that's Sir Kingsley to you!" has got to be worth missing. I wondered what happened to A Sound Of Thunder and I now I know - dvd hell.

11:16 AM  
Blogger DavetheF said...

I liked Outland at the time but haven't seen it lately. It's essentially a space frontier Western, and nothing wrong with that. I think Hyams has never risen above journeyman status though.

7:29 PM  
Blogger Pashmina said...

... and here I was, about to sound off about Ed Burns's charisma-vacuum, and "Call me Sir" Ben Kingsley, only to find that Wyndham has already made both points and, as usual, displayed suprerior SciFi knowledge.

Stomp stomp, mutter mutter.

Still, that's another one to avoid at the flicks when it finally makes its way over here, then. Thanks for the tip-off, Dave.

11:46 AM  
Blogger First Nations said...

Outland blew. it wasn't Santa Claus vs the Martians, but it still blew. 'Sean Connery wandering around with a bored expression' sums it up.

6:21 PM  
Blogger First Nations said...

whoops, make that Capricorn 1.
but outland blew too. oh never mind. *wanders off searching for caffeine*

6:24 PM  

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