Set in the US in 2055, Ben Kingsley plays the mastermind behind Time Safari Inc., which allows the rich to travel back in time to the prehistoric era and walk amongst the dinosaurs. And hunt them down. In order for the ‘butterfly effect’ to be adhered to, only dinosaurs who are set to die anyway are used, and a strict adherence to the location where they fall and die must be undertaken. Catherine McCormack plays a former employee of Kingsley’s who warns him of the dangers of carrying out such things, no matter what precautions they think they are undertaking. But she’s a girl and makes sense, so why would anyone listen to her? Unfortunately, after coming back from a latest expedition, chief palaeontologist Ed Burns (!) indeed suspects that something was changed in the past that is now going to cause havoc in the present. And this change will start a ripple effect of subsequent changes, and before long the world seems to be crumbling towards an apocalyptic end. Oh and there’s these reptile-monkey hybrid creatures...but the less said about them, the better. Jemima Rooper and David Oyelowo play Burns’ fellow expedition team leaders.
You’d think a film based on the short story that coined the phrase ‘butterfly effect’ would have to be pretty fascinating sci-fi goodness, right? Yeah, you’d think. Unfortunately, this 2005 film from Peter Hyams (“Capricorn One”, “Outland”, “Timecop”, “End of Days”) takes the famous Ray Bradbury short story and gives us a pathetically inept, cheap-looking production values and a complete lack of understanding of what the ‘butterfly effect’ really involves. The backgrounds in this look appalling, like old back-projection shots from Hollywood films of yesteryear, only not as forgivable. I’m not sure that’s the kind of time-travelling Mr. Hyams had intended, and it takes you out of the whole film. It’s laughably done, and the SyFy Channel-level FX of shaking the camera to simulate dinosaur movement is just embarrassing.
The overall conception of the prehistoric period is on the level of a “Mad TV” sketch. Yeah, not even “SNL”, but “Mad TV”. And why are spacesuits even necessary? They’re not on fucking Mars, they’re just in prehistoric Earth. I get that the suits might be necessary for the actual time travel process, but why do they continue to wear them after the fact? It makes everything look like one of those awful Russian sci-fi films of the 60s that AIP would re-dub and throw in an aging Basil Rathbone for a few scenes. There’s not even any adherence to scale consistency with the FX, a big no-no in my book. Either that or it’s a film about midget dinosaurs and someone forgot to tell me.
How did this turd even get released? Studio bankruptcy (Blame hack producer Elie Samaha’s creative accounting for that one) and a horrible on-set flood undoubtedly played a big role here (the film was supposed to have been released in 2003), but this is just lousy filmmaking by a director-cinematographer who should know how to make a good-looking film and I can’t imagine the Bradbury story being this stupid. I haven’t actually read the story myself, but I can’t understand how they can know what the butterfly effect is, yet no one sees any problems with going back in time to kill dinosaurs? And don’t give me any of this crap about drawing within the lines meaning that nothing would be changed. Just because I dinosaur is already set to die, does not mean that the butterfly effect wouldn’t come into play if you have the dinosaur die in a different manner than originally intended. Having it die in the same geographical location is hardly the point of the principle (And then there’s the matter of the impending volcano eruption...) Killing and letting something naturally die off (or be killed by someone or something else) aren’t the same thing. Yes, arguing about time travel principles is in a way silly, because it’s science-fiction, not science fact. But as with most viewers, there are some principles I can buy in, and others I can’t. The more recent “Looper” crapped all over this same principle, and this film isn’t much different in that regard (though at least no one talks to their future/past self in a coffee shop in this one, thank heavens, though they nearly head in that direction). From that moment on, the film was dead to me and believe me, it didn’t get any better (If you fix the problem and therefore won’t know that there was a problem to begin with, then how is it even happening? Some time travel paradoxes are inevitable, but that one stood out like a sore thumb to me). A billion butterflies get stepped on in this film, but we’re supposed to ignore most of them. I couldn’t. It’s very disappointing from Mr. Hyams, a journeyman, but a solid one most of the time.
Meanwhile, I think Ben Kingsley might be a bad guy here, just quietly. He seems a teeny bit dodgy. Seriously, that frosty wig makes him look like a villain out of a Rankin/Bass stop-motion animation classic. Except those films had better FX. Yeah, I said it. Kingsley is appallingly bad here in a cartoon pantomime villain performance (whose comeuppance is completely unsatisfactory), but even Catherine McCormack and the normally fine Jemima Rooper are having off days, and Ed Burns hardly convinces as a scientist. He sounds too cynical and Noo Yawk to convince as a brainiac. Poor David Oyelowo seems to have at least read the script and watched the dailies, because he clearly looks like he doesn’t want to be there. I don’t blame him.
The Nick Glennie-Smith (“Fire Down Below”, “We Were Soldiers”) music score attempts to make this a lot grander than it actually is, and if you’ll excuse the pun, is the only sound element here. To be honest, for all the laughable ineptitude, it’s actually really boring. And that’s frustrating because the idea behind it all is classic sci-fi stuff. It’s just been horribly, horribly botched. It makes “Stargate” look like...well, Ray Bradbury. It’s no wonder that this one ended up sitting o the shelf for years and flopped on release. Thematically fascinating but a complete failure on every level as a movie. I wish this was fun, folks, but it’s really, really not. The screenplay is by Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer (who both wrote the “Conan the Barbarian” remake which wasn’t too bad, really), and Gregory Poirier (the extremely underrated John Singleton film “Rosewood”), who all presumably flunked science in high school almost as badly as I did.