The Ray Bradbury Theater 3.6 – A Sound of Thunder

Kids these days. They learn stuff early. The boy and I went to pick up lunch today and I asked whether he’d ever heard of the butterfly effect in time travel before. He knew it inside and out from all the stuff he’s read and absorbed, but what he didn’t know was where it came from. So fifteen minutes to downtown and fifteen back and all we talked about was time travel, and he knew the problems and the possibilities and how pretty much every time travel story or program just ignores it. Ray Bradbury is credited with giving the problem a memorable spin, and introducing the popular example of stepping on a butterfly, in his 1952 short story “A Sound of Thunder.”

So naturally this was going to be one of the episodes that I picked to watch. It’s a superb adaptation, done with simplicity and a tight budget. It starred Kiel Martin, who had played the flashy Detective Larue in Hill Street Blues, in one of his last roles. Lung cancer took him less than a year later at the stupidly young age of 46. There are only five speaking parts, and a few very small, compact sets. The tyrannosaur isn’t at all bad, given its limitations.

What I didn’t expect was how incredibly effective this adaptation was in clearly and concisely laying out the rules of the time safari. This was such a contrast to last night’s Doctor Who and all of its rules. This takes a minute and just elegantly explains how the death of anything could have repercussions up the food chain. The hunters are given a floating platform and they can only target animals too old to mate. They bring the dinosaur down, but only after Martin’s character, terrified, steps backward off the platform, dooming them.

Well, naturally, I couldn’t let a setup like that go without giving the kid another take on the material. This was a silly, silly afternoon around our place. We watched most of the Movie Macabre presentation of a dumb film called Legacy of Blood, laughed ourselves stupid for a while until we ran out of steam and got bored, chuckled and yukked and told dumb jokes, and then somehow reined it in to enjoy “A Sound of Thunder” without interruption.

Then I calmly played my masterstroke by hopping over to Disney+ to watch the middle section of The Simpsons‘ “Treehouse of Horror V.” It’s called “Time and Punishment” and the kid howled like a hyena. This is great, because he watched about eight episodes from season two before giving up and wondering where the jokes in this allegedly funny program were. Evidently they’re all in these eight minutes. It even worked out that his grandpa sent him the complete Rocky & Bullwinkle a few months back, so he knows who Peabody and Sherman are. And he definitely knows that should he ever end up back in time, don’t touch anything. Marty McFly got away with fiddling with the past, but I don’t quite trust our son to get it right. He’ll probably step on every butterfly he can find in a quest to make it rain doughnuts.

Simpsons image credit: Entertainment Weekly.