“Timeline” is a great example of a woulda-coulda-shoulda movie. If the filmmakers woulda cast the film better, written a better script and strengthened the characters as they shoulda done, this coulda been a great movie.
But it wasn’t.
“Timeline” begins simultaneously in 2003 and 1357. Some guy is running down the road in 2003 and running away from a knight on horseback in 1357. He’s killed by the knight and ends up dead on a desert road in 2003. He’s taken to a hospital, where they discover that he appears to have been sliced in two and put back together. Before the doctors can look into it more, the super-duper all powerful business that funds the hospital confiscates the dead body and all of the records.
Suddenly we jump to an archeology site in France where we’re given a history lesson that we know will feature all-too-prominently later in the film. The leader of the dig, Professor Johnston (Billy Connolly), is heading out to visit his benefactor (from the same super-duper all-powerful business from earlier in the film) and question him about his extraordinary knowledge of their dig site.
Later in the dig, the students (which feature some of the best looking rock hounds archeology has ever seen) find the professor’s glasses buried in a sealed tomb along with a note saying “Help me” written more than six hundred years earlier. Johnston’s son Chris (Paul Walker) and several of the other hot archeologists pay a visit to the super-duper all-powerful business to track him down. There, they learn that the professor is lost in they year 1357 and they must go after him.
And this is just in the first 15 minutes. Too bad the rest of the plot comes to a screeching halt after this revelation.
As with many Michael Crichton stories, “Timeline” is filled with incredibly weak characters. They are constantly making bonehead decisions and doing stupid things. “Timeline” is no exception.
One real problem I had with this film is that the characters accept the impossible so easily. I know that the story needs to move at a good pace, but these scientists just easily accept things – like the accidental discovery of time travel or the discovery of glasses and the professor’s handwriting. They also agree too quickly to be “faxed” back in time. The rock-stupid roughnecks in “Armageddon” had more intellectual contemplation about rocketing into space and blowing up an asteroid than these folks did in “Timeline.”
When the characters do get back to 1357, they seem to forget everything they’ve learned in their studies – like the fact that the British hate the Scots almost as much as they hate the French and also how to make gunpowder. They approach the enemy as if giving themselves up to these medieval militaries would be as simply as surrendering to the United Nations.
There’s a lot of things that are left unexplained in this story. I haven’t read the original book, but I’d venture to guess, considering Crichton’s fondness of explanation and lecturing, that much was explained better and left out of the screenplay. We never even find out the real reason the professor went back in time… or why these sexy archeologists are digging in the first place… or who the bad guy really is.
Crichton tends to put together some great stories and some awesome fantastic elements in such a way that you’d actually believe it could happen. But the filmmakers distilled out almost all of this explanation and left us with a weak medieval action film that even Renaissance Fair junkies would get bored with.
To make things worse, there’s a rickety romance between Chris and Kate (Frances O’Connnor) that has no chemistry or reason. Another totally predictable yet poorly constructed love story between modern day Andre Marek (Gerard Butler) and historical Lady Claire (Anna Friel) takes shape but feels like it came out of a Silhouette romance novel rather than a science fiction best seller.
I had hoped that “Timeline” would be good, clean, mindless fun like “The Core.” But “Timeline” was so predictable, poorly acted and structurally fractured, it made crap like “The Core” look like “Ben Hur.”