Timeline review by Mike Long

I've never met Michael Crichton, but having read several of his books, I can only imagine that the man is a genius. His books are over-flowing with scientific research which can be mind-numbing to the average reader, and his ideas are always highly imaginative. Face it, no matter now much you hate Jurassic Park, the whole dinosaur thing is pretty cool. But, even after 30 years of publishing, Crichton isn't the best writer in the world, and many of his books can be hard to read. When his novels are brought to the screen, these problems are usually ironed out and everything is OK. But, when they aren't, we get films like Timeline.

In the film, Professor Johnston (Billy Connolly) is leading an archaeological dig in Castlegard, France, where is he is assisted by Andre Marek (Gerard Butler), Kate (Frances O’Connor), Francois (Rossif Sutherland), and Josh (Ethan Embry). Johnston’s son, Chris (Paul Walker), frequents the site, but has little interest in following his father into archaeology. When Professor Johnston goes to meet with the dig’s financial backer, no one thinks anything of it. But, two days later, a parchment from 1357 is found which contains a message of distress from the Professor! Determined to learn what happened to his father, Chris takes Marek, Kate, Francois, and Josh to ITC, the company which is paying for the dig. There, he meets with Robert Doniger (David Thewlis), who explains that ITC has invented a time-machine, and the Professor Johnston was sent back to 1357 to do research and did not return. Chris and his companions volunteer to make the same journey to find his Dad. Accompanied by an ITC security officer (Neal McDonough), the group travels back in time to April 4, 1357, the date of a great battle between the English and the French. The group has only a few hours to find the Professor and get back to 2003 without becoming involved in the escalating war.

I mentioned above that Michael Crichton’s stories always have imaginative ideas and Timeline is no exception. The time-travel piece isn’t very original, but the fact that the archaeologists learn that the Professor is missing by finding an artifact with his handwriting is truly ingenious. Unfortunately, that’s the only good idea to be had in Timeline. I hate to sound like Roger Ebert, but I got hung up on one flaw in the film which totally pulled me out of the movie. No, it wasn’t the time-travel part. The science of the time-traveling is explained very quickly, but filmgoers have learned to accept that time-travel can exist in movies. (Although, “Greek Fire” could have used a lot more explaining!) My problem had to do with the fact that specialists in ancient France went back in time and seemed constantly shocked by everything that they were seeing, and were always fleeing from the French and the English. Wouldn’t people who had studied that period know how to assimilate? To make matters worse, the main characters in the film meet another character who was able to assimilate!

But, because our heroes don’t seem to know what they’re doing, the bulk of Timeline turns in a medieval chase movie, where Chris and his cohorts are constantly on the run from someone. This leads to a redundant and often boring film where even the action scenes offer little excitement. One of the main problems with Crichton’s novels is the lack of character development, and that is certainly true here. I haven’t read Timeline, but as I learned very little about the players in this movie, I felt as if I were reading the book. The lack of character depth is further hindered by the weak acting in the movie. Paul Walker continues to prove that he’s little more than a pretty face, and Frances O’Connor, who’s been OK in other movies, seems totally lost here and appears to have difficulty delivering her lines. The only standout is Gerard Butler, who gets by on sheer bravado. The truly sad aspect of Timeline is that it was directed by the once-great Richard Donner, who hasn’t made a decent film in over a decade. Donner seems to have lost control of this film (which was rumored to have been re-edited several times) and the pacing is often slow in this nearly 2-hour film. And as the film cost about $80 million and grossed about $20, Donner‘s future doesn‘t look good. Timeline opens on a promising note, but the movie soon devolves into a tedious film where all that I could hear was Janeane Garofalo saying “There were no forks in medieval times, therefore there are no forks at Medieval Times.”

Timeline travels to DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film is coming to DVD in two separate releases, one widescreen and the other full-frame. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This is a very good transfer, as the image is very sharp and clear, showing only a very fine amount of grain in some of the darker shots. The action is always visible in the nighttime scenes, and the picture is never overly bright. There is some slight edge-enhancement visible, but the artifacting defects are kept to a minimum. The colors are very good, and the landscape shots show a great depth of field. The DVD sports a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which compliments the fine visuals. The dialogue is always sharp and clear, and the music sounds fine. The battle sequences provide expertly placed surround-sound effects and the explosions deliver floor-shaking bass response. Technically, this is a fine DVD.

The Timeline contains a few extras. We start with a set of featurettes labeled “Journey Through Timeline“. These three segments, “Setting Time”, “The Nights of La Roque” and “Making Their Own History” total 45 minutes and do feature a “Play All” selection. Here, we are treated to tons of behind-the-scenes footage, which examines the lab accident, the battle sequences, sword play, and explosions. There are many on-camera comments from Donner, but they are often very off-the-cuff and he seems to be rambling most of the time. “The Textures of Timeline (18 minutes) examines the costumes, weapons, locations, and music of the film. There are two theatrical trailers included on the DVD, #1 is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and #2 is letterboxed at 1.85:1, but neither are 16 x 9. In an interesting touch, the DVD features two menu choices, one for 1357 and the other for 2003.

4 out of 10 Jackasses

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