Iíve always enjoy a good time travel flick. The thought of being able to travel into the past seems almost universally appealing. If the story is amusing you can even ignore the inevitable paradoxes that are present in this genre. With Timeline there is just too little to work with to realistically hold the attention of the audience. A group of scientist trying to invent a teleportation device find that their machineís fields intersect a worm hole and form a portal back to medieval France, during an archeological dig evidence if found to confirm that time travel has at last been made real. Professor Johnston (Billy Connolly) is the lamented scientist trapped in the past. While the novel penned by Michael Crichton gave the rescue team 37 hours to retrieve the blustery professor, the time here is reduced to only six hours. I wonder if this is what Einstein had in mind with the variable time of relativity. Sent to recover Johnston are the bewildered son Chris (Paul Walker), beautiful archaeologist Kate (Frances O'Connor), the out of place medievalist Marek (Gerard Butler) and the requisite sword fodder marines.
Of course as soon as they translate to the olden days they try to fit in. Confident that their centuries of knowledge will make this mission a cake walk they set out to storm the castle and rescue the elder Johnston. To save his own skin Johnston is already plotting to give the French the dreaded Greek fire, the weapon of mass destruction for the 14th century. What could have been a nice flick about the clash of cultures turns into an almost mindless mťlange of archetypical studio genres including the ever popular corporate greed as the true villain. The dialogue tries in vain to cover the blaring plot holes, why there is only a six hour window to achieve the rescue for example. The pseudo-scientific talk is even more forced than the worse science fiction out there. The plot is further muddied by the inclusion of the romantic triangle between Marek, Kate and the medieval Lady Claire (Anna Friel). In order for a film like this to work there has to be a consistent world created to support the action. Here, there was far too little to hold on to, to assist in the required suspension of belief. While some of the battle scenes where enjoyable it takes a lot more to satisfy the customer now. After seeing such modern epics like the Lord of the Rings trilogy where action was seamlessly incorporated into a real, emotionally satisfying story, this tale falls flat.
If a story is weak incredible performances can save the movie. Unfortunately, here the acting for the most part fails to deliver. The one shining save is the presentation of Billy Connolly as the trapped professor. He is one of those actors that never make the Holy Grail A-List but who consistently deliver. Iíve personally enjoyed almost everything he has done, from television to small roles in films. Here he adds a little spark to a bleak excuse for a thriller. Paul Walker is part of the surfer dude school of acting, too far removed from the character he is charged with to sell his performance. While Friel usually can sell a smoldering sensuality here this is little to no chemistry with her romantic co-stars. Perhaps if the casting director went to a few Renaissance festivals some more believable performances could have been elicited. The cast for the most part are as lost in the story as the characters are in time.
You would think that the combination of a novel by Michael Crichton and direction by Richard Donner would produce more in the way of quality. After all Crichton has been behind Jurassic Park, E.R. and Coma. Donner has an established resume that includes such action flicks as the Lethal Weapons series, Superman and even took on this time period with Ladyhawke. With such established talent behind the scenes I truly expected more than was delivered. The staging was simply put wrong, there was either too much to take in or too little to connect with. The actors where permitted to drift almost aimlessly through the production. The sets made me feel like I was dining in one of those jousting theme restaurants, they made me long for the realism of Monty Python. This film would have done better if presented on an anthology series on the Sci-Fi channel than as a feature length movie. There were too many chances to go off track. I wonít hold this against these talented men; everyone deserves a miss now and again. Consider this one such flick. Perhaps investing in a screen writer with a bit more experience would have helped. What was provided by Jeff Maguire had little resemblance to the novel. Maguire has too little listed experience in screen plays to pull this off realistically.
The DVD was a bit over done. For one thing the musical score often overpowered the dialogue. Come to think of this with this film this may be a blessing in disguise. The battle scenes boom out with the Dolby 5.1 audio, shaking the room. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video was a bit off with the color palette, the colors where pushed too much. What was most likely done for effect turns out to distract. On the up side the picture was free of defects, unlike the film itself. For extras there is a three part documentary called Journey Through Timeline. Personally I found it only marginally entertaining. It was too long with details that after viewing the film really didnít concern me. There is also the inclusion of a couple of trailers and an art direction featurette. None of the extra material can make up for a film that lacks overall interest. Like so many films now there was potential here. This could have been more entertaining if the screen play was given a tighter, more streamlined treatment. It seems that every other film now includes epic battles scenes, the producers have to remember that it take more to pull in the audience.