Judge Patrick Naugle says that when a time travel movie compares unfavorably to Just Visiting, you know there's something wrong.
They had to travel into the past to save the future.
The time travel movie is no stranger to movie fans. Since the early days of cinema, filmmakers have used the idea of the past, present, and future colliding with unexpected results. Based on Michael Crichton's bestselling novel, director Richard Donner's Timeline was yet another stab at the timeworn genre (pun intended). Unfortunately, the film came and went with little more than a blip on the box office radar screen. Though a disappointment theatrically, Timeline is given new life on DVD care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
What would you do if you had the chance of a lifetime to visit the 14th century? For Chris Johnston (Paul Walker, The Fast and the Furious), it's a not a choice but a mission. While accompanying his archeologist father, Professor Edward Johnston (Billy Connelly, The Last Samurai), on a digging expedition in England, his father disappears after making a visit to a company that is working in teleportation. Chris and his friends (including Gerard Butler, Frances O'Conner, and Rossif Sutherland, half brother of Kiefer) discover that Chris's father is quite literally stuck in the past with no way home. Corporate sleazeball Robert Doniger (David Thewlis, Dragonheart) and his company have invented a time machine that literally "faxes" people back in time—their machine has intercepted a wormhole in time, thus thrusting the Professor into the chaos that is the medieval times. Chris and his friends have less than six hours to jump into the past, find his father, and make it back home in one piece. But when things go awry in the past, the group find themselves fleeing from mounted knights, fiery cannonballs, and an all-out war between England and France with only a slight chance for a return to their own time!
Timeline is a movie that has a good premise and squanders it on too much action and not enough plot. While I'm all for medieval swordplay and exploding brick walls, wouldn't you think a movie dealing in time travel would, I dunno, actually try to elaborate on this seemingly intriguing idea? Timeline starts off promisingly with the young archeologists finding ancient ruins, then being sent back in time to locate Chris's father. From this point, I was expecting the film to actually deal with the issues surrounding this premise: the theme of sophisticated people from 2004 heading back to the 14th century.
Culture clash. Scary, funny mishaps. Misunderstandings. You know, that sort of stuff.
Instead, the film settles back into a chase film with all of the characters either A.) running for their lives or B.) discussing how they need to get back to their own time.
Timeline was directed by Richard Donner, an expert in action movies with a twist. So far I've loved a great deal of his work; The Goonies, the Lethal Weapon series, and Maverick are all personal favorites that feature solid characters and thrilling, old fashioned action sequences. While Timeline certainly has the latter, it skips out on any visceral characterization.
Paul Walker, an exceptionally bland actor with all the charisma of burnt toast, walks around the screen looking like a haggard male model. Gerard Butler, an actor who can't seem to find a hit movie (see: Dracula 2000, Reign of Fire, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, et cetera), fares a bit better, but maybe that's only because I was mesmerized by his Scottish accent. Other actors like Frances O'Conner (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence), Anna Friel (A Midsummer Night's Dream), and Ethan Embry (Can't Hardly Wait) all seem to walk through their roles because the script by Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi doesn't give them much to do. The only two actors who give truly memorable performances are David Thewlis as a sniveling Bill Gates-like character and Billy Connolly as Walker's thickly accented father.
Yet for all it's inconsistencies, I have to admit I was enticed by two aspects of the film. The first is the action sequences, well executed and complete with hurling fireballs, lots of flaming arrows, and plenty of swordplay. Just for giggles, there are also a few explosions, men in armor on horses, and even a little 20th century gizmos-gone-haywire action. The second reason is the production design by Daniel T. Dorrance—there wasn't a moment in the film where I didn't believe I wasn't in the 14th century. And sadly, that's about it.
Timeline still comes up short in other areas, especially plot. It feels as if the writers tried to condense too much of Crichton's novel into a two-hour film and came up with a jumbled mess. From talking with friends, I've heard that the wormholes, the restructuring of inner body parts after the time travel, and other aspects are touched upon deeper in the novel. As it stands, this version of Timeline feels like someone grabbed a few sections out of the screenplay and sent them back in time (or maybe they'll show up in the future in Timeline 2, though it's doubtful).
I can recommend Timeline as a fun popcorn movie, but little else. If you're looking for some real time travel fun, check out Robert Zemeckis's superior Back to the Future and its two sequels. Timeline is entertaining, but not enough to make me want to revisit it again.
Timeline is presented in 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen. If nothing else, this transfer certainly looks exceptional—Paramount has made sure the picture is crisply rendered and clear of any major imperfections. The colors and black levels are all solidly rendered, while dirt and grain are noticeably absent. Overall, this very attractive print should please fans.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English and French. This very pleasing surround sound mix utilizes both the front and rear speakers. Arrows whizzing by and bombastic explosions can be heard during much of the film. Also prominent is newcomer Brian Tyler's heroic music score. Also included on this disc is a Dolby 2.0 Surround mix in English as well as English subtitles.
Paramount has seen fit to include a few supplements for fans to peruse. The best is a three-part documentary on the making of Timeline. Broken down into three sections ("Setting Time," "The Nights of La Roque," and "Making Their Own History"), this is a good look at the film's production. Included in this documentary is behind-the-scenes footage with Donner and the cast and crew, safety meetings, how the special effects were achieved, as well as brief on-set interviews with various folks. Overall, this is a decent feature that will give fans a bit of insight into the making of the film—and just for the record, Donner seems like a genuinely nice guy.
Also included is a featurette titled "The Textures of Timeline," a brief look at the film's costumes, sets, and music; two theatrical trailers for the film presented in non-anamorphic widescreen; and a few previews for other Paramount films.
Timeline isn't a great movie, or really even a very good one, yet as a two-hour time waster you could do much worse. Paramount's work on this disc is most likely better than the film deserves.
Timeline is worth your time as a rental before a solid purchase.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Three-Part Documentary
Review content copyright © 2004 Patrick Naugle; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.