Andy's Anachronisms - Time Travel Movie Reviews

Timeline (2003)
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Directed by Richard Donner

The Basic Plot

Timeline is based on Michael Crichton's novel of the same name.

Edward Johnston (Billy Connolly), a professor of history at Yale, is leading a group of eclectic graduate students on an archeological dig on the site of a medieval French monastery. When Johnston is summoned to America to meet with the benefactors of the research, he discovers that the company has been secretly developing a form of time travel. After insisting on a first hand demonstration of the equipment, Johnston becomes trapped in 1350's France at the location of the same monastery his students are working on in the present.

The students are then recruited by the company to travel to the past to rescue the professor. The students find themselves applying their knowledge of the past and of the site they have been working on as they fight to stay alive in 1350's France.

The film stars Paul Walker (Fast and The Furious) as Chris Hughes Johnston's son. Billy Connolly also stars as Prof. Edward Johnston.

The Analysis

It's fitting this movie was released on the eve of the American Thanksgiving holiday since it's the biggest TURKEY out there this season.

I read Crichton's book Timeline when it first came out in December of 1999 and my memories of details are a bit vague, so I won't attempt to do a comparison of what's different between the movie and the book at this time. Maybe after the movie has been released on video I'll take a stab at comparing the two. Suffice it to say that most fans of the book will be disappointed with the transition to screen. I wasn't a fan of the book myself, you can read my review here. I did however, have high hopes for the movie since the book did read like a screenplay with one action piece after another and very little character development. Against all odds screenwriters Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi manage to further strip the novel of what little character and plot there was and turn it into a festering mess.

Of course I can't let the director or the actors go unpunished either. Director Richard Donner (The Omen, Superman I & II, Leathal Weapon 1-4)seems to have no control over his actors or the editing of this movie. The actors play the charcters as exciteable amateurs talking and yelling over each other at every crisis. Paul Walker is horribly miscast as Chris Hughes and plays him as a 17 year-old surfer dude who's only interested in getting the girl and saving his dad. In the book the character is a student of the Professor's not his son and actually starts off as bookish intellectual and goes through a bit of a transformation during the ordeal to eventually save the day. If only we had such weak character development in this movie it would have been a welcome relief. Also horribly miscast is Neal McDonough (Minority Report, Boomtown) as ITC's muscle man John Gordon, who never manages to convey any military bearing or menace, but when his character is called upon to become a snivelling coward, he turns it on all too easy. The only actors that manage to connect with their role and not surprisingly the audience are Gerard Butler as Andre Marek and Anna Friel as Lady Claire.

Action sequences in the movie are passable, but after seeing what Peter Jackson can do with a budget of $90 Million on one movie like Two Towers, it seems that Donner should have got more bang for his buck having spent $80 Million. Especially considering none of it on seems to have been spent on serious actors. As for the time travel aspects of this movie don't even get me started. I wouldn't say that the time travel was a big part of the book either, but at least it was fleshed out a bit more. In the movie the time travel via the wormhole is a mere plot device explained away with a lot of hand-waving. One of the things Crichton is generally good at is taking pseudo-scientific premises and turning them into a decent action driven plot. It amazes me that Donner and his crew can so royaly screw up such a formulaic premise.

The movie tends to argue that the timeline is immutable and that history will turn out the way that was intended regardless of the interventions of the archeologists.

Personally I am a little surprised that this film has taken so long to wrap. Besides the fact that the book reads like a screenplay, Crichton's book was released in late 1999 and Crichton has sold the film rights about the same time. At that time it was announced production was to start as early as Summer of 2000. Between a number of screenplay re-writes and a feared Screen Actor's Guild Strike during the Summer of 2001, which never materialized, the film got off to a series of false starts. Production began in spring of 2002 and was wrapped by September 2002. Initially scheduled for a April 11, 2003 Paramount has since postponed the release to November 26, 2003 to coincide with the Thanksgiving/Christmas blockbuster season.

Sorry, I don't have better news to report. If fans of the book want to email some differences between the book and movie, I'd be more than happy to compile them into an essay on the subject. You can reach me at Andy at this domain


Related Links:

Timeline Movie Official Site
The official site for the movie complete with plot summary, cast info and some nifty downloads including your usual assortment of wallpaper, and AIM buddy icons for you AOL users.

Michael Crichton's Official Site
The author's personal website chock full of details on all his novels, movies, and video games.

The Timeline Movie.
One of the better fan sites dedicated to the movie. All the latest gossip and behind the scenes info.

Internet Movie Database
The ever useful Internet Movie Database entry for Timeline complete with cast info, summary, quotes and trivia.

Page Posted: 2002-10-20
Page Updated: 2003-11-27

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