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Timeline
Reviewed by Tim Patterson, © 2003

Format: Movie
By:   Richard Donner [Director]
Genre:   Science Fiction
Released:   November 26, 2003
Review Date:   December 09, 2003
Audience Rating:   PG-13
RevSF Rating:   5/10 (What Is This?)

Any fan of good sci-fi books has heard of the masterful works of Michael Crichton, and most, myself included, love them. He has written some excellent books that push our imaginations into a realm of surreal fantasy and modern supernatural mystery. What is it that makes his books so good? I think it has to be his ability to write action sequences better than almost anything you can watch on the big screen. It's no surprise that his books make it through Hollywood to the movies, and it's no surprise that the movies made from his books are usually blockbusters.

But are they good? The first Jurassic Park movie was amazing, The 13th Warrior was better then average, and Sphere left a lot to be desired. (We won't go into The Lost World; just let it rest in its own stench.) The amazing part is, all of the books were excellent, regardless of the quality of the companion movie.

And that brings me to Timeline, the only Michael Crichton book I hated. I hoped, seriously hoped, that this movie would be better than the book. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted it to redeem the book in every aspect.

But I guess I just wanted too damn much.

Time travel usually provides limitless opportunities in action, drama, and even comedy. And yes, all of those factors are at least somewhat present in Timeline, an era-jumping tale about rescuing a world-renowned archaeologist from hundreds of years in the past in a time limit of only 6 hours. The premise is good and well executed, but I was often confused by the acting, and thoroughly bored. And that keeps this movie from being excellent... or even very much fun.

(Worm)holes in the plot

A zillionaire company named CTI is on the verge of creating a machine that can transport objects across the world, but the first test opened a wormhole and accidentally sent the object back to the Middle Ages with no means of returning. But big giant corporations are nothing if not adaptable, and CTI quickly whips up Markers. Each Marker is a small handheld device with the power to zap a time travelling rescue party back to the present-day machine, no matter where -- or when -- they are. And so, the son of a lost time traveller is recruited to rescue his dad from the past, he and a few friends are handed Markers with a six-hour limit, and off they go into medieval France.

Unfortunately, each Marker has a time limit during which it can be used, which presents a major problem for our heroes when their Markers start getting lost in the heat of battle. Luckily, only one is needed to bring back the whole team when it comes time to end the mission. Our heroes run from the French, save ladies, and fight in a historic battle, all the while trying not to alter the course of history.

That's the basic premise, and under any other circumstances, this movie would have kicked some serious ass. But boring action sequences, gigantic plot holes, and an awful lot of repetition keep it from being the semi-epic movie it could have been.

This movie is essentially the same scene repeated in an endless loop. Our heroes get captured, they escape, they get split up, they get captured, they escape, they get split up. Lather, rinse, repeat. I think the only thing keeping this movie from just showing the exact same footage over and over is the dialogue... and even that is repetitive. Lines like "We don't have enough time!" and "We need to find (insert random hero name here)!" and "You can't just leave them there!" grace the screen about half a dozen times each. It very quickly gets tiring.

Most of those lines are rattled off by Paul Walker and Billy Connolly, two people who seemingly just can't act, and the poor performances only make the repetition more irritating. But aside from those two, the acting really isn't bad. Ethan Embry and Frances O'Connor put on excellent performances, as does Gerard Butler. They bring an emotion and intensity that the action scenes lack.

The lame dialogue and poor acting are just the beginning. Timeline also features gaping plot holes galore. By the end our heroes have done so much in the past that you can't help but think about the effects it all will have on the future. For one thing, the heroes kill people! Won't that prevent other people, potentially important people, from ever being born? Oops. By the end of the movie, the "heroes" have done more damage than the "villains" who actually live in that past era!

Probably the biggest plot hole of them all, though, is the time limit the characters had to rescue Paul Walker's dad in. Six hours just isn't very long. In fact, I took a six hour break while writing this review just to see how long it really is. It's impossible to complete everything our heroes did in that time, even by Hollywood logic. The timing is all screwed up. It's sloppy, and it shows just how much work the script needed. It's hopeless to try to figure it all out.

But time-travel plot holes aside, this movie at least wraps up its own story rather nicely. Some good twists and turns keep the movie from being completely predictable and formulaic. Even some of the mundane events in the opening sequence blind-side you when they're explained later in the movie.

Booming boredom

But even the plot isn't what's really wrong with Timeline. What's really wrong is that this is a boring movie, plain and simple. The whole movie seems to consist of Paul Walker and Frances O'Connor just... running. They are constantly being chased by Englishmen on horses, and after while you tend to stop caring if they're caught or not. The repetitive dialogue manages to say a lot without saying anything at all. It's mostly about scientific theories that don't matter (which at least is true to Crichton's novel), frantic discussions about how much time the heroes have left, and bitching about how their Marker is always lost or broken. And none of it is interesting in the least.

Even worse, the action scenes are horrible. No one really expects Elmore Leonard in a Hollywood actioner based on a Michael Crichton novel, but bad action scenes are the kiss of death for a film like Timeline. I've seen better sword fighting during a high school production of Macbeth. These people don't know what they are doing at all. And I'm surprised the "soldiers" our heroes were fighting managed to fire their crossbows without hitting themselves in the chest. They looked that inept. Toss in a few rather boring fights on horseback, and make sure all the action is plenty confusing, and you have a good recipe for disaster.

As for special effects -- what special effects? The director seems to have taken one look at the script and just grunted, "Fire good!" Okay, so there were some pretty lights swirling around the characters when they went back in time, and there was some weird distortion with Paul Walker's face, but that's all Timeline gives us. Except for the explosions. Lots and LOTS of explosions. Unneeded explosions, unexplained explosions, explosions that don't make a lick of sense. While this may be marginally acceptable for a "standard" action flick, it's really disappointing for a big-budget science fiction movie. Expect lots of fire when you walk into the theater. And oil drums that cause big enough explosions to blow up a stone castle. Thank you, Richard Donner.

I managed to get a lot of enjoyment out of the last half hour, and that almost made me forget how bad the rest of the movie was. But, when it all comes down to it, Timeline is too long and too dull. I enjoyed the previews of Paycheck and The Punisher that showed before it a heck of a lot more than the movie itself. With good movies in theaters, the only reason to see Timeline is if you have an action hunger you just can't satisfy anywhere else.


Contributor Tim Patterson speaks in an OUTRAGEOUS French accent.

 
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