It's a race against time in Timeline, the new action film based on the bestselling novel by Michael Crichton. The book is one of my all time favorites, which means that I had pretty high expectations going into this film... despite the fact that the starring role was given to Paul Walker.
Walker stars as Chris, the son of an archeologist, Edward Johnston (Billy Connolly), who is working on some castle ruins in northern France. When some of his students (Gerard Butler and Frances O'Connor) discover what appears to be his handwriting written in 600-year old ink and one of his lenses in a previously undisturbed part of the castle, they are hurtled into adventure that involves time travel, 14th century France and lots of nasty knights. The realities of time travel are an afterthought as the rest of the movie promises to be exciting from beginning to end.
Richard Donner, best known for his Lethal Weapon movies, directs, and does a pretty good job of creating excitement. From the minute that everyone is sent back to medieval times, Timeline becomes an action-packed film that increases in suspense as the it goes along. Like any book adaptation, the movie does lose some of the juice that made the book so good (more of that later), but Timeline is still fairly entertaining. The only real problems lie in the beginning, where Donner really fails to setup the story and characters properly. From the opening scene to the moment where everyone goes back in time, everything is so rushed that it is hard to get into the story. A pointless romance is pointed out between Walker and O'Conner (even though they do not even slightly match), and the time travel theory is presented a good two minutes before the scientists actually send them back.
Another ten minutes could and should have been added to the beginning of the movie to progress things at a more reasonable pace; the movie never allows the audience to be intrigued or fascinated by what should be intriguing and fascinating developments. The mystery about the guy in the desert is given about a minute's worth of screen time (ultimately, this part could have been cut out), and the even bigger mystery about how the glasses and handwriting ended up in the 14th century is given even less time.
The one really big problem with Timeline is just how much the movie removes in regards to the character of Merrick (played by Butler). Merrick is the most interesting and powerful character in the story, the modern day man who is so fascinated with medieval culture that he knows how to joust and sword fight. In the beginning of the book, he jousts; in the movie, he is alone firing arrows at a target. When the movie ends, he never has gotten to show off his fighting schools; he never gets his big action sequence. Oh so disappointing.
The other problem lies in the believability of the story. Of course, any movie that involves time travel can only be considered so believable, but leave it to Michael Crichton to do the best job possible in making people believe. In the book, the people in 14th century France actually speak a different language; they do not speak modern day English or French. In turn, all but one of the modern day characters cannot be speak Old English or Old French. This language barrier added a huge level of believability to the story, and unfortunately does not show up in the movie at all. Obviously, time restraints cut this element out, but would have been a huge benefit to the believability of this movie.
Despite some flaws, Timeline is an exciting movie with plenty of entertainment. It doesn't how a few big and memorable action scenes that are so notable in the huge movies of today, but in turn delivers what is essentially one long and never-ending sequence where the characters are not even safe for a minute. It does take a little bit of time to get into the movie, but once you do, hold on.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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