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Paramount // PG-13 // November 26, 2003
List Price: Unknown

Review by Megan Denny | posted November 20, 2003 | E-mail the Author

Timeline is based on the novel by Michael Crichton and, in terms of quality, it is on par with The 13th Warrior and Jurassic Park 3. In other words, it bites. The writers of Timeline are just about as clueless as the film's star Paul Walker. The story is full of holes and completely butchers the novel it was originally based upon. Time travel is a great topic for a film, but when it goes wrong, it goes terribly wrong.

In present day France, two young archeologists discover a chamber which hasn't been opened in over 600 years. Inside the chamber they make a startling find: a lens from a pair of eyeglasses (which the film incorrectly claims hadn't been invented in 1400), as well as a note signed by their present day professor. When the professor turns up missing, the archeologists and the professor's son demand answers from ITC, the corporation sponsoring the archeological dig.

ITC representative, Robert Doniger, confesses to sending the professor back in time using a fancy FAX machine. Originally designed to send parcels, it was discovered the machine did not send items from Point A to Point B, rather, it sent them from Point A to 15th century France. A setback for the company, but a boon to an archeologist who, by traveling back in time, could easily determine the exact location of important objects.

Due to circumstances supposedly beyond the company's control, the professor is "stuck" in the past during the middle of a massive war between the English and the French. Doniger recruits the archeologists and the professor's son to go back in time and retrieve him. Each person is given a necklace with a charm on the end called a "marker." These talismans are the only way for the team to get back to the present day and they are absurdly designed to expire after six hours. At one minute past the six hour mark, the team will be stuck in the past forever.

The filmmakers have made nonsensical changes in Crichton's original material. Even though the book lends itself all too easily to film adaptation, both script and story are sub-sub par. There's the obligatory over-hyped love stories for one, but there are also some huge holes in logic. For example, in the novel, the markers are well-hidden and more difficult to lose. In the film, the markers are on flimsy strips of leather and get ripped off left and right. It's ridiculous. At least give the audience characters who are smart enough to stash the marker in their shoe. Then again, the professor's son is played by Fast n' Furious Paul Walker, so, maybe stupidity is realistic for his role.

The most perturbing problem is that the film doesn't sufficiently address the concept of time travel. There are only a handful of scenes in which the characters worry about their actions in the past influencing the present, which seems a little weird considering they're archeologists. As it turns out, Crichton's theory on time travel (which is not really explained in the movie) is that the characters actually travel to a parallel overlapping universe. So they can magically find the professor's artifacts but cannot significantly influence history. Why disappoint fans of the book by leaving this out? Seriously, Back to the Future 2 does a better job of addressing time travel than Timeline does.

So, the story isn't very smart and neither are the characters. How about the special effects and the action? Well, they're not so exciting either. There are a couple cool scenes of arrows and cannonballs being set on fire and flying through the night, but by and large the action was a snooze. One would expect a little more from the director of all four Lethal Weapon films; but maybe his powers only apply to modern-day action.

The governing idea of Timelineis great, but the film fails to deliver. My suggestion: rent Army of Darkness instead. Hail to the King, Baby!

-Megan A. Denny



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