Whats the problem with Timeline? All the necessary tools are present but theyre never effectively put to use. What I mean is that the production design is first-rate, the story is intriguing, and even the acting is right up there, in most cases. But theres just no oomph. That one ingredient that would have really made this movie standout is just beyond the range of the screen. It never goes there. Timeline is one of the most frustrating movies Ive seen this year. Im as frustrated writing this as I was watching it. Its near impossible to describe exactly whats missing.
Fans of the book will immediately notice how the time travel theory and other key storylines have been glossed over, radically altered, or completely left out. And thats fine, it would have been futile to try and stick slavishly to the book as such a literal translation would have necessitated a four or five hour film. But director Richard Donner and screenwriters Jeffrey Maguire and George Nolfi failed to create enough excitement and suspense to fill in for the plot points left out of the adaptation.
The story centers on a group of archeologists working to uncover a 14th century castle in the Dordogne Valley of France. Professor Edward Johnson (Billy Connolly) heads up the project, with assistant professor Andre Marek (Gerard Butler), Johnsons son Chris (Paul Walker) and a group of students that includes Kate (Frances O'Connor), Stern (Ethan Embry) and Francois (Rossif Sutherland) supplying all the labor.
Their dig is rapidly unearthing the ruins of the castle as well as the village of Castelgard, when Professor Johnson, being the scholarly fellow he is, suddenly gets very suspicious of the company funding all their efforts. Johnson decides to take a little trip to the States to visit their benefactor, International Technology Corporation (a generic sounding name for the sinister big business element if ever there was one). Once there, Johnson discovers the reason his dig is progressing at such a fast pace is because hes being supplied with first-hand information on what the village looked like during the 14th century. How can this be, you ask? If you read the book, the answers very different from the answer supplied in the film. Timeline the movie sums up in less than 15 minutes what Timeline the book took multiple chapters to explain.
When ITC offers Professor Johnson the chance to go back and witness life in the Dordogne Valley of France in 1357, Johnson takes them up on the offer and promptly things go haywire. Working on the dig while their professors away, his students uncover a lens from his glasses along with a handwritten note asking for help, all in a hidden chamber that opens up after a cave-in. Carbondating or some such technology is used to verify the note was actually written by the good professor 600+ years earlier. The students, Marek, and Johnsons son Chris (who really isnt in to all the digging, just into one of the diggers Kate) set off to New Mexico and from there embark on their own trek back in time to rescue Professor Johnson and bring him back to 2003.
Of course its when the group goes back in time that the film gets semi-interesting. Actually there was one other scene before they make the leap backwards that worked for me, only because Gerard Butler is so compelling that listening to him speak of romance and beauty was mesmerizing (I still had high hopes for the movie at that point). Except for a few flashes of brutality, Timeline makes the 14th century look pretty tame, up to and including the big battle between the English invaders and the army of France.
Basically Timeline is an action movie without enough zip, a romance movie thats way too predictable, and a thriller without any thing to get thrilled over. Pretty to look at but nothing to write home about, Timeline comes across as one big, boring, could-have-been-oh-so-much-better dud.
"Timeline" was directed by Richard Donner and is rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences and brief language.