Timeline (2003) Richard Donner

Production Budget: $80 million
Worldwide Gross: $44 million

Timeline is about a group of archaeological students who get sent back in time to 14th century France by a corporation.  Their professor was sent back earlier and lost in the process and the students try to find him in time before a major battle.

I’ve mentioned before, I have dragged my father to a lot of movies.  Much of the time it was just an excuse to get out of the house and spend time together.  He really didn’t care what bomb or pretentious piece of art house drivel I would take him to see, as he said he was “just there for the popcorn”.  Timeline was one of the few times I ever saw him get mad at a movie.  I’m talking like ranting mad, which was kind cool.  Turns out he is a huge Crichton fan and the movie basically took the source material, bent it over a table, and run a train on it (not exactly the words my dad used, but you get the gist).  Now I will take his word this movie is not faithful to the book.  No, I hate the movie for completely different reasons.

To jump straight into the main reason I’ll say these are some of the most unlikable characters I’ve had to follow.  This also ties into Donner’s decision to paint all ethical and moral issues in black and white.  Let me try to explain.  Take for example the character of Frank who takes the professor back in time initially.  He is given the choice of both he and the professor dying immediately or of him going to the future and coming back to rescue the professor later.  He takes the rather sensible option however he is painted as a coward and a Judas and the punishment of his “sin” is death.  Or another example is Donniger who is trying to fix the time machine to bring everyone back.  The machine is patched together however there is a probability all will die if they try to bring them back.  Donniger has the rather reasonable position maybe they should not try to bring them back because they may die.  Better to either try later or to not try at all (and let them live out their lives in the past) than leaving it up to a gamble.  Instead of having a moral debate, Donniger is instead painted as a murderer and has to die all the same.

And I am not even getting to the main characters who are willing to kill thousands, screw up space time continuity, and invent futuristic weapons in the past all to save the life of one man.  I am not even going into the other risks they put civilization at by bringing back their stronger strain of diseases back with them.  Their first instinct in a dangerous situation is to panic, scream, and denigrate the one man who is trying to think rationally and sensibly.  Their next instinct is to do something completely ludicrous and contrary to anything a sane person would do.  Paul Walker is the worst here.  In this movie he is his most wooden, bland, and well Paul Walker-esque than ever before.  His idea of romance is also a bit off.  When a woman doesn’t like you, hound her, tell her you love her repeatedly, and even grope her without her consent.  She will come around in the end.  Stalkers around the world were apparently right all along.

Timeline really has no intrigue or mystery.  There should be some sense of wonder or excitement at the prospect of time travel.  However the movie has no time for all that and rushes them into the time chamber.  It is almost rather humorous how they rush them into the plot.

Where are we going?
—14th century France.
—Your father went back there.
—He’s persuasive.
What does that mean?
—Look, we just have to rescue him aiight?
Um, how?
—Oh we built a time machine.
Um, how?
—Uh, mirrors, magic, and uh, a fax machine.  It’s all technical…
Aren’t there consequences with altering the past?  Is it safe?  What of the moral ramifications…
—Look just get in the f*cking box so we can start the movie.
But what happens…

The action is non-existent and even the climactic siege at the end is uninteresting and dull.  We don’t focus on the battle action and instead focus on our “heroes” trying to find their father.  We also get a cop out ending where the past is apparently unalterable until the plot needs it not to be and saves the love interest.

This movie is horrible.  It is the rare occasion filmmakers actually get Crichton right (Jurassic Park) and every other time it is moronic and insipid.  This is a bad Paul Walker vehicle with none of the intrigue of the original book or any new thoughts of its own.


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