Timeline: A Guilty Pleasure Escapade
By Kristin Battestella
Alright. I’m big enough to admit it. I watched Timeline because I’m too cheap to go back to the theater and see 300. I thought I’d been there, done that with Gerard Butler’s early films Attila and Dracula 2000 but alas, no. Fortunately, we bought Timeline on the whim a few years ago in the Blockbuster bargain bin.
Paul Walker (The Fast and The Furious) is top billed in the 2003 thriller as Chris Johnston, an archaeology professor’s son who only hangs out at the Castleguard, France dig to woo his father’s understudy, Kate (Francis O’Connor). Suspicious of the ITC company funding his dig, The Professor (Billy Connolly) sets off to Doniger’s (David Thewlis) lab in New Mexico. When Kate and fellow archaeologist Marek ( Gerard Butler) discover a 600 year old parchment with a plea for help from the Professor, they take their protests to ITC. Despite the misgivings of physicist Stern (Ethan Embry), Chris, Kate, and Marek lead a team back in time to 1357 to rescue the Professor. Of course, the Hundred Years’ War is a time of turmoil, ruthless English Lords, heroic French Knights, and beautiful French Ladies. Yeah Right.
Timeline is based on the novel of the same name from Michael Crichton, and like Congo, Timeline has a very intriguing premise that never quite delivers. The idea of a temperamental wormhole connecting contemporary New Mexico and 1357 France and the even more temperamental scientists who built the technology is only touched upon in a handful of fast paced scenes. The DVD presentation hypes up the idea of the parallel times, but the storylines are far from equal-more like seventy to thirty percent. While it may have seemed like a good idea to focus on the action packed and romancey past, my intelligent half is yearning for better science and more ethical debates on the idea of faxing people. Funny lines like “You can’t send paper through a phone line, but you can send a fax.” Don’t cut it.
Timeline came and went in theaters quickly, despite the Crichton backing and a fine under utilized ensemble cast. While Paul Walker is clearly hyped as the star, players such as Butler and Lord Oliver actor Michael Sheen have gone on to better success-Underworld did a little better than 2 Fast 2 Furious. Also, I have to say Timeline also scores low on the female front. There’s little eye candy for male viewers. I recognized Francis O’Connor from her small part in Bedazzled. She’s cute and quirky, but the Australian actress has precious little to do here but be a tomboy and yet constantly need the arm of Paul Walker. Also stereo typically played is Claire (Anna Friel, real life lady of David Thewlis.), the French lady who is smart, able to defend herself, and of course, rescued by Marek. Oddly enough, in a film lacking so much, someone was still smart enough to have Gerard Butler shirtless.
Even on my first unbiased viewing of Timeline, Gerard Butler stole the show from Paul Walker. Walker does fine, even if we’ve seen his surfer boy hottie persona before, but we see very little of him. Butler’s Marek carries more presence, better lines, and chemistry with his onscreen interest Claire. Neal McDonough (Star Trek First Contact) has a much more interesting character as Gordon, the dubious IDC military man. He and other essential supporting characters in the past and the present provide intrigue and conflict, but are never allowed the time to stretch in the under 2 hour presentation.
Director Richard Donner has presided over fine films, including the Lethal Weapon series, Superman, and The Goonies-plus one of my fantasy favorites Ladyhawke. Here, however, his direction is mismashed at best. Whether it was the direction or the half hearted script from Jeff Maquire and George Nolfi, Timeline is uneven across the board. Characters say and do contrary things-cry over the deaths of some companions and then dismiss the deaths of others. I’m not surprised the film was ill received in preview screenings and re-edited. The more I think on it the more I’m convinced that the book by Michael Crichton is where the good stuff’s at.
I’m sure everyone’s heart was in the production, and hey, no one truly thinks his or her film is going to be a bust, but dedicated as they were, Timeline looks like a Saturday morning kid’s jousting show. The Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire looks more authentic than the village of Castleguard. Poor French Captain Arnaut (Lambert Wilson, the only French member of the cast.) and his horrendous hair, and what is Claire wearing- long johns? The behind the scenes material goes into detail about the swords and armor and sets, but after fifteen hours of Lord of the Rings appendices, the look of Timeline is simply unspectacular.
The DVD edition of Timeline is standard enough. Three features detailing the locations, textiles, and production, plus trailers and a nifty interface that switches from medieval to high tech in one click. Unfortunately, there are no bloopers or outtakes or deleted scenes. I would like to have know how hokey the actors thought some of their lines were or if there was something more in unused film, but I digress. I normally prefer subtitles, but its quite irksome when the spoken dialogue doesn’t match the words onscreen. Whether it was a poor transcription job or if the script was altered that much during shooting I don’t know, but entire sentences are often deleted or changed. As much as I want to gloat over the good things in Timeline, those ornery little subtitles might be the writing on the wall.
If you’re seeking serious historical representation or even some medieval fantasy, try The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc or The Lord of the Rings. Instead of dwelling on what Timeline could have been, accept if for the guilty pleasure that it is. Even Bad movies have a purpose, Gather the boys and yell “Trebuchets!” or have a girls night in with Gerard Butler’s “high school French”. For smarts, read the book. For more Butler or Walker drool, shoot for Attila and Into the Blue. Timeline is affordable enough for a good MST3King. Easy on your wallet and your conscience, if not your brain.
(This is Gerrrrrryyyyy!!!!)