TIMELINE is the much anticipated time travel adventure from novelist Michael Crichton (author of the JURASSIC PARK series, TWISTER, WESTWORLD, RISING SUN, and many others). The movie opens promisingly as a man mysteriously appears on a desert highway with numerous and unexplainable injuries to his body. The man utters “Castlegard” before he dies, adding to the mystery, and an ITC representative (the man’s employer) arrives to collect the body and the strange clothes he was wearing. The opening scenes serve to destroy the old adage, “Time heals all wounds.”
Jump to a beautiful valley in France as archeology students are receiving a lecture in the field by Professor Edward Johnston (played by Billy Connolly). A fort named Castlegard and a nearby monastery are central to the research as this team studies the significant battle fought here 650 years earlier. Andre Marek (well played by Gerard Butler), the field expert familiar with the cultural life of the 1350’s, explains the sequence of events occurring between the ruthless English invaders and the French army who fought to regain their land. Kate (played by Frances O’Connor), the senior student intimately aware of the landscape, is determined to locate a suspected secret tunnel from the battle. Chris (played by Paul Walker) is the professor’s son visiting because of his keen interest in Kate.
Professor Johnston leaves the group to visit their corporate benefactor, ITC, and more mysteries surface in his absence. First, Marek unearths a hand-written document dated 1357 which has a plea for help in the professor’s handwriting. Then, Kate discovers a lens from the professor’s glasses lying in a recently exposed tunnel. The team is frantic and worries when they cannot reach their teacher at ITC, but ITC sends a jet for a small group of students and assures them that all will be well.
Of course, all is not well, and the team learns the professor is indeed trapped in the year 1357. ITC has developed some sort of transport machine and accidentally linked it to a wormhole which only gives them access to this time period. ITC’s corporate billionaire, Robert Doniger (David Thewlis as a Bill Gates look-alike), asks the young people to provide their cultural expertise and go back in time to rescue their beloved leader. As an added precaution, Doniger sends along his security expert, Gordon (wonderfully played by Neil McDonough), plus two military-trained protectors.
TIMELINE’s pacing picks up steadily and rarely lets up from the adventure that follows. Once the team arrives in France, soldiers on horseback kill the two security men, and the team is left alone with Gordon to try to retrieve the professor. Meanwhile, Marek rescues a young woman escaping from the English soldiers.
Inadvertently, the TIMELINE is altered and historical paradoxes abound. The group must escape capture, locate Professor Johnston, and gather together again so that they can return safely to the present. Gordon explains that they only have six hours before they are trapped permanently in this dangerous time period.
Marek soon realizes that they have arrived on the day of the terrible battle for the castle. The English army will fight the fierce French military, rallied by the death of Lady Claire, but Marek has just saved her life and now finds himself falling for this strong and brave young woman.
TIMELINE is a wild adventure punctuated by themes of honor, courage, and sacrifice for others. It falls short of cinematic greatness due to some poor casting choices and occasional scenes of corny dialogue. Particularly miscast and disappointing is O’Connor in the role of Kate. She seems too old for the part and her acting is, at times, dreadful. Walker walks through his part as he did in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS. Not really an actor, but a re-actor. As the wayward son amongst the archeology experts, he is, at least, believable as a “regular guy.” Awkward, too, are the scenes involving Thewlis as the over-the-top evil corporate mogul Doniger. Butler steals the movie as Marek, however. He is appealing, vulnerable, and convincing as the courageous man seemingly born in the wrong time period. Had the movie focused entirely on him, TIMELINE might have been a classic.
Still, TIMELINE’s story, tighter and improved over the Crichton novel in many ways, is a thrilling experience for teenage to adult audiences. It is ably directed by Richard Donner, the proven adventure director of movies such as LETHAL WEAPON, CONSPIRACY THEORY, SUPERMAN, and another medieval adventure favorite, LADYHAWKE.
The story resists the urge to become preachy, a common mistake which trips up many well-intentioned sci-fi movies. There are shorter lessons within, however, such as “History helps us to understand where we’re going” and “you make your own history.” The latter emphasizes personal choices and responsibility, not the Humanistic or Marxist teaching that individuals are in charge of their destiny.
Another pleasant surprise was showing the present-day characters experience remorse for fighting and killing. It is a subtle premise of TIMELINE that our modern world, though flawed, is still not as violent and barbaric as the medieval times were. It is heartening to see characters acknowledge the sanctity of human life and wrestle with this truth once they have killed to save their friends.
TIMELINE is also refreshing because it is not littered with extraneous scenes of nudity, sex or graphic violence. Instead, it contains a wholesome and charming romance between Marek and Lady Claire. Donner wisely cuts back on the violence to make the movie more family-friendly, a difficult task due to the storyline and subject matter. In addition, there are many positive references to God and the story shows a healthy respect for themes of honor. As a result, TIMELINE is an enjoyable story marred only by an excessive amount of foul language, including some profanities.
Feeling much shorter than its two hour length, TIMELINE proves the saying: Time flies when you’re having fun!
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SUMMARY: In TIMELINE, a group of archeology students must travel 600 years into the past to rescue their beloved professor. Despite some corny dialogue and quite a few obscenities, TIMELINE thrills with medieval battles, refreshingly wholesome characters, and a rare big screen adventure touting moral messages. Make time for this winner.
(BBB, C, ACap, LLL, VV, A, M) Very strong moral worldview with redemptive elements as present-day students travel back in time 600 years, with themes of courage, honor and sacrifice for others and one army leader encourages his men to fight for justice and reminds them that “God will fight by your side!” plus many uses of “God be with you”, as well as capitalist is one of the bad guys; includes 27 mostly mild obscenities (one garbled f-word) and 15 profanities, including 13 exclamations of “My God” or “Oh my God”; very subdued and mostly implied violence with little or no blood (especially for medieval battles) includes men being shot by arrows, men stabbed with swords, woman stabs man with an arrow to save her friends, one brief graphic scene shows a sword wound on a corpse in a hospital, fighting, slapping, chase scenes, one man pleads for mercy but is stabbed anyway, man’s ear is cut off and bloody in one important and brief scene, no graphic scenes of decapitations or limbs severed, as viewers might expect (and as the book told), battle scenes include fiery arrows flying through the air and trebuchets (catapults) attacking castle with flaming arsenal; some kissing, but no sex or nudity; some beer drinking; no smoking; and, lying and betrayal.
GENRE: Science Fiction/Fantasy Adventure