“Timeline,” the latest Michael Crichton novel-turned-movie, lobs its story forth like the medieval catapults in the climactic battle: always vividly, if sometimes clumsily.
Crichton’s story about a team of modern-day archeologists funneled through a wormhole to the year 1357 is an interesting-enough premise. And Richard Donner, director of the “Lethal Weapon” series and many other smart action films, seems like a natural fit for the project.
And maybe that’s the problem. “Timeline,” which opens nationwide today, is a little too clean, a little too neat. It’s a tapered cut when it should have been a shag.
“Timeline” infuses a traditional ensemble-against-the-odds scenario with the notion of time travel. Movie time is divided between a corporation trying to control its time-travel technology in the present, and that well-meaning archeology team trying to set things right during the 100 Years War.
The set-up is this: Archeologist Johnston, played by Scotsman Billy Connolly, is transported to the year and locale of his dig—the Dordogne Valley of France. His transportation through a “wormhole” is no accident, for strange things are afoot with the dig’s benefactor, International Technology Corporation, and its head honcho, Robert Doniger, played capably by David Thewlis.
Johnston’s students follow their professor through the wormhole to rescue him from the past, and that’s when the real action heats up. The students are led by an ITC employee, as well as Johnston’s trusted associate, played by Gerard Butler, who is the best actor and most believable one of the bunch.
He far outshines Paul “The Fast and the Furious” Walker and even Frances O’Connor, who seems less suited for the role on screen than she probably did on paper.
The action won’t bring audiences to the edge of their seats, but it’s functional, and the sets and costumes aren’t bad. And those medieval catapults—or trebuchets—certainly are fun to watch.
But the storytelling just doesn’t pack an emotional punch, and that’s too bad. Part of the difficulty here is the time-shifting between the past and present. Time-shifting can sometimes work, but most often it simply knocks an audience out of its emotional swing just as that swing is gaining momentum.
Furthermore, there are some fairly lame explanatory scenes, especially up front. For example, Butler and Walker’s characters have an incredibly awkward and on-the-nose conversation about archeology, the past, the future, etc. The writers, Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi, must have forgotten to rewrite that page.
There’s an underdeveloped plotline about the toll that time travel takes on the human body, as well as some sketchy reliance on the comprehension of modern French, English and Scottish accents and dialects in 14th-century France.
Amid all of these criticisms, there are tunnels, horses, castles, moats, bows and arrows, swordfights … and those trebuchets. The medieval warfare in general is fairly interesting, so any time invested in “Timeline” won’t be entirely wasted.
There’s somewhat of a twist, but most of the story’s puzzle pieces are so broad that one can easily see how they fit together. Unfortunately, “Timeline” offers more potential than reward.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense battle sequences and brief language
Director: Richard Donner
Writers: Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi (based on a novel by Michael Crichton)
Cast: Chris: Paul Walker; Kate: Frances O’Connor; Andre Marek: Gerard Butler; Professor Johnston: Billy Connolly; Lady Claire: Anna Friel; Gordon: Neal McDonough.
Visit the movie’s official Web site.