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Timeline (2003)

One mans future lies in the past.

Directed by:

Richard Donner

Rating: 3/10

Running Time: 116 minutes

UK Certificate: 12A

Country: United States

When Richard Donner, director of 'The Omen', Superman: The Movie and the 'Lethal Weapon' series, joins forces with Michael Crichton, the novelist behind Jurassic Park, you would expect the result to be an explosive, monumental blockbuster that is very, very big. The fruit, however, of their labour, 'Timeline', turns out to have a definite pear shape, and stinks of time's rot. A group of student archaeologists working on a castle dig in France discover an underground room and a mystery: although the chamber has been sealed for 600 years, it contains a request for help written on parchment by their own (missing) supervisor, Professor Johnston (Billy Connolly), and one of his bifocal lenses. When the shadowy International Technology Corporation which has been sponsoring the dig reveals that their prototype teleporter machine has accidentally opened a wormhole to 1357 Dordogne, Johnston's son Chris (Paul Walker) agrees to be sent back in time, accompanied by a small group of students and by representatives of the Corporation, on a mission to rescue the Professor. Racing against the clock, and caught between the warring French and English armies, the team soon finds itself becoming a living part of the history that earlier they had merely studied. While the basic premise of this film is perfectly acceptable, there is plenty wrong with its execution. The characters have been written as a dreary bunch of caricatures that no amount of good acting (Gerard Butler, Anna Friel), bad acting (Paul Walker) or overacting (Billy Connolly) can save. Even David Thewlis and Frances O'Connor, both capable of very fine performances, look like they are just serving time here. There are far more holes in the plot than just the wormhole through which the students travel. Why, e.g., is the fourteenth century English commander, Sir Oliver (Michael Sheen), puzzled by the accent of Scottish student Marek (Gerard Butler), while he does not raise a knightly eyebrow over the accents of the American students? And is it really imaginable that a newly developed, highly sophisticated teleporter device which has just been gutted by a grenade could be repaired in just six hours? Such questions might seem quibbling in what is basically a fantasy film, but it is hard to stop your mind wandering onto flaws and inconsistencies when what is happening on screeen is so undiverting. The real problem with 'Timeline', however, is history – and I mean film history rather than mediaeval French history. Back to the Future, 'Time Bandits', 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure', 'The Twelve Monkeys' and 'Frequency' have all established a high benchmark for the kind of games that movies can play with timetravel – but everything that happens in 'Timeline' is so dumbed down, and so obviously forecast, that in the end the only really surprising time paradox is the way in which Richard Donner has managed to make 115 minutes seem even longer than six hundred years. Believe me, watching the lacklustre attempts of these characters to get back to the future will leave you too wishing that you had a fast forward button. (Also read Gary Panton's review of Timeline)

It's Got: Paul (The Fast and the Furious) Walker as a dull hero, David (Naked) Thewlis as a dull corporate villain, dull effects, a dull plot - even a dull battle scene.

It Needs: To be less dull (Superman might help)

Alternatives:

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court, Evil Dead 3: The Medieval Dead, Stargate, The Visitors

Summary

A promising concept squandered by bad writing and lacklustre direction – its events, whether set in the 14th Century or in the present day, are an unengaging waste of time.

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