By Shawn McKenzie 11/29/2003
I hate it when good people make bad movies. Director Richard Donner, the man behind the first two Superman movies, the four Lethal Weapon movies, The Goonies, and so much more, helmed Timeline, the latest adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel. His involvement, in addition to my love of time travel movies, made me think this movie was going to rule. Boy…was I wrong.
Chris (Paul Walker) Johnston can’t understand what his archeologist father, Professor Edward Johnston (Billy Connolly) and his assistant, André Marek (Gerard Butler), find so fascinating with the past. All he does know is that he finds one of Edward’s students, Kate Erickson (Frances O’Connor), very attractive. As Edward points out though, she’d rather concentrate on the archaeological dig at the ruins of a 14th century French castle at the village of Castlegard than date him. Edward, Marek, Kate, and fellow students David Stern (Ethan Embry) and François Dontelle (Rossif Sutherland) are studying the history of a particular battle between the French and the English at the castle. In 1357, a French woman named Lady Claire (Anna Friel) was hung by the English, which made the French forces so mad that her brother, Lord Arnaut (Lambert Wilson), attacked the English castle, commanded by Lord Oliver (Michael Sheen), and overtook them. While digging in the ruins of the castle, the group discovers a previously buried chamber that’s been hidden for more than 600 years. In the chamber, they find two interesting things. One thing is a bifocal lens that wasn’t invented until hundreds of years later, and the other thing is an ancient document, which turns out to be a handwritten request for help from Edward, dated April 2, 1357. They carbon date the document and analyze the handwriting, and they are able to prove that it was Edward who wrote it, which is very weird to them. They then go to New Mexico, which is where the expedition’s sponsor, International Technology Corporation (ITC), is located. When they arrive, they learn where Edward had gone. ITC’s head, Robert Doniger (David Thewlis) and his team, including his assistant Steven Kramer (Matt Craven), were trying to figure out a way of putting FedEx out of business by developing a machine that transmits objects from one part of the world to another. Instead of doing that, they realize that they had accidentally discovered a wormhole that leads right to 14th century France. Doniger recruits the students to travel back in the machine to 1357, along with marine Frank Gordon (Neal McDonough) and his team, to rescue the professor, and find another ITC employee named Robert de Kere (Marton Csokas) who stayed behind in that time by choice. Doniger figures that they are the best people to send there, since they are versed in the culture of the time. Chris goes with the students and the marines to rescue his dad, while Stern stays behind with Doniger and Kramer. When they arrive, they realize that they arrived on the exact day of the French/English battle. Their knowledge of history and culture appears to do them little good, because they are put in immediate peril. In addition, an unfortunate accident back in the present threatens to strand them there forever. They only have six hours to find Edward and get back to the present or they will be in 1357 for the rest of their lives, which by the look of it, won’t be long, since everyone in the past seems to want to kill them.
When I went into this movie, I hadn’t realized that it starred Walker. I guess the whole Donner/time travel thing blinded me. Even though I enjoyed The Fast and the Furious and its sequel, Walker has not yet impressed me as an actor. This movie didn’t do much to change that opinion.
Aside from Walker, the story didn’t satisfy me as a time travel fan and a stickler of common sense in movies. The thing that drove me nuts was that the team that went back in time seemed to forget that they were from the future once they got there. Why weren’t they concerned with how their actions would affect the future? Why didn’t they use their supposed knowledge of history to get them out of their jam? Doc Brown did these things in the Back to the Future trilogy! Since I don’t wear glasses, I need to ask: are they really needed to see? This movie suggests that they aren’t, because François is forced to take them off, since nothing modern is allowed to go back…and he sees just fine!
Timeline has some decent medieval action scenes, which makes it a decent rental, but not worth paying full price at the theater. I’ve heard a rumor about a fifth Lethal Weapon movie with Mel Gibson taking on a new partner, so maybe Donner still has something good to look forward to in the future. He just shouldn’t attempt to visit the past again.
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