Film Review: Timeline (2003)


Michael Crichton, arguably one of the most successful American writers of the late 20th Century, was renowned not only for the popularity and influence of his books but also for his ability to adapt them into high-budget films and TV shows. Despite some impressive adaptations, however, Crichton's work was not always translated well onto the screen. His 1999 science fiction novel Timeline, when adapted into a 2003 film directed by Richard Donner, turned out to be a major box office flop and a significant disappointment for the author himself. In fact, Crichton afterwards made sure that none of his novels would be adapted for the screen during his lifetime.

The plot begins with group of archaeologists and historians, led by Professor Edward Johnston (played by Billy Conolly), conducting field research in southwestern France and discovering some baffling artefacts dating from 14th Century. Professor soon disappears and his students afterwards find his message dating from 1357 asking help. Explanation comes when they are approached by Robert Doniger (played by David Thewliss), head of ITC, corporation that was experimented with teleportation technology and inadvertently created a wormhole that leads to 14th Century France. Professor Johnston disappeared during such trip and his students and colleagues, because they are familiar with the period, form a rescue team. But their mission gets complicated, because they, despite the best efforts not to alter history, become involved in Hundred Years War. One of the time travellers, Scottish archaelogist André Marek (played by Gerard Butler), falls in love with Lady Claire (played by Anna Friel), local French noblewoman who inspires French resistance against English occupiers.

Chricton, known for his science fiction "techno thrillers" as well as his historic fiction, saw the motive of time travel as the perfect opportunity to combine the two genres. Unfortunately, the screenwriters, Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi, failed to capitalize on this opportunity. While they successfully avoided the Grandfather Paradox, they ultimately failed to provide a convincing historical setting. The film's historical inaccuracies, anachronisms, and simplification of the complexities of the Hundred Years War into an easily digestible story detract from the overall narrative. The conflict, which was primarily dynastic in nature, is presented as a struggle between English and French nation states, rather than the complex web of alliances and rivalries that characterised the period. Furthermore, the fictional character of Lady Claire is too obviously modelled on real life Joan of Arc, who lived almost a century later. There are no attempts to have medieval characters speak with their authentic languages, such as Occitan, Middle English, or AngloNorman French.
The film's poor direction by Richard Donner is matched only by the problematic casting. The protagonists are cast more on their good looks – especially in the case of Paul Walker who plays Professor Johnston’s son Chris - than their talent or ability to create chemistry with each other. More perceptive viewers will likely be able to guess the major plot twist near the end, further confirming the utter disappointment.

Timeline looks even more disappointing when compared with the Stargate television shows, which, despite having similar plots and lower budgets, managed to provide more compelling stories and characters in its episodes. The film's failure to engage the audience and its lack of historical accuracy make it a forgettable film that is definitely unworthy of the notable people involved in its production. It is even less worthy of audiences' attention.

RATING: 2/10 (-)

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