Superman. The Goonies. The Lethal Weapon series and The Omen, There is no denying that Richard Donner was a director responsible for some very good films (or at least entertaining ones), unfortunately, as with many of his peers misfires became just as apparent as the years advanced. Timeline is one such example, a confusing overblown pile of nonsense; it is arguably Donner’s worst films and has one of the weakest excuses for a plot to come out of Hollywood in the last few years. Loosely Adapted from the novel of the Same Name by Michael Crichton, but seemingly stitched together from the worst bits of similar films, Timeline was met with largely negative response by fans, and critics alike, and it’s not hard to see why.
Billy Connolly portrays Professor Edward Johnson a middle aged slightly eccentric Archaeologist, leading a dig of some old battle sites in Modern Day France. Soon after his grown son Chris (Paul Walker- star of the Fast and Furious films) decides to pay a rare visit, he mysteriously disappears, left completely Baffled by his disappearance, and finding his glasses, and a 600 year old letter written by him in a supposedly sealed tunnel, his students are soon summoned by mysterious Organisation ITC Corp-which had helped fund the Dig.
It turns out there is more to the Professor than meets the eye, after volunteering to test an experimental time machine built by ITC he was left stranded in 14th Century France. Sporting terrible Period costumes, unconvincing expressions of excitement and surprisingly well kept teeth for Heavily in Debt, poorly paid University Graduates, his students agree to travel back in time and to rescue the professor, accompanied by a trio of generic US Marines (Just what you need on a top secret rescue mission). But things take an unexpected turn, and the rescuers themselves are stranded, left battling against the Evil, Evil, English, their own doubts and lazy scriptwriters, they are soon forced into an overdrawn, largely boring race against time to find a way home, unaware there may be a traitor close at hand (and I’m not talking about the agents who landed them this film).
Time travel is a notoriously difficult subject to get right in films, you have to look at every action from a different perspective- before and after, and you have to make the different time period’s convincing to achieve a good response from the viewer. Timeline fails in both respects, plot holes in the script are wider than the English Chanel, the production design resembles a Disney TV Film (Though without the sense of fun) – looking both clichéd and cheap, Quite an Achievement considering the films $80 Million budget, whilst most of the cast speak in bland generic American English and can still make themselves understood (Yet the English are all Posh or Cockneys, historically accurate it isn’t). The actual Time Travel is a tacky, confusing effect seemingly pinched from an 80’s Doctor Who Episode-That at least took its tackiness in its stride, Timeline remains deadly serious throughout, yet it’s almost impossible to take it seriously…And that’s just the problems noticeable in the first 15 minutes.
The Dialogue and layout of the plot is utterly terrible, yet the film does still through up a few surprises, one of the students is quickly killed, whilst other prominent supporting characters aren’t utilised in the way’s you’d expect, at the film’s start, it is admittedly not that clear where the story is heading (though this soon changes). The students turn from immature archaeologists to hardened killers surprising quickly, it’s hard to sympathise with a bunch of violent 25 year olds who instantly know all the answers, especially when there is absolutely no dramatic tension in the film. The Numerous action sequences are bloodless, rather badly directed and very, very repetitive, a succession of annoying extras die, whilst random explosions and sword fights stretch out the ending to breaking point, the English in fine Hollywood fashion are little more than one dimensional cannon fodder, sporting the very worst of Queen’s English accents.
Despite overstuffing the film with action, the film is quite badly paced, and largely boring, a couple of subplots add nothing but confusion to the film, whilst the film’s love story is completely predictable and not in the slightest convincing.
One of the very few good things about this film is an interesting cast. Connolly, not perhaps the obvious choice is convincing in his underwritten role, whilst Paul Walker and Gerard Butler (back in the days when he was playing supporting roles in rubbish action films, not starring in them) as Andre Marek both have fun in the lead roles. Character actor’s Michael Sheen, Anna Friel, Marton Csokas and Neal McDonough also make appearances though virtually all the cast is hamstrung by the terrible script. The only person to really shine past the material is David Thewlis (excellent as usual) as ITC’s treacherous president. Though this eager performance may be down to the fact that he had less screen time than his co-stars and escaped the set earlier…
Timeline is a disappointing adaptation of an popular book, and a terrible film to boot, other than an interesting cast, there is only one conceivable reason to watch it, on a rainy day when all your Adam Sandler DVD’s are on loan to friends, put this film on, you’ll have just as many laughs, only this time they weren’t intended by the producers.
Paul Ashwell 2/10