Timeline

If you see dinosaurs, it's Jurassic Park. If you see knights, it's Timeline.
★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2003
Director: 
Richard Donner
Starring: 
Paul Walker, Frances O’Connor, Gerard Butler, Billy Connolly
The Setup: 
Group goes back to the year 1357 to rescue one of their dads.
Discussion: 

I don’t know how this ended up on my list. I liked the idea [time travel is almost always fun], but I’d heard it was a total mess, and it looked massively mainstream and kind of stupid. So, no problem.

First we get about 20 minutes of exposition crammed into 2 minutes, and looking back I don’t see how this had anything to do with the movie at all, although it does afford us the appealing sight of this rather attractive Latino cop. The we cut to our heroes, who are also delivering a buttload of exposition while ostensibly teaching a tour group about this giant battle at “Castlerock,” which we are supposed to believe is a castle, although it sounds like a late 70s / early 80s metal band that used to open for Blue Oyster Cult or something. I don’t know, could they have thought of a more generic name? Anyway, human Ken doll Paul Walker arrives and greets his father, Billy Connolly, one of the archeologists, who is going on a trip the next day. How this blond surfer dude with no accent is the son of this outrageously Scottish guy with this massive accent is never explained. They talk about Kate, this archeologist who works for Billydad, and who “loves archeology more than she loves Paul,” and like Paul has no chance. Soon after Paul makes a hit on Kate, played by Frances O’Connor, by telling her that he’s “not interested in the past.” Doesn’t that just get your juices going, ladies? When a guy who’s trying to pick you up tells you flat-out that he’s not interested in the things that you are passionate about? And Paul, you can’t even FEIGN interest, or better yet, consent to find out more about the field of archaeology? I guess not. Why? Because obviously Paul has an oedipal resistance to liking archeology because his Dad likes it, and can’t get past it enough to engage in it with his lady love. Gosh, I wonder if this can be resolved by movie’s end?

So this far we have noticed several things. For one, that this movie follows closely in the template set by Jurassic Park. You open with a somewhat violent, intriguing event, and cut to a group of scientists who are passionate about their field. Next they will receive news of some calamity and some new technology that makes something heretofore impossible possible, and they will set off, at great peril to themselves, to have some adventure and learn a little bit about themselves and set everything right and come back fine. The movie follows this template precisely, and not just because this is adapted from a novel by Global Warming-denier Michael Crichton, but because this movie is desperately shooting for the EXACT same tone. The other thing soul-deadeningly apparent is that our leads are the world’s most annoying actors. It occurred to me while watching this movie that aside from the actual acting that they do, one thing a successful actor is able to do is simply to make him- or herself appealing to watch and virtually “hang out with.” This becomes crushingly apparent when we have a scene where giant carved piece of wood Paul Walker plays opposite the animated and vital Billy Connolly. I had not previously been on the bandwagon to pile on Paul Walker, but move over and make some room, because this movie provides irrefutable evidence that he is the absolute worst actor in the entire world. This, however, can provide a bit of amusement later on, as he is supposed to be the main character of this movie, and he’s just hanging around in scenes like the retarded brother that the smarter character’s dad forced him to take on his adventure with him. He also brings Scrappy-Doo to mind. Compounding all this Walker’s NIGHTMARE hair, which is all loose and product-treated in a way that SAYS 2003 [I didn’t know we had moved on so quickly], and between all this, you seriously almost flinch every time Walker appears on screen. But none of the characters escape the hair menace. Frances O’Connor, who I simply have never been able to make myself like no matter how I’ve tried, adds to her unlikability by having these hideous bangs. Also on hand [and also unfairly suffering from hair-inflicted character damage] is that annoying guy from all those other movies who you don’t remember, but remember that you didn’t like, who turns out to be Gerard Butler, of the Schumacher Phantom of the Opera musical. You may think I’m superficial for concentrating so much on these people’s hair, but I believe that the main character’s hair shouldn’t be so bad that you spend the entire movie staring at it in wonder and astonishment, rather than concentrating on the movie. I also do not like movie hair that engenders physical discomfort in its viewers. Thank you.

Well, back to the movie, if we must. They go down into this underground chamber and find some documents, and some carved relief that will be a flat, painted piece later in the movie. Turns out Crichton HAS seen Back to the Future II, because they find a note from Paul’s dad that is 600 years old! Then Paul starts making serious, pooty faces. Then they meet these scientists [who have been funding their research, same thing as Jurassic Park], who, turns out, were trying to invent teleportation in order to put FedEx out of business [we don’t even bother with bullshit about advancing human knowledge or whatever anymore], but accidentally invented time travel instead when they stumbled across a wormhole that goes back to 1357. Incredibly, it just happens to go right back to the place where the archeologists are excavating! So the evil government folks want the cru [and some other marines and whatnot] to go in the time machine and get Billydad back. After some bullshit, they agree.

The time machine is this big round chamber with glass walls. The time travel process apparently produces great hair-blowing wind [not unlike how using mental powers also causes hair-blowing wind in Firestarter], and before you know it they’re in 1357 France, and are almost immediately attacked. The marines, who were supposed to protect the scientists, are the first killed. WHAT a statement. Anyway, one of the marines, has brought a grenade back [although modern items are prohibited in his carry-on luggage], but comes back to the present day and blows the shit out of the time machine. How will our heroes ever get back? I hope you’re catching all the subtle subtext about how the marines rely on physical prowess and weapons and how these are powerless in the face of… whew, even I got totally bored writing that sentence.

So now it’s on to Medieval adventures. Gerard runs off, at great personal risk to his life, to divert the knights on their tail, and the rest are all like “Oh, okay, so he’s gone, now where do we go? I’m hungry.” They soon figure out that not only did they just happen to come back to the exact place they have all been studying, they just happened to go back on the exact same day that this giant, devastating castle siege is going to happen. WHAT a coinkidink! I also love how Kate, at one point, is describing another character’s death by evisceration via sword and she’s like “this guy had a sword and he just… he just…” and you’re like “GUY with a SWORD?! Aren’t you supposed to be a scientist or something?” Meanwhile Gerard, who it turns out is an ace archer as well as archaeologist, soon meets up with a hot babe of the 14th century, who turns out to be Lady Claire, who is going to be hanged that night in the incident that directly leads to the siege of the castle and the decisive French victory that is an important part of history. But that was before Gerard realized that she’s sssssmokin’ [and just happens to speak modern English, even though she’s French. And in 1357]. Naturally, the first questions he has to ask this famed figure out of history are “Are you married? Are you with anyone? Is there someone you see?” and you’re like “WHY you need to know, bitch? Are you going to like romance her in the next five hours?” Not to mention that we know she has to be hanged, or that’ll violate the prime directive.

Meanwhile, in the present day, the scientists have cleaned up the whole lab and built a new time machine in a mere three hours! They’re easy to assemble—and clean-up’s a SNAP! Have I mentioned that they trip is a total of six hours, because at the end of that the wormhole is going to collapse? Yeah. Sure, it’s apparently been open for the past few months, but now it’s abruptly going to close today. Yeah.

This is only the first half of the movie, but this is essentially where I stopped taking notes [not consciously, it’s just that the movie get so dull], because from this point it’s all chases and fireballs and escapes and shit. There are sequences here that you can pre-construct in your head because there is NOT ONE THING here that’s not a cliché. So, what else? There’s one point where the trio is captured and Paul says “We’ve got 600 years of knowledge on these guys, I expect we can be out of here in 20 minutes,” and I guess this line was considered a selling point, as it is in both trailers included on the disc, but you’re like “Oh yeah, Paul? What are you gonna do? Use your cell phone? Global positioning? Whip some Jujitsu on ‘em? I bet they haven’t seen Jujitsu before,” because then or now, being tied up in a room with big guys in armor and swords is kind of the same then as it is now. Fucking dumb Paul.

The movie climaxes with the castle siege we were promised in the beginning, which is something everyone has seen by now, but at least has explosions. Turns out there’s a villain in both the 14th century and the 21st century, and we have to have those plots resolved. Blah, blah, blah, then it’s over.

The entire thing was jam-packed with missed opportunities. The story does have a great deal of potential, and you’re just sitting there watching them be botched, one by one. For example, the time machine has all these glass panes [which conveniently turn to mirrors when the story needs them to], and it would be a no-brainer visual idea to rotate the camera around it before the time travel and create a frenzy of reflected images of our heroes, conveying the dislocation of time travel. But no. Then the movie doesn’t bother to stop when the archeologists, who have been studying the time period, first see a REAL knight in real armor and sword, the way the scientists smartly do [and any human being would] in Jurassic Park. And when we first see the big castle, we’re viewing it from the rear, so it looks like any old two-story lodge, and you’re like: that’s fucking IT?! We’d better get a real castle in here pronto! This would be an excellent candidate for a remake, yes, even three years after it was originally made, and an even better candidate for a season-length miniseries, because there’s so much potential here, and so little of it is realized.

That said, really, Michael Crichton needs to think of a new formula. This really is EXACTLY Jurassic Park with the elements shifted around and given new names. Virtually everyone on the IMDb says that the book is better and contains much more subplots and all from the movie, which is easy to believe. There’s still no way I’m going to read that shit.

There are two trailers on the disc, one of which focuses on the middle ages action and spooky sci-fi element and is almost good. It contains red fiery graphics to drive home the Medieval point, but also the line “trapped back in hell,” which is kind of ridiculous. Why couldn’t they say “trapped in time?” What does hell have to do with it? Anyway, the second plays up the hot science angle with cool blue “energy” graphics, and the prominent name of Paul Walker, as though he was the main character [he’s not really], and that name might drum up some business.

Ultimately this was somewhat amusing—as I said, it’s hard to go wrong with time travel—but is ultimately so stupid, in ways both amusing and non-amusing, that I’m going to say you could do worse if you need some idiotic time-travel fun. But why watch this when you could watch A Sound of Thunder, an even stupider [but four times as amusing] time-travel movie that also has the advantage of a multitude of killer mutant animals! Were there any killer mutant animals here? No there certainly were not, and the movie as a whole never quite recovers from the omission. Crichton, get on that.

Should you watch it: 

If you like really, REALLY stupid time-travel fun.

RELATED MOVIES:
A SOUND OF THUNDER is an equally horrible time-travel adventure, but is 50X more fun and features killer mutant animals!