ITC Corporation boss Robert Doniger (David Thewlis) has invented a fax-like machine that accidentally transports objects not across towns but through time - specifically to 14th century Castlegard, France. Archaeology professor Edward Johnston (Billy Connolly), sponsored by ITC at his Castlegard site, gets 'faxed' back to the 14th century and needs to be rescued. His students, son Chris (Paul Walker), assistant Andre Marek (Gerard Butler), students Kate (Frances O'Connor), Stern (Ethan Embry) and Francois (Rossif Sutherland) agree to attempt a time-travel rescue. But, they land in the middle of a battlefield as the English prepare to storm La Roque Castle; Marek meets the beautiful Lady Claire (Anna Friel), possible altering the course of history.
Review by Louise Keller:
Time travel has fascinated us for many years, and Michael Crichton's novel Timeline is adapted moderately successfully for the screen. With its mix of genres (a modern-day adventure story coupled with medieval swashbuckle), the premise zings and opens the way for a good escapist yarn. But while the fine ensemble cast does a pretty good job surrounded by authentic sets and costumes, we never feel on the knife's edge as we teeter between the present day and the perils of the 14th century.
There's no doubt that director / producer Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon, Maverick) has gone to considerable lengths to create authenticity, concentrating on sets that are to scale and keeping special effects to a minimum. It's a pity the result is not more engrossing, but for the undemanding, there's plenty of swashbuckling action, as the students are catapulted into the past and swept up in both a feudal and a scientifically technological war.
Heartthrob Paul Walker (The Fast and the Furious) is the headlined star together with our own Frances O'Connor (AI, Mansfield Park), but in fact our main interest lies in Gerard Butler's (Lara Croft Cradle of Life) Andre Marek, whose character claims the emotional heart of the film. Walker is eye-candy for his huge female fan base, but the two relationships (with O'Connor's Kate - the archaeologist of his dreams - and his father, played by Billy Connolly) that should mean something to us, are rather unbelievable. There's no chemistry between the would-be-lovers, who seem ill-matched, and it is hard to imagine the sun-kissed good-looking Walker as Connolly's son. The chemistry is left to Butler and Anna Friel's Lady Claire, who manage to find time to fall in love between sword fights. David Thewlis makes a credible villain - with a highly credible American accent - he could almost be Alan Rickman's long lost American brother. I like Marton Csokas (xXx, The Monkey's Mask) too, who adds complexity to his role as the 14th century Englishman who has a secret and Connolly is reliably good.
Dialogue often feels clunky, with far too many repetitions of phrases like 'c'mon let's go' and for the French characters, it's 'allez, allez'….. What could have been a humdinger of a time-travel tale has ended up as a popcorn adventure with good swordplay.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
An escapist 'airport novel' (that's where I bought my copy), Timeline combines historical adventure with a version of time travel; the novel has density thanks to Crichton's attention to period detail, making it informative as well as entertaining, and long enough to last the flight half way across the globe. The film is more interested in the action/adventure aspects, aiming to be a Saturday afternoon escape, which is entirely acceptable. But a tad too simplified.
Although I found the novel more satisfying (partly due to the interest of the well researched historical setting), the film is nevertheless made with the polish of old hands at the helm. Richard Donner's experience gives him a confidence and drive that propels the film with energy. The ensemble cast works through the material, which never stretches anybody beyond their comfort zone, and the battle scenes & stunts are sufficiently rustic to take us into the 14th century. (Especially if you're more interested in your date.) The question of altering past history by actions from those in the future is raised but not coherently dealt with; and at least one major change is left hanging: (SPOILER: Lady Claire is saved from being hung off the castle walls, which was her fate according to the historical discussion in the film.)
The casting of both Billy Connolly as the Prof and David Thewlis as the corporate boss are just unpredictable enough to make them interesting, and Gerard Butler and Anna Friel add the nicely worked romantic angle with style, and while Paul Walker's Scottish parentage may well have a logical explanation, his lack of enthusiasm doesn't. Oh, unless it's the screenplay…
A beefy orchestral score, effective camerawork and seamless production design give the film a technical shine, but it never manages to make our hair rise on end, despite a handful of taut and exciting moments. It's all a bit too near fetched to be a great movie, it's still fun.
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CAST: Paul Walker, Frances O'Connor, Gerard Butler, Billy Connolly, David Thewlis, Anna Friel, Michael Sheen, Lambert Wilson, Ethan Embry, Rossif Sutherland
PRODUCER: Lauren Shuler Donner, Jim Van Wyck, Richard Donner
DIRECTOR: Richard Donner
SCRIPT: Jeff Maguire, George Nolfi (novel by Michael Crichton)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Caleb Deschanel ASC
EDITOR: Richard Marks
MUSIC: Brian Tyler
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Daniel T. Dorrance
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 5, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
VIDEO RELEASE: August 12, 2004