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 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, and the DVD also offers a couple of documentaries.
Published August 12, 2004
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TIMELINE: DVD (M)
CAST: Paul Walker, Frances O'Connor, Gerard Butler, Billy Connolly, David Thewlis, Anna Friel, Michael Sheen, Lambert Wilson, Ethan Embry, Rossif Sutherland
DIRECTOR: Richard Donner
SCRIPT: Jeff Maguire, George Nolfi (novel by Michael Crichton)
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes
PRESENTATION: Widescreen; Dolby Digital English 5.1 Surround
SPECIAL FEATURES: Journey through Timeline documentary; The Textures of Timeline; trailers
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
DVD RELEASE: August 12, 2004