2 / 4 stars
PG-13, 116 m
Starring Paul Walker, Billy Connolly, Frances O’Connor, Gerard Butler, Anna Friel
Directed by Richard Donner
Release date: Nov. 26
After listening to some of the dialogue in Richard Donner’s “Timeline,” audience members may wish they were stuck in 1357 France with the characters, so they could slash their throats and save the English army the trouble. With all the inflective flair of a low-budget porno, the goofy actors deliver memorable lines like “That was a close one!” and “Trust me! We’re in 1357 France.”
Based on Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name, the movie succeeds in entertaining its audience with humor (sometimes unintentionally) but results in another slipshod cinematic adaptation of a brilliant Crichton book.
“Timeline” opens with a bit of mystery and a general glorification of history and archaeology, but swiftly moves to action-adventure scenes - the only redeeming scenes of the film. The plot begins as some scientists from a secretive corporation inadvertently build a time-travel transmitter that takes people and objects to the site of an archaeological dig, Castlegard, France, in 1357, the same day as an important battle with English forces in the Hundred Years’ War.
When archaeologist and professor Edward Johnston (Billy Connolly) sends a 600-year-old note of distress to his colleagues, seven people - including his son Chris (Paul Walker) - make the perilous journey to rescue him and get back to their own end of the timeline alive - all in seven hours. The plot and concepts are intriguing but aren’t well-developed, and are unfortunately obscured by a horrific script, poor acting and so-so directing.
Some parts of the movie ignore medieval reality, such as the perfect modern English speech of medieval characters. Scant mention of the problem of modern idioms is made, and it is brief and half-hearted. Although the characters are aware of the dangers of meddling with historical events, they don’t hesitate to do so in order to change particular details of history. One of the main themes is that the past is a living part of the present and future.
The young archaeologists Marek (Gerard Butler) and Kate (Frances O’Connor), along with Chris, inevitably take history into their own hands to save themselves when their adventure is prolonged by an explosion in the transmitter laboratory, which temporarily incapacitates the power of the ‘markers’ that allow people to travel back along the timeline. Although the on-screen battles, which are not very engaging, end in the same result as they do in history, the events in those battles are radically altered.
Two cheesy love stories also develop, one between Kate and Chris and the other, far more interesting and consequential, between Marek and Lady Claire (Anna Friel), the sister of the French soldier in command. In typical Hollywood fashion, the love stories are trite and take up a lot of time that would have been better devoted to development of the ruthless technocrat, Robert Doniger (David Thewlis) or historical exposition.
Eventually everyone is either killed or reconciled, and moviegoers will go home chuckling about the corny acting and wondering about the medieval scenery. “Timeline” carries the audience along on a swift pace and never becomes boring, but it has a lot of flaws and will not fill the audience with any sort of desire to watch it a second time.
The films that make up director Richard Donner’s extensive body of work read like a pop-culture anthology. From his breakout success with “The Omen,” to his smash hits with the “Lethal Weapon” series, “Superman,” “The Goonies,” “Conspiracy Theory” and countless other films and televised works the director is adding to the list. His most recent film “Timeline,” based on the Michael Crichton novel, hits theaters on Nov. 26. Donner recently took some time to discuss his work with The Eagle.
The Eagle: What is the difference between filming an original screenplay and adapting a work like “Timeline,” “Superman,” or your producing role with the “X-Men” films?
Richard Donner: Well there is a considerable difference. With an original work it’s your baby from day one, you can shape a person’s opinion on it. An adapted work though has a lot of preconceived notions and history attached to it. “Superman” was like that, it had a history going back to the 1930s. Actually, I took the film to, I guess, save it from foreign producers and investors who didn’t have an idea what kind of perception the public had of “Superman.”’
Eagle: Humor always seems to play a big role in your films; do you think you can elaborate on that?
Donner: I love to laugh. I think it’s good to have humor in your life. Personally, Mel Gibson is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met along with Billy Connolly who is in “Timeline.” Humor can also shape a character and tell the audience about what they’ve gone thorough. In the beginning of “Timeline” Billy Connolly’s character starts out as a lively funny character. The events of the film change him and the humor makes it more noticeable.
Eagle: You began your career directing in television, most notably several episodes of “The Twilight Zone.” How was the transition from television to film?
Donner: Not as hard as a lot of people say. TV actually prepared me pretty well. First I was an actor then a stage hand, directing sort of presented itself to me and I ran with it. With TV though you’re on a tighter schedule reviewing around twelve pages of a script per day. With movies, it’s around four pages with a greater amount of flexibility.
Eagle: Most people don’t realize your extensive role as a producer for most of your films, as well as the films of others. Can you go into this process?
Donner: Well, I became a producer to protect myself from other producers. Seriously though, my wife, who’s wonderful and patient about these things, is a great help producing the works of myself and my friends. I like to produce for my friends to in order to help their projects.