A group of archaeologists are sent back in time to 14th century France to
find and rescue a friend, but end up trapped in the middle of a brutal war.
Directed by Richard Donner
Written by Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi
Starring Paul Walker, Frances O'Connor, Gerard Butler,
Billy Connolly, David Thewlis, Anna Friel, Neal McDonough,
Matt Craven, Michael Sheen, Lambert Wilson,
Marton Csokas, Rossif Sutherland, Ethan Embry
Based on the novel by Michael Crichton
Despite a very intriguing premise based on a novel by sci-fi icon Michael Crichton, Timeline crashed and burned at the box office, barely making half its budget back. In fact, it was so horrifically panned that Crichton refused to allow any studio to ever again buy the rights to his work. Films like The Andromeda Strain, Congo, Westworld, and Jurassic freaking Park owe their existence to Crichton, and it was Timeline that stopped the train dead in its tracks. And can you blame him? It's not a great film. It's fairly miscast, the story has a lot of holes, and despite an attempt at real tension, you just don't feel any stakes. But it isn't terrible.
Paul Walker plays the goofy son of a famous archaeologist, and he just sort of hangs around their dig without contributing anything. Apparently, this character actually is an archaeologist in the book, so this change perplexes me. When his father (Connolly) disappears, Chris (Walker) reaches out to the company financing their dig, ITC. They just casually mention that they've accidentally discovered time travel, but only time travel to a very specific battle in 14th century France, and that's where Chris's dad is. So, Chris and his friends go through the wormhole, only for the time machine to break, stranding them in 1357. Now, they join the French war effort against the English. It sounds exciting enough, but something is missing. I can't pinpoint it, but critics certainly did back in 2003.
Timeline could've been a time travel cult classic, but instead it's a lukewarm action thriller that wastes a decent cast and premise. But it's got its moments. The stuff between the French and English is pretty good, but all the time travel malarkey just doesn't track at times. It feels very much like they're making it up as they went along, which they probably were. After all, they mostly ignored Crichton's book.