Jurassic Park vilified corporate geneticists for tampering with dinosaur DNA. In Timeline, yet another film adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel, greedy scientists once again play God, this time by tinkering with the laws of physics in an attempt to transmit solid objects through space. The result is the same: Stuff goes wrong and a bunch of innocents wind up running for their lives. Timeline isn’t a particularly good movie, but the sci-fi premise, violent action and star Paul Walker (The Fast and the Furious) will be a draw for teens.
The pawns in this high-tech game are young archaeologists excavating ruins from France’s 100-year feudal war with England. They unearth an ages-old S.O.S. written by their professor, get sent through a wormhole to rescue him from the 14th century, and find themselves on the business end of swords, arrows and battle axes. It’s like being trapped in a Renaissance festival run amok. The weapons are primitive, the fighting brutal. As if trying to survive isn’t challenge enough, these time travelers must also avoid changing the course of history.
Walker plays the professor’s son, Chris, who has a crush on one of Dad’s more obsessive students (Kate). Their friend Andre Marek is a chivalrous romantic who, upon landing in the Middle Ages, rescues a damsel in distress. The trouble is, that damsel turns out to be the historical martyr whose death at the hands of England was to be the rallying point for France to win the battle. Marek’s story is the most compelling as we wonder how he can protect this woman—and their budding romance—without completely changing the outcome of the war. He is the real hero of the film.
The group’s mission is complicated by the hidden agenda of an International Technology Corp. flunky, as well as the fact that they all could be stuck in ancient Castlegard for good. An explosion in the ITC control room has the physicists in 2003 scrambling to rebuild the transporter room before the away team’s six-hour time limit expires.
As one might imagine, all of that stress leads to hot heads and colorful vocabularies. More than 40 profanities (nearly half misuses of the Lord’s name) include a handful of s-words and one f-word. Early scenes also feature alcohol use. But this sci-fi thriller/medieval war flick isn’t all bad. …
Amid the skewered bodies, blood and clanking steel, Timeline offers moral heroes who believe in honor, friendship, chivalry and self-sacrifice. Before time-hopping, Marek tells Chris why he finds history so fascinating, explaining, “People cared about each other. Men had honor! … It helps us understand where we came from or where we’re going.” These young people turn violent because they have to for survival, and it bothers them. “I killed that man,” Kate says, “I’ve gotta live with that.” There’s also a loving bond between the professor and his son. And in spite of the plundering of God’s name by some characters, the French commander shows reverence toward the Almighty by telling his men, “God fights by your side” and “God be with you.” If only those noble moments could be transported through a cinematic wormhole to inhabit a better story.
Lovers of time-travel tales may find Timeline reasonably entertaining, but the more they ponder the before/after paradoxes, the more plot holes and logical inconsistencies crop up. I typically like this genre, yet was left feeling that Donner’s movie failed to rise above similar stories sent straight to the Sci-Fi Channel. Those shortcomings, aggravated by intense violence and offensive language, make Timeline a Thanksgiving turkey.