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Timeline

Year: 2003
Director: Richard Donner
Writer: Michael Crichton
Cast: Paul Walker, Frances O'Connor, Billy Connolly, David Thewlis, Neil McDonough
When I talked to Paul Walker last year while he was promoting 2 Fast 2 Furious, he mentioned his next project was a movie co-starring Australia's own Frances O'Connor. Had I known back then it was a time travel adventure based on a Michael Crichton novel, I would have pressed him excitedly for details.

So far, Michael Crichton's seemed to suffer the same curse as Stephen King on the screen. Both are brilliant writers - often dismissed as pulp merchants but craftsmen of some of the most engaging commercial storytelling of the modern era.

For his part, Crichton imbues his stories with such a solid grounding in believable science while serving up an easily accessible thriller that his books are perfect 'cerebral escapism'. No wonder the world's best known director picked up a little book of his about cloning dinosaurs for a theme park on a stormy island.

But with that one exception, adaptations of Crichton's work have mostly been disappointing.

Timeline promised much more with its time-travelling themes, a cast that bought equal part talent and eye candy to the screen, and Richard Superman/Lethal Weapon Donner on the megaphone.

Unfortunately, Crichton's curse has struck again. Donner's either forgotten how to make an exciting movie or he had no say in the writing or editing. The structure is flabby and unsure of itself, not the tight pace we expect from an adventure/thriller.

Narrative flaws don't help. The bit you're really looking forward to if you're even a bit of a thinking action fan - the whys and wherefores of time travel - are glossed over so quickly to get to the rest of the action, it renders every part of the film set in the present day almost useless. We're left with a pretty uninspiring movie about a group of teenagers trying to get out of the way of one of the decisive battles of the French/British 100 years war in rural France.

The cimactic battle goes some way to redeeming the rest of the movie, but honestly - how many more sweeping battles with swords and maces can we watch? Half the time you're waiting for Gandalf or a bunch of Last Samurais to charge heroically up on some magnificent steed.

When an archaeological dig in France is interrupted by the disappearance of the head professor (Connolly), they find a pair of his glasses and writings done by him - sealed in an underground chamber that hasn't been opened in 600 years.

Summoned by a mysterious corporation in New Mexico experimenting with teleportation, they learn the machine has opened a wormhole to rural France in the 1300's - at the exact spot of the archaeological dig.

After the company adits the missing professor is stranded in the 14th century, the gang saddles up (complete in peasant fancy dress) to retrieve him, are taken prisoner almost immediately and make their way from one desperate escape and medieval fight to another, racing the clock while their window of return is open.

The cast all do an adequate job with a script that's occasionally very rough around the edges. Walker's name above the title is a bit deceiving as the main cast all enjoy equal attention and screen time, rendering him a bit two dimensional.

The story does include some cool tricks about the quirks of time travel - mostly spoilers so we won't reveal them - and mostly towards the end, but the lumbering feel of the narrative and editing makes it hard not to notice the many flaws.

80% of the screen time is taken up by the desperate flight away from the marauding Gauls and Britons. The only reference to time travel most of the time is the occasional cut back to the present where the evil corporation's senior staff are now desperately trying to get their machinery to a state where they can retrieve the team.

The hard science, mature characters, intelligent premise and clever simplicity we expect from Michael Crichton is brushed aside after token consideration, but being a Richard Donner movie, you'd at least expect a pretty good quality action movie.

Timeline doesn't give you either.

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