Timeline

Tagged: Film

Film (2003). Paramount Pictures presents a Mutual Film Company and Cobalt Media Group production. Directed by Richard Donner. Written by Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi, based on the novel Timeline (1999) by Michael Crichton. Cast includes Gerard Butler, Billy Connolly, Matt Craven, Marton Csokas, Ethan Embry, Anna Friel, Frances O'Connor, Michael Sheen, David Thewlis, Paul Walker and Lambert Wilson. 110 minutes. Colour.

Students from a modern-day archaeology dig in the Dordogne region of France go back in Time to rescue a stranded professor (see Ruins and Futurity).

"You're saying that you accidentally discovered Time Travel?" asks incredulous student Josh Stern (Embry) a short way into the opening exposition of Timeline. "[They] actually discovered a Wormhole fixed to ... Castlegard, France in 1357," replies vice president of the International Technology Corporation Steven Kramer (Craven), straight-faced. "The way I see it, we've got what, 650 years of knowledge on these guys," continues Hero Chris Johnston (Walker) a little further into the narrative. "If we put our heads together, there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to get out of here and home in twenty minutes."

If ever there was a film designed to show how Mainstream Writers of SF might irredeemably fudge meaningful distinctions between the convenience of the Timeslip and the precision of the Jonbar Point, between the implications of theoretical Physics and those of the Imaginary Science of Matter Transmission, and, perhaps most importantly to the plausibility of this adaptation of the novel of the same name by Michael Crichton, between the dramatic interstice of the Technothriller and the fictive requirements of the widespread Conceptual Breakthrough in world-changing Technology in the mode of Genre SF, then Timeline is it. As convenient a narrative device as zig-zagging through time may be, it is all too easy to send one's story as awry as one's characters.

Crichton's well-founded, if longwinded, research from the novel into the possibilities of Quantum Computers and Parallel Worlds and the effects of Matter Duplication through Dimensions of time on human Biology is here reduced to, "We can build a Machine that can fax three-dimensional objects," and, as it becomes clear that each person sent back and forth degrades gradually to the point of wonky bones and misaligned arteries (see Medicine), to: "It's like sending a fax of a fax." Each clunking Cliché is in fact little more than an opportunity for director and producer Richard Donner, famous for Superman (1978), Ladyhawke (1985) and Lethal Weapon (1987), to set some fairly well-choreographed scenes of derring-do against a fictional version of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), here represented by the Plantagenet Lord Oliver de Vannes (Sheen, in hand-on-hips, groin-forward mode reminiscent of "Lord Flashheart" as played by Rik Mayall (1958-2014) in the BBC Television sitcom Blackadder II [1986]) and the Valois Lord Arnaud de Cervole (Wilson), brother to the Lady Claire de Cervole (Friel) who was martyred according to the extant history of the War between the royal houses of England and France, but who is in Timeline "saved" by time-travelling Scottish archaeologist André Marek (Butler) in a manner typical of Women in SF. Marek has in the present-day found a sarcophagus of a knight with a missing ear: this turns out to be the memorial of his own life with Lady Claire back in the fourteenth century. Stranded professor Edward Johnston (Connolly), meanwhile – "Careful boys, this is Greek Fire: you can blow us all to hell here," – is rescued by son Chris and reluctant love-interest Kate Ericson (O'Connor), who manage to return him to modern-day New Mexico despite the increasingly desperate behaviour of Mad Scientist Robert Doniger (Thewlis), who has throughout the film been behaving according to the laws of the "Idiot Plot" as laid down by writers and critics James Blish and Damon Knight.

Michael Crichton's oft-used themes of "living history" and technology-gone-awry just about survive the transition from page to screen but there is more evidence here of the writer's relish for military detail – Crichton compares the knights of the Hundred Years War to the tanks of World War Two and revels in descriptions of battles and so forth – than of his interest in Linguistics or in his inclination to dramatize the hubris of Scientists; in the case of the former, The 13th Warrior (1999), adapted from the novel Eaters of the Dead: The Manuscripts of Ibn Fadlan, Relating to his Experiences with the Northmen in AD 922 (1976; vt The 13th Warrior 1999) is far superior to Timeline, and in the latter, both Jurassic Park (1993) and the various adaptations of Westworld far better grounded in the requirements of Equipoise. No Time Paradoxes occur in Timeline, nor is there any reference to a "butterfly effect" of the kind made famous by the Ray Bradbury short story "A Sound of Thunder" (June 28 1952 Collier's Weekly), later adapted into the film A Sound of Thunder (2005). Timeline fared poorly at the box office. [MD]

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