[box cover]


Known for cramming scientific babble into his novels, author Michael Crichton's thrillers have been a fixture in science fiction filmmaking since the success of Jurassic Park (1993). But his attempt at defining the technology required for a "matter relocation-turned-time travel" device was left mostly out of the screenplay in Timeline (2003). Instead, director Richard Donner opted to toss off the scientific gobbledygook in favor of a quick five-minute sequence, defining the contraption as a "3-D fax machine." And just like that, the ability to transport matter to 1357 France is explained. Timeline centers on a team of archaeologists working in Castlegard, France. When the leader of the dig, Prof. Johnston (Billy Connolly), vanishes, some unbelievable evidence appears — a 650-year-old document is found with the doctor's handwriting on it, begging to be saved. His son Chris (Paul Walker) and the rest of the team turn to the ITC company, who has been funding their work. It seems that while expanding their "Fax Machine" to transmit across continents, they've accidentally opened a wormhole to Castlegard in the 14th century, and Johnston has led a team back in time to attempt to discover why the wormhole is locked on the other side. Chris, his love interest Kate (O'Connor), Andre Marek (Butler), and a group of ex-Marines travel back to rescue the professor, but they land in the middle of a battle between English and French forces. The doctor is quickly found, and the conflict centers around the team attempting to escape from English capture, while also ensuring that their presence doesn't influence the timeline. Paul Walker is billed as the star of Timeline, but instead he is (thankfully) relegated to being the star of just the first 20 minutes. After that it becomes Gerard Butler's film, and Walker spends the remaining 95 minutes clinging to the skirt of Frances O'Connor. Marek quickly falls in love with the Lady Claire, whose supposed historical death inspired the French to defeat the English with a siege at La Roche in a single night. Of course, he's not terribly excited about watching her die. In general, the film's special effects are acceptable, with the siege itself warranting a mention (the use of trebuchets in the siege is very well done). But with its shaky premise and ill-conceived dialogue, the picture takes on the vibe one gets when watching a bad episode of "Star Trek." The team has a "prime directive" to not alter the path of history, which is largely ignored. A couple of extras (who might as well wear "Trek"-style red shirts) make the trip, with obvious results. In fact, all sorts of analogies between Timeline and the cast of "The Next Generation" show are possible, but in either case, it doesn't make for a very good two-hour movie. Paramount presents Timeline with a good anamorphic transfer (1:85.1) and nice-and-loud Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include a three-part "making-of" documentary, the second of which breaks down in fine detail the siege at La Roche; an additional feature, "The Textures of Timeline," which looks at the filmmakers' attempts toward authenticity in recreating the period, and theatrical trailers. Also included is a series of preview trailers — among them Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which may be the best thing on the disc. Keep-case.
—Scott Anderson

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