Timeline (2003)

Timeline is one of the few books I actually read this year that wasn’t a computer manual. For those of you who have not read the book, I’ll give Timeline a three out of ten rating. For those who have, I’ll give it a one. It turns out that all those friends and family members who have been telling me, “the book was better than the movie,” all these years were right.

In Timeline, a group of archeologists are excavating the ruins of an old castle in Castleguard, France. The group consists of various students and is led by Professor Johnston. Their work is being funded by a technology company named ITC. One day, the professor’s son Chris (Paul Walker, The Fast and the Furious) shows up on site to visit. During his visit, the professor makes a trip back to visit ITC, a trip which he doesn’t return from. While searching for clues, the students discover a note from the professor which reads “Help me.” Through carbon dating, the students discover the note came from the 1300’s.

Just like in real life, when Paul Walker calls ITC threatens to call the cops, the massively secret technology company spills the beans about everything. The company informs the archeologists that while attempting to build a 3D fax machine that would “teleport” objects, they accidentally discovered a wormhole through space and time that somehow links back to 1357 AD, Castleguard, France. The professor talked ICT into sending him back in time, and never came back. Since one civillian did so well (and he IS the professor), the company has decided the best case scenario would be to send back five or six MORE civillians, with a couple of ex-Marines by their side to make sure “nothing goes wrong.” Within 60 seconds of going back, one of the Marines has three arrows sticking out of him, and manages to destroy the time machine when a hand grenade goes off. Oops. So much for that plan. The students must now find the professor, avoid being killed, and somehow survive a huge English/French battle which they’ve carefully been dropped in the middle of.

Each of the students who go back have a special skill. There’s Marek, the guy who’s studied the medieval period his entire life and knows the customs of the time. There’s Kate, the archeologist/rock climber/love interest. Along for the ride is a guy who speaks French and two or three proverbial “Star Trek Red Shirts” who show up only to die. Leading the pack is Chris, who had no idea about anything going on, but loooooves the ladies. The group kind of reminded me of the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, except I liked most of those characters.

In the book, certain things had to happen to allow the travellers to return to modern times, which left them stranded there for 35 days or so. In the movie, it’s six hours. This is just one of the things that totally changed the idea of the book. In the book, these kids had to figure out how to survive, how to eat, how to do everything. In the movie, they just had to get by for six hours. Likewise, in the book each person was fitted with a translator that allowed the students to hear and speak other languages (hey, it WAS a technology company). In the movie there’s no such thing, which turns out to be okay because most of the people in the movie are bi or even tri-lingual — and you KNOW how well the colleges were back in those days!

The movie ends up being two hours of running from one battle to the next, escaping from one cell and into the next, and so on and so forth. A few of the book’s major characters come up missing, and the first five or so chapters that explained all the science behind the ideas (something Crichton is famous for) ends up being crammed into about five minutes of screen time. The biggest difference between the book and the movie is that the book conveys the idea that no matter how smart you think you are, you wouldn’t have lasted an hour in the middle ages. These were people who did back breaking labor day in and day out. The average farmer’s wife from back then could kick your ass. In the movie though, Paul Walker says to the group, “we’ve got 650 years of intelligence on these people. Let’s put our heads together and outsmart these fools!” Let me just go on record and say that Paul Walker couldn’t outsmart the average lab rat in a game of Connect Four. Just because people lived in the middle ages doesn’t mean they were stupid. The fact that you know about the Internet and Playstation isn’t going to mean jack shit when you look at some guard the wrong way and he shoves a sword down your throat because he’s bored. Plus, what knowledge do you ACTUALLY have that would be of interest to these people? All I could do is show them my “hey look, I pulled my thumb off” magic trick. Probably right before some guard shoved his sword down my throat because he was bored.

The film left me with more questions than the average round of Jeopardy. The biggest of which is, what proof did anyone have that the professor ever really got to ITC? All they would have said was, “nope, he never made it.” Big deal! That sure would have saved a lot of people from getting whisked around to different times and more than one person meeting the business end of a sword! Timeline makes it seem like you could just call Roswell and say, “ok, what’s going on in there? I’ll call the COPS man!” and they would say, “oh gosh no, not the cops, here, come on in and test drive a crashed UFO while you’re here!” It’s ridiculous!

The say that Paul Walker is one of the better actors in the film should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect. I believed in Jar Jar Binks more than half of these nitwits. No one in the film convinced me why they would even go back in time to save a coworker and someone’s father. The next time you’re at work, look at your boss and try and decide if you would risk going back in time and possibly never coming back or even getting killed to save him or her. I wouldn’t loan my boss my stapler last week.

Timeline is, unfortunately, pretty bad. The bad acting, huge plot holes, convoluted plot, poor logic and 45 minute grand finale battle all left me wishing I could go back in time two hours and see something else instead. Avoid it like the plague. The bubonic plague.

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