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The Stax Report: Script Review of Timeline
Article Date: January 30, 2002 | Publication: IGN Film Force | Author: Stax
Stax looks at the script adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel, set to star Paul Walker (The Fast and the Furious) and Gerard Butler (Dracula 2000) and to be directed by Richard Donner!
Stax here with my reaction to the screenplay for Timeline! George Nolfi's "first rewrite" dated October 27, 2000 is an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton. Production is (finally) set to begin in Montreal this April under the direction of Richard Donner (the Lethal Weapon series), who will also produce the pic along with his wife Lauren Shuler Donner (X-Men). The only cast members announced so far are Paul Walker (The Fast and the Furious) and Gerard Butler (Dracula 2000). Paramount Pictures is aiming to release Timeline sometime during summer 2003.
Timeline is a time travel adventure that opens in the 21st century and then journeys back to 14th century France. An academic/archaeological team working on an excavation of medieval ruins in France discovers that their mentor, Princeton University professor Edward Johnston, has somehow traveled back in time to the 1300s. His disappearance is tied to the Bill Gates-like magnate of the ITC Corporation, Robert Doniger. Without revealing too many spoilers, it turns out that Doniger has discovered time travel and has been sending people back in time on various missions. (I won't tell you why.)
Prof. Johnston had secretly been working with Doniger on the project since his expertise on medieval times came in handy. Trouble arose on their last mission and Johnston is now trapped back in the 1300s. Doniger enlists the aid of Johnston's underlings to go back in time (accompanied by some ex-soldiers now in Doniger's employ) to rescue Johnston and recover/disable a threatening gizmo that was also left behind.
The problem with Doniger's time machines is that they only allow travelers to remain in the past for eighteen hours or else they're stranded there for good.
This team of unlikely time travelers include the brooding Andre Marek (Butler), student Chris Hughes (Walker), his lover-instructor Kate Ericson, Francois, and former Army general John Gordon (Doniger's henchman). Remaining behind with Doniger at ITC's time travel "command center" is the team physicist, Stern. No sooner has the team arrived in 14th century France than serious trouble arises. I won't reveal how it happens but the time machines are seriously damaged back in the present, which now threatens to strand the unwitting heroes in the Middle Ages.
The team learns that Johnston is being held captive by Lord Oliver, an English nobleman-warrior who is not nearly as nice as history remembers him. Lord Oliver is at war with the French and, in particular, with Lord Arnaut. Oliver has even captured Arnaut's sister, Lady Claire.
The team soon becomes engaged in the historic battle between the French and English at the very site they'll be excavating in the future (literally taking part in history along the way). They get caught up in this struggle while trying to escape Oliver's fortress at La Roque and make it back to the future (pun intended) in time. This adventure allows Marek to indulge in the medieval fantasies of his youth while trying to free his new love, Lady Claire. Back in the present, Stern catches on that Doniger may have far more nefarious plans in mind than first suspected.
Timeline was good fun, an old-fashioned romp in the vein of 1950s films like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth (and, more recently, a throwback like Stargate). What this yarn may have lacked in complex characterizations it made up for in spirit and charm. That's not to say it didn't have its share of plot holes.
I'm still unsure why Doniger even wanted to go to 14th century France to begin with. There are certainly more important moments in history one could choose to tinker with. The script also mentions three different years at various points (1347, 1357, and 1380) so I was never quite sure of when exactly the story was set.
Of all the films in the time travel genre, Timeline offers the most logical and plausible explanation yet for time travel. While the story's science may not make much sense to the egghead demographic, it was sufficient enough for a lay person like myself to suspend his disbelief (and that's all that really matters).
I appreciated that Timeline didn't romanticize medieval times. Indeed, the knights depicted here (especially the one referred to as "Black Plume," who turns out to be quite a surprise himself) are mean, dangerous, grimy warriors. They're professional killers not "knights in shining armor." Any quaint images of knights from folklore or past films is quickly dispelled once the team arrives in the past.
This story didn't entirely divorce itself from a fairy tale paradigm, however. Marek rises to the occasion, transforming into a man of action out to rescue his damsel in distress (Lady Claire). It's a credit to the screenplay that a jaded filmgoer like myself bought into it.
If it holds true to the promise shown in this draft, Timeline could be among next summer's most entertaining event films. – STAX