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Too much plotline for too little time

C. Spencer Beggs | Monday, December 1, 2003

Timeline is one of those movies that makes you leave the theater thinking, “Gee, I bet that was a really great book.”Adapted from Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel, Timeline follows the adventures of a team of archeologists who get stranded in the 14th century. Why the 14th century? Well, the movie never really explains that.A company trying to create an instantaneous “fax machine” for three-dimensional objects stumbles across a wormhole that sends things back in time to a 14th century battleground of the Hundred Years’ War at Castelgard, France. In good sci-fi style, the evil corporation starts sending teams of soldiers and researchers into the past, trying to unravel the mystery of why they can only travel to 14th century France, rather than to any other place or time. Of course, someone gets stranded and then someone goes after him. And in good sci-fi style, somebody blows up the machine in the present day, stranding all of them.But time travel is really just a lame excuse to make a period action film. Timeline is really just a medieval battle epic. Luckily for us, the time machine sends our heroes back to April 4th, 1357, the fictional day of the French’s routing of a British stronghold, rather than April 4th, 1722, when nothing of note happened.Ironically, Timeline doesn’t have enough time to tell its story. Like the many movies adapted from Crichton’s books, such as Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, Timeline has to crunch a lot of technical explanation into a two-hour film while making time for action-adventure mayhem and madness. Unlike Crichton films before it, Timeline only gives a mediocre gloss of the science behind it.The movie focuses on the medieval adventure and rarely returns to the plotline of the present day. But the drama of trying to fix the portal in the present seems really unnecessary. Since the science behind it is so vaguely laid out, the audience doesn’t have much of a clue what is going on. In fact, the plotline at the beginning of the movie progresses so quickly, it’s hard to make heads or tails of who’s who or what’s going on until the movie jumps back to Castelgard.But Timeline doesn’t leave the audience high and dry. All the plot elements in the movie do come together in some fashion at the end and there aren’t any big lingering questions in the plotline. Director Richard Donner probably would have done better by cutting out more of the extraneous plot points and focusing more on the action sequences. Timeline is a decent epic battle film but a lackluster sci-fi flick.Crichton fans might be better advised to save their ticket money and buy the book instead. Those looking for a decent action-adventure flick won’t be disappointed with Timeline, but let’s just say the film isn’t going down in the annals of cinematic history any time soon.