Directed by Richard Donner, from a Screenplay by Jeff MaGuire and George Nolfi, and based on the Novel by Michael Crichton, with Caleb Deschanel as Director of Photography, “Timeline” is an exciting and frenetic film. It’s so frenetic that my first draft of this review was 4 handwritten pages. I promise to try to explain what’s going on more succinctly than that.
The first section intercuts between a man in a forest running from a mounted knight with a sword in his hand, and the New Mexico highway where the same man is staggering along mortally wounded. But the sequence is not edited as you would expect.
1. A van on a highway in New Mexico
2. In a forest the man is pursued by the knight.
3. The man runs wounded, but is now in New Mexico.
4. The knight is catching up.
5. The wounded man stumbles in New Mexico.
6. The knight is very close, and swings his sword in a deathblow.
7. The driver of the van is distracted, and when he turns back to the road he sees the man in his lane. He swerves to miss him as he collapses on the highway, then he stops and runs back to the man, who mumbles, “Castlegard.”
Cut to hospital where death is called. X-rays show that “Everything is out of alignment. Even his veins… This guy looks like a paper doll got cut up and pasted back together.”
No wallet, no I.D., just a pendant with a logo on it: ITV. International Technology Corporation, right there in Silver City, New Mexico, is a major contributor to the hospital, so someone calls them. And Neal McDonough is sent to retrieve the body and the pendant. (Note: It’s confusing enough to keep the characters’s names straight, so I am only using the actor’s names). The dead man was Vincent Taub (I have to use the character name; I couldn’t find out who played this uncredited part), and when Neal calls David Thewlis, the head of ITC, and says, “It’s Taub.”, Thewlis asks if Marton Csokas was with him. Neal says no, and Thewlis says to get the body out of there with whatever x-rays and records they have. Thewlis turns to his second-in-command, Matt Craven, and says, “If this gets out, ITC is ruined. Any idea how he ended up in the desert?” Craven says, “Maybe he used his marker without enough clearance” (which is the right answer). A law officer asks Neal what Castlegard means, and Neal says, “Sounds like an amusement park.”
The scientists at ITC have been working on a matter transmitter that will send inanimate objects to a second identical machine in NYC, where the items will be re-constituted from the information transmitted. It works, but it doesn’t send things across the country. It sends things only to one specific place full of large trees, and then sends them back. By sending cameras they have been able to photograph the night sky of the unknown location, and by comparing the pictures with worldwide star charts, have learned that the destination is in France, but not today’s France – France in 1357!
They then come up with “markers”. These devices enable a person to be sent back in time (though Thewlis says it is not a time machine at all; they have just connected with a wormhole), and then to choose to return by pressing the button on the marker, which incidentally also shows the time you have remaining before you have to come back (six hours total). They have sent back many teams to try to confirm the exact time and place where the wormhole deposits things (and people), and have learned a lot about this part of France back then. Some people (like the unfortunate Taub) have been damaged by the number of trips they have made.
Cut to “Archeological Dig Site, Castlegard, France” (this sequence turns out to be a flashback because Taub and Csokas went back in time with Billy Connelly, to guard him, but, according to this sequence Billy hasn’t left for New Mexico yet – see what I mean?). Billy Connolly as the head of the dig is lecturing a group of students who work at the site about the battle of April 4, 1357. The English invaders, in red, were occupying the village of Castlegard, while the advancing French in blue planned to drive them over the river, past the monastery, and up and over the heights just beyond. But the English retreated to Castle La Roque, well-fortified, strong, and well-supplied (looks like the French should already have been there). Gerard Butler takes over the story: The French had been trying to oust the English for a hundred years, and now they had to settle down for a long siege. But Lord Oliver decides to take the fight out of the French. He has a prisoner, a woman of nobility, the French commander’s sister, Lady Claire. Oliver hangs her from the battlements where she can be seen for miles. Instead of demoralizing the French, it whips them into a frenzy and they attack like madmen overpowering the English with sheer passion. So the fortress falls in one night because of the death of one woman. Lecture over, Gerard finds Billy preparing to go back to America to confront Thewlis. Billy tells his son Paul Walker that he is distrustful of Thewlis, who has provided so much information about where to dig and so on, stuff that no one should know at this point. “Thewlis isn’t telling us everything. We’re making too much progress. Something isn’t right.” When Paul protests, Billy says that he knows Paul only came to the dig to see Frances O’Connor, one of the scientists on the dig, and the leading lady of the movie.
Next, two good scenes: Paul expresses disdain for archeology and Gerard gives him a lesson, showing him the 600-year old sarcophagus of a married couple. And a cave-in at the monastery opens up a room unseen for 600 years – except it contains a bifocal lens from Billy’s glasses, and an ancient document with Billy’s signature asking for help. Carbon dating shows the ink is 600 years old. The technician says, “Your father wrote that note, but he wrote it 600 years ago!”
So when they storm in on Thewlis, he tries to soothe them by telling them that Billy really wanted to go to see what the dig site looked like originally, and could not be talked out of it (most likely true). Now Gerard, Paul, Frances, and Rossif Sutherland (who speaks excellent French) will go back, guarded by Neal and two other guys, to save Billy and bring him home. Neal practically begs Thewlis not to make him go, but Thewlis says, “If you find Csokas you know what to do.” And from the moment they land in France, in water instead of on land, the temporal confusion is over and a grand adventure begins. And more cast members should be noted: Anna Friel from “Pushing Daisies” plays a young French girl that Gerard ends up protecting, Ethan Embry plays a physicist at the dig, Michael Sheen is Lord Oliver, and Lambert Wilson plays the leader of the French forces, Lord Arnaut – the brother of Lady Claire.
Well, it isn’t 4 pages, but it sure is long!