Length: 115 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Surround
English Subtitled and Closed Captioned
Special Features: 2 featurettes (one in three parts), Trailers, Previews
SRP: $19.95 US
I’m a science geek. I admit it. I love stories that take a solid scientific premise and mix in a little science fiction to tell a good story. That’s why I enjoy Michael Crichton’s novels so much. He starts with hard science and mixes in a touch of science fiction to create stories that entertain and, sometimes, educate a little. Push the idea of cloning a bit beyond today’s possibilities and you get Jurassic Park. Want to see some dark possibilities of nanotechnology in the future, try Prey. How about seeing a group of archaeologists experience the past firsthand?
When I watch a film based on a book that I enjoy, I try very hard not to compare. There is no way to translate a novel into a motion picture without cutting exposition. I accept that – which is why I enjoyed the film version of Jurassic Park. In the movie Timeline, however, the very essence of the film was lost in the translation.
The book spends considerable time on the science of archaeology, and specifically, a 14th century dig in France. There is much exposition on the lives of the people of the time, and the changing tide of war. The book also deals with modern high tech corporate politics and greed. These things that took many chapters to set up in the novel are left by the wayside in order to make a movie about a bunch of modern characters (who we care little about) existing as fish out of water and fighting medieval battles in 14th century France.
The basic story of the film involves an archaeologist who goes missing after leaving a dig in France to go visit the company that is funding his project. His team amazingly finds modern artifacts on the dig site that defy explanation. Then, they find writings on 14th century parchment left behind, in the handwriting of the missing scientist.
The team flies back to America to confront the people at ITC, the evil corporation that is funding the dig. They find that their colleague has, indeed, been sent back in time. They are asked to go back in time to rescue him.
By now, only 10 or 15 minutes of the film has passed, and the valiant archaeologists go back to 1357 France on a mission to save their leader. The rest of the film has great sets and scenery, excellent period costumes, and some exciting action scenes… but it all seems rushed. We don’t get to know the characters, or care for them. We don’t get to find out the true nature of the evil corporation and its leader. All the things that made the story intriguing are gone, in favor of big action sequences.
Billy Connolly plays the missing Professor Johnston. Paul Walker is his son, Chris. Gerard Butler plays a convincing Andre Marek, though the character wasn’t Scottish in the novel. David Thewlis is a waste in the role of Doniger, a part that is so pared down from the novel that they may as well have left him out. Frances O’Connor and Anna Friel round out the cast as the token love interests.
The film succeeds purely as an action flick. Seen on that basis, it is an enjoyable enough ride. The science geek in you, however, need not bother with this one. Go into this one expecting a popcorn action flick, and you’ll probably enjoy it. Fans of the novel will be disappointed. This is a case where 20 minutes of added exposition to flesh out the concept of time travel, the specifics of 14th century French – English warfare, and the shady dealings of ITC could have helped tremendously. I mean, why rush a good story?
14th Century France is well rendered in this anamorphic transfer. The textures of the castle walls and the costumes really come through in a detailed, sharp image. Excellent contrast, strong black levels and good shadow detail make the image stand out. Colors are accurately rendered and well saturated. There is virtually no grain in the picture. No obvious sharpening or compression artifacts are to be seen. The low light and smoke effects are handled well, with no pixilation or drifting. The print is devoid of dust and scratches. This really looks terrific.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track has good frequency response. Bass-lovers may think that low frequencies are lacking, but I think there is enough punch when called for – galloping horses, explosions, etc. Rear channels usually provide a simple, subdued ambience – but they come to life in the more immersive action sequences. Excellent directional effects exist across the front soundstage. LFE effects kick in when needed, but don’t call attention to themselves. This is certainly an adequate mix, but not as active and immersive as some would like or expect.
One cool (but useless) feature is the ability to change the menu system from a 1357 theme to a modern theme. I’ll leave it to you to figure out how to change it (it’s not hard).
Journey Through Timeline (45:10, in three parts)
Entirely shot on the location sets, this is sort of a video diary of the production. It isn’t terribly deep in nuts and bolts information, but it has lots of “texture.” Director Richard Donner and crew were wearing microphones during the shoot. We get to listen as they discuss setting up shots, as they coach the actors, and even as they occasionally bicker and argue. There are scattered interviews with crew and cast throughout, as they take breaks on the set. There is also footage of some of the practical jokes played on set. I like this format… it’s sort of like being on set without all the sitting around and waiting for things to happen (if you haven’t been on a working set, that happens a lot).
The Textures of Timeline (18:17)
Interviews and demonstrations by costume designers, set designers, weapons designers and visual effects and stunt crews show us the attention to detail on the set, and the attempts to achieve realism. This interesting “behind the scenes” piece concludes with information on set construction and the composition of the musical score.
There are two theatrical trailers for the film.
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The Stepford Wives
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The Perfect Score
I try to separate my feelings for the novel, which I really enjoyed, from my attitude toward mindless action movies – which, I believe, have their place and can be enjoyable. I think Timeline deserved better treatment than it got in this adaptation – but the film does work on its own level. The transfer is more than adequate and the extras are interesting. I recommend it for action fans.