CRITIC DOCTOR EXAMINES: Jeff Westhoff (, Roger Ebert (, Peter Sobczynski (, Chris Hewitt (, Carrie Rickey (, Maitland McDonagh (

People generally agree that a book is always better than its movie version. In the case of “Timeline,” the book had better darn well be better because the movie is one of the most boring time-travel movies I’ve seen since “The Time Machine” (2002) or “Planet of the Apes” (2001).

“Timeline,” based on Michael Crichton’s book, is a movie about a group of archaeologists in France who are unearthing artifacts from La Roque Castle and other structures surrounding the village of Castlegard. Soon they find themselves traveling back in time to 14th century France to rescue their team leader, Professor Johnston (Billy Connolly). The year is 1357 and the group teleports (or genetically fax themselves) back on the very day the French invade the English in Castlegard. If only they had landed right in the line of fire.

Jeff Westhoff ( said, “It’s slick entertainment that does its job, even if no one will remember it six years from now, much less six centuries.” Uh, Jeff? Try 6 months from now – or even 6 minutes after you leave the theater. I love time-travel movies and this film wastes our time.

Roger Ebert ( nailed it: “Just once I’d like to see a time-travel movie inspired by true curiosity about the past, instead of by a desire to use it as a setting for action scenes.”

Time-travel, the ability to transport your physical body forward or backward in time, fascinates me for many reasons. Imagine the people you could meet, the questions you could ask, the places to visit. Yet this movie forgets to inspire its characters with the wonder of it all – and these people are archaeologists!

Peter Sobczynski ( said, “They merely trot around with all the apparent excitement of a tour group forced to visit someplace because it was on the schedule. While the film is as bottomlessly stupid as anything you will see this season, it is this lack of curiosity that really sinks it in the end.”

The movie simply portrayed archaeologists in an unrealistic fashion. Paul Walker flashed his usual big smile every chance he gets and the other actors seemed trapped in a wormhole filled with bad dialogue.

Chris Hewitt ( said, “The students are mostly archaeologists so, presumably, they’d get off on the chance to explore actual sights they’ve only been able to study in partial ruins. But the movie barely pauses for them to marvel at history coming alive before it plunges into sword-and-catapult battle scenes that you just know ‘The Return of the King’ will do a thousand times better next month.”

Carrie Ricky ( also said, “Though there are many fine actors in this film, including Thewlis, Frances O’Connor and Gerard Butler, let’s just say that the acting is as superfluous as the highlights in Walker’s blond hair.”

I did like the time travel machine itself – it seemed plausible. The idea of faxing our genetic makeup to another time is kind of cool. But the machine could not stop the wormhole (that caused the window to the past to open) from sucking out every creative thought from the filmmakers. There are simply better time-travel movies on DVD like “Just Visiting” or even “Kate and Leopold.” At least you laugh with these movies – not at them.

Maitland McDonagh ( summed the movie up best: “Filled with pseudoscientific gibble-gabble, arbitrary time-travel rules, howlingly clichéd dialogue and renaissance-fair ambience, this dreary science-fiction/historical-action hybrid is a misfire of staggering proportions. Would that someone could go back in time and prevent it from ever going into production.”

I’d rather have Crichton’s “Timeline” book faxed to me instead of teleporting to the theater to see this movie again.


Posted on December 19, 2003 in Features by


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