By J.B. Rockwell
I know, I know, I’ve been neglecting my Bad Movie Review duties lately and *believe me* that kills me. I loves me a bad movie and the requisite snarking that goes with them, but life and stuff and things and blurg—let’s just say a lot of things conspired to get in the way. But I’m back now to entertain you, and I found a whopper of a stink ball to (not) recommend. It’s called Timeline and (despite all appearances to the contrary), this bucket o’ stinky fish heads came out in 2003, not 1987. I mean look at that poster! It’s sooo…
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. To set the stage for this, very frankly, craphole of a big budget offense, let me first tell you why this movie should, by all rights, have been good. Check that, not just good—super-duper, knocks your socks off good.
Thing the First: Based on a book by Michael Crichton (if you don’t know who that is (1) duh—WHA???? And (2) Jurassic Park)
Thing the Next: Directed by Richard Donner (Superman, Ladyhawke, Lethal Weapon—he directed them all so, while that doesn’t equate to ‘deep’ or ‘plot’, you should at least expect a lot of fun-if-ridiculous-and-entertaining type action)
Thing the D: The cast includes a whole gaggle’s-worth of peoples, including a few names you should instantly recognize as appearing in other roles and movies of merit:
- Paul Walker
- Francis O’Connor
- David Thewlis
- Gerard Butler
- Billy Connolly
- Neal McDonough
- Ethan Embry
- Michael Sheen
- Martin Csokas
Now, admittedly, I’m no math whiz, but when I put all that together and tally up the numbers, my handy-dandy Tandy combobulator tells me this movie should be HUGE. I’m talking tour de force of film de coin.
Nope. Cheese fest. Ten metric tons of crap. In fact, this is probably the absolute worst big budget flick I’ve run across in a long time—a fact which, if you follow my reviews regularly, is really saying something—and unfortunately, it’s not bad-good in a good-good way. This is… it’s…well, it’s just plain old bad, is what it is.
Sadly, I know you’re intrigued now. So, without further ado, let’s get to it
The Timeline Plot:
A group of archaeologists and combat experts (a most logical and natural paring of professions, I know) use a “3-D fax machine” (yes, that’s really what they call it) to time-travel and… geo-time travel (?) to France and the year 1357 in the hope of retrieving yet another time-traveling archaeologist and return him safely to the present. Unfortunately, their three-hour tour turns into a knock-down, drag-out fight for survival when they find themselves fending off marauding hordes of medieval French warriors at war with the invading British.
And as the body count continues to rise, the deadline for returning home rapidly approaches.
Those people I listed earlier? Yeah, that’s them. What parts do they play? Honestly, it doesn’t matter. They all suck equally, some of them just die before the picture’s done.
Budget & Box Office Info:
- Release Date: 30 November 2003
- Budget: $80 M
- Box Office Sales: $44M—this, by the way, should tell you everything you need to know.
Sequels & Crossovers:
None. And with good reason. Also, according to IMDB:
“Michael Crichton, author of the same-titled book off which this movie is based, disliked this movie so much that he refused to license any more movies based off of his novels.”
The Story (in a Nutshell):
Professor Edward Johnston (AKA Doc EdJo, played by Billy Connolly) leads an archaeological study of the village of Castlegard, near LaRoque Castle in Dordogne, France, the site of the 1357 hanging of Lady Claire, sister to Arnaut de Cervole—a knight dude.
Note: I Wikipedia’d this because I didn’t pay attention and failed to capture all the names. Do they matter? Not really, but they stole some real history for this backdrop of this shitshow so I figured I owed history the head nod. Anyhooo….
The martyrdom of Lady Claire (sister to Arnaut de Cervole, who I’m guessing is hotsy-totsy and struts around in some of them boobage bearing Renaissance style frocks) led France to win the Hundred Years War against the English.
Second note: This is also shamelessly stolen from The Wiki.
To excavate this site and find the luscious Lady Claire’s not so much boobage enhanced any more bones, Doc EdJo cobbles together a crack team of spare parts archaeologists, including:
- André Marek (played by Gerard Butler, which is the weirdest casting ever considering his name is French but his Scottish burr is strong enough to strangle cattle)
- Students Kate Erickson (Francis O’Connor, you know her from Fargo) Josh Stern (Ethan Embry), and François Dontelle (Rossif Sutherland)
- His son, Chris (played by a far less Fast and Furious Paul Walker)
While excavating a nearby monastery, B Team finds a sarcophagus containing the remains of a French knight with a lopped ear who’s holding the hand of his lady love. This seemingly innocuous discovery sends the entire team into a tizzy because, apparently, that was an ‘unheard-of’ practice for the time.
Note 3: At this point, I’m already suspecting that’s Sonny Boy Johnson and Dirty Kate because this movie is already terrible and that seems like the most obviously terrible plot choice. Oh, right. Did I mention Sonny Boy has the hots for Dirty Kate? Yeah, he does. As for Katie…. Not so interested.
So, having established that ‘somethin’ just a-ain’t right’, Doc Ed Jo ups and leaves for Americaland to visit the corporate headquarters of the dig’s sponsor, ITC Corporation, his project’s sponsor to… I don’t know. Probably ask for money. A few days later, Marek and his students discover a pair of the Doc’s bifocals and a note begging for help buried in the ruins of the site’s monastery, which—dun-dun-dun—no one’s supposed to have entered for more than 600 years old!
Okay, that’s not that exciting.
Of course, everyone immediately agrees that Doc EdJo either (a) being 600 years old, or (b) having someone time traveled 600 years is completely plausible, so they all pack up and head to ITC HQ themselves (located in New Mexico, in case you’re interested) to give them the old ‘what’s up, yo?’
At said HQ, the dig team meets ITC president Robert Doniger (David Thewlis faking an American accent, which is kind of creepy) and vice-president Steven Kramer (Matt Kraven—one of those actors that appear in a lot of things that you can never quite name). Seems ITC’s been messing around with teleportation technology and ‘accidentally’ discovered a ‘stable’ wormhole that connects to a single time and place: Castlegard France in the year 1357. Not sure that’s how wormholes actually work, but okay…
That’s right, the same place and the exact same time period of Doc EdJo’s dig. CAN I GET A DUN-DUN-DUN? No? Really? *sigh* Fine…
*inserts tiny dun-dun-dun*
Apparently, Doc EdJo space and time traveled completely of his own accord to see the wonders of the Ye Olde Anciente Worlde but never returned. With many assurances that they are not, in fact, an evil corporation and absolutely no nefarious self-interests involved, the (not-evil) ITC guys inform Sonny Boy and the Gang that the only way to get Doc EdJo back is for the lot of them to go in after him.
Great idea, right? By which I mean, of course, crap idea, right? ‘Course it is! Terrible. And that’s exactly why they all go.
Well, except for Josh, that is. Josh is a little whiney, scaredy baby so they dump his ass at ITC get themselves back to the past!
The Rest of It:
Before I get to the rest of it, let me acknowledge that yes, in fact, this entire thing reads almost exactly like a chopped up, modified version of Back to the Future III, except it’s set in France in the 1300s rather than the American southwest in the 1800s. Otherwise, exactly the same.
Phew! Glad we got that out of the way. Now, about that Rest of It…
Since the past is a dark and scary place, ITC sends a squad of heavies led by Frank Gordon (Neal McDonough, AKA Dum Dum Dugan of Captain America fame) to keep the egg-headed yet most likely wimpy archaeologists from getting themselves killed. Or something. Along the way, the not-at-all-evil-or-likely-to-turn-on-them ITC corporate heavies keep mentioning some guy named Decker.
Now, I’m not what you’d consider particularly smart, but even I can’t help but notice that sledgehammer between the eyes and I suspect at this point, that we’re going to meet up with this Decker guy soon. Oh, and also? Apparently, repeated wormhole travel does some nasty-ass things to the body. The evil corporate IT guys never mentioned that, of course, but I’m sure it was just an oversight. Nothing at all for our intrepid heroes to worry about.
In the locker room, during time jump prep, we’re treated to some good old fashioned infighting—yet another ham-fisted design choice to make sure even the most block-headed of numbskulls (like me!) knows this time jump trip will end badly—and a prolonged scene of a not-quite-buff-yet-still-naked-from-the-waist-up Gerard Butler.
Let me just say, at this point in his career, his 300 days a far off. For the purposes of this review, I therefore dub him 299. Long may his not-quite-buffness reign.
Right, so the rules of wormhole travel, according to ITC. You have 6 hours from the time you get zap traveled to the past to get back. After that, the marker medallion issued to each person expires. No idea why, that’s just the way it is. Kinda seems like a design flaw, personally. I mean, they could at least have a renewal/extension option like you get with library books, but maybe that’s too expensive. In any case, the reasoning behind the 6 hour limit is never explained. Or maybe it was and I just missed it because OMG THIS MOVIE IS ALREADY TERRIBLE AND NO ONE’S EVEN DONE ANYTHING YET.
So. Sonny Boy and The Gang go back in time garbed in ye olde period piece raiment and ye younge, very modern American accents (except burr-tongue Butler who’s as Scottish and unintelligible as ever) and set about being idiots.
Oh, wait. They also brought a French guy to serve as an interpreter or something, though he mostly stands about being useless instead of Frenchifying or otherwise being helpful.
Once (un)safely in the past, the group is immediately set upon by some ye olde English knights playing chase the French peasant polo in the woods while a-horse. In the chaos of ‘Run! Fight! Do both!’, one of the supposedly ‘highly trained’ heavies whips out a grenade—that’s right, despite strict orders to not bring anything modern with them, Einstein here brought a boom can along. In the course of about ten seconds, Heavy D (1) gets shot by an arrow, (2) activates the grenade, (3) gets shot again… and again, and yet again, (4) activates his time travel marker, and (5) gets transported him back to the future and the ITC lab where he dies, the grenade explodes and the wormhole machine required to return the rest of them to the future gets fairly well blastinated and trashed.
Oblivious to the fact that they’re now completely screwed, the rest of the gang runs away, at which point 299 gets separated from the others and chased by knights.
Note 5 (is it 5 or 6? Or 12? No idea): They get chased by knights a lot in this movie. I mean, egregiously a lot. Basically, every time the writers got stuck and couldn’t figure out what to do next, one of them yelled out, ‘I know! Chased by knights!’ and all the others agree that was brilliant and scribbled that shit right in.
While being chased by knights, 299 comes across a downed tree and dives right into the hole created when its base uprooted. There he finds… A woman!
Okay… Dear France: why did you store your women in tree root holes? Oh, you’re France. I forgot.
Anyhoo, 299 is a lusty old soul and immediately commits murder to save French Hole Girl from a knight sword skewering. Eventually, they scape and hook back up with Sonny Boy, Frenchie, Kate and Gordo (everyone else they traveled with is dead at this point) and hoof it for the village of Castlegard which, according to history, will be burned to the ground by nightfall.
I know they need to find Doc EdJo but I think this is a bad plan. Anyone else think this is bad plan? No? Alright. Guess we’ll keep going.
Meanwhile, back in the future/present, the ITC guys desperately try to fix the wormhole pad so the time/space travelers don’t get stuck in the past/present/whatever forever. There are a few more cut scenes back to the future present but I’m gonna skip them because all you need to know is what you probably immediately figured out at the beginning: evil corporate guys are evil and up to no good and the wormhole pad thing will get fixed just in the nick of time.
Back in the village, more knights, more running and hiding, plus some lusty men playing with sword sticks.
OH MY GOD. We’re not even halfway through this movie and I’m already weary of it. *shakes fist at Richard Donner and his crap flick*
Okay, so now they’ve stopped running from the English and are sharing some snappy banter with Lord Oliver (Michael Sheen) and his troop of English crumpets occupying both Castlegard village and La Roche castle. Interestingly—nope, wrong word. Ridiculously, no one seems to care that Sonny Boy has a distinctly not English or French accent. I can only assume that, in this time of witches and warlocks, everybody already knew ‘Merica was coming back so weird-ass accents were no big deal. 299’s Scottish accent, on the other hand is quite a big deal because, ya know, Scottish, English, centuries of inbred hatred.
Oops. While I was distracted, French boy fell on a sword. RIP French guy. You were crap as a character, but at least you’re free of this awful, awful movie.
With Frenchie out of the way, Lord Ollie shoves the rest of the gang (as a reminder, Sonny Boy, Kate, Gordo and 299 are left at this point) into the attic where they’re locked in with a previously imprisoned Doc EdJo.
Well. That was easy. Job done, right? Oh. Right. Broken time travel thingy.
Okay, after panicking and yelling at each other for a while, they all revert to form and, by mutual agreement, decide they’re obviously far superior to these past tense dumbshits and set about finding a way to escape. How, you ask? Through a hole in the roof, of course! A thatched roof, mind you, which should be relatively easy to create holes in, and yet, the one they ‘find’ is somehow only wide enough for Dirty Kate to wiggle through. No possibility of widening it—nope, nope, nope, way too damn hard. So, out she goes, dangling her pins and ass jiggle from the rafters until she locates a window and sneak back in the building she just left.
Okay, so after ducking and dodging yet more silly English knights, Dirty Kate pops the attic stairs open and the rest of the gang (plus Doc EdJo) come tumbling out, arm themselves and immediately run away again.
Chased by knights.
Well, except for Dumbo 299 who decides to take advice from the little chap in his pants and stay behind to locate and save French Hole Girl. This, of course, involves getting chased by knights both before and after he finds her and they bust through the building’s wall to make a run for the river.
Why the river, you ask? No idea. Maybe there’s a van down there or something.
Elsewhere, Doc EdJo and crew finally realize their markers don’t work—AKA, they’re screwed—and run away, pursued by knights.
On the river, 299 makes a love connection with Hole Girl and finds out—gasp!— she’s Lady Claire! Anyone taking bets on how long it takes 299 to lose an ear? No? No one? That obvious.
Yeah. It is. This movie’s the paint by numbers of not-at-all subtle plot points. Have I mentioned I hate it? Yeah, I hate it.
Soon a bunch of French knights appear to rescue 299 and Claire from the river, after which they’re all—you guessed it—chased away by English knights.
Back in the village, the rest of the gang is bumbling around, trying to find a way out so they ca get chased by knights.
As for 299, well, despite his river fever love, he leaves French Hole Girl Claire and heads back to the village to find his friends. ‘Cause he’s an idiot. And probably misses being chased by English knights because it’s been at least 5 minutes since that last happened.
Speaking of which, everyone else is now finally being chased by English knights! What a refreshing change of pace! Ya know, maybe I’m starting to like this movie. After all, you don’t have to think! You just follow the simple formula:
- Step 1: get chased by English knights
- Step 2: get caught by English knights
- Step 3: escape from English knights
- Step 4 – Infinity: Wash, rinse, repeat.
This, my friends, is apparently how you convince someone to hand over $80M so
you can make a movie
So, anyway, where were we at? Right, Doc EdJo and friends captured by English knights. To balance out the universe and simplify things for the watching public, 299 is soon captured as well. With everyone now happily reunited, the writers now decide to drop a bomb:
Sir William De Kere—one of those so-called ye olde English knights and faithful lapdog to Lord Ollie of Liverwusrt—isn’t really ye olde or English after all. He’s ITC American Decker: paramilitary time traveler turned knight extraordinaire who finally, finally reveals the awful, awful truth of wormhole travel: it shreds up human DNA .
‘Like mistakes in a fax transcription,’ he says
*laughs so hard she falls over*
So, apparently, Decker’s wormhole traveled too many times and can’t survive another trip so he’s stuck here. And since he’s stuck here, he’s decided he’s gonna be a dick and prevent anyone else from leaving as well. To that end, he confiscates everyone’s markers—well, except those with Sonny Boy and Kate who ran off at some point while I was measuring my neck for a hangman’s noose and somehow end up at the self-same monastery they’ve been excavating in the future/present. Except, ya know, it’s not a ruin yet.
To kick off the ruination process, they damage some ancient artwork, locate the glasses and message they’ll find in the future, find a tunnel and run away.
Pursued by absolutely no one at this point.
Meanwhile, at the castle, everyone else is held prisoner and the siege has begun. Evil Decker guy seems intent on changing the historical outcome of the siege (French defeat English) for reasons they probably explained but I frankly don’t care about, and conscripts Doc EdJo to make is so by coercing him into brewing up a batch of Greek fire.
So… siege. Many trebuchets, many flaming arrows, not really much happening. This goes on for quite some time.
Pro tip: great time for a bathroom break or a snack. Or grabbing a few more beers from the fridge if you’ve done what I expect and turned the ‘chased by knights’ repetitions into a drinking game.
Presumably, the English are winning Battlesiege at this point because the monks from the monastery arrive in a swirl of cassocks and bears and tonsured heads to talk the French knights into following them back to the monastery and the tunnel beneath it that leads to castle La Roche.
Except it doesn’t (yet). Kate and Sonny Boy run into a dead end that I suspect will soon be fixed, while behind them, Lord Frenchie and his men at arms start piling into the glory hole in search of… well, glory. The kind you find in a tunnel-shaped hole.
Back at the castle, Lady Claire is dragged out to be hanged—evidently, the English took her prisoner at some point but I missed it, probably because I was trying on that noose. Also, who hangs prisoners in the middle of a siege? I mean, seriously, can’t it wait???
To save her, 299 threatens to destroy them all by setting fire to the English’s stock of Greek fire which is very conveniently stored next to the not-well-guarded-or-secured prisoners who easily escape.
Before you know it, the Greek fire goes boom—didn’t notice if 299 did it or one of those flaming ball trebuchet loads—causing an enormous explosion that opens up the end of the monastery tunnel.
So, everything’s a mess. The castkl’s overrun, Doc EdJo and co are kinda, sorta trying to escape, and 299’s trying to get back to his lady love to save her. That’s when, at long last, he finally loses his ear—told ya that was coming, oh and we know that happens because he loudly proclaims, ‘My ear! My ear!’—and rejoices by killing himself some English muffins.
The siege ends, the English lose, and everyone celebrates because they can finally go back to the future/present and get a proper cup of coffee, a shower and a change of clothes. Except 299 who elects to remain behind with his lady love in ‘we don’t bathe or brush our teeth’ France of the 1300s.
Back in the lab, as predicted, the corporate guys manage to fix the wormhole machine with just a few seconds to spare.
And everyone lived happily ever after. In some time period. Bathed or unbathed.
Final Thoughts on Timeline:
I don’t blame Michael Crichton for refusing to sell the film rights to his books after this one. As an author, the idea of seeing your baby translated into film is a dream. Having it end up as monstrously bad as this one? Yeah, that’s embarrassing. On behalf of Richard Donner (who probably never apologized), I apologize to Michael Crichton for this ill-conceived disaster of a film.
- Bad Moving Rating: 2 (out of 5)
- Regular Movie Rating: 1 (out of 5)
J.B. Rockwell is a New Englander, which is important to note because it means she’s (a) hard headed, (b) frequently stubborn, and (c) prone to fits of snarky sarcasticness. As a kid she subsisted on a steady diet of fairy tales, folklore, mythology augmented by generous helpings of science fiction and fantasy. As a quasi-adult she dreamed of being the next Indiana Jones and even pursued (and earned!) a degree in anthropology. Unfortunately, those dreams of being an archaeologist didn’t quite work out. Through a series of twists and turns (involving cats, a marriage, and a SCUBA certification, amongst other things) she ended up working in IT for the U.S. Coast Guard and now writes the types of books she used to read. Not a bad ending for an Indiana Jones wannabe..
J.B. also writes a once monthly Bad Movie Mayhem review for Sci-Fi & Scary.