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3.4 out of 5 stars
Timeline (2003)
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105 of 116 people found the following review helpful
Format: VHS Tape
This film is based upon Michael Crichton's marvelous best selling book of the same name. When I first heard that a film was in the making, I was really looking forward to viewing it, as I absolutely loved the book. That it was in the theatres for just about the blink of an eye, however, gave me the idea something might be wrong with it. Having viewed it, I now fully understand why its sojourn in theatres was relatively brief.
Unfortunately, the film bears little resemblance to the author's finely crafted time travel tale. Jeff Maguire, having written a screenplay that seeks the lowest common denominator, just about destroys the author's work, reducing it to an almost incomprehensible piece of drivel. The screenplay takes a five star book and turns into a film that barely rates three stars.
Here, a young group of archaeologists and historians are excavating the ruins of a fourteenth century feudal town in France, which excavation is funded by the International Technology Corp (ITC), a well-heeled, corporate giant. Some of the archeological finds are puzzling, as they seem to be anomalous to the time period. Moreover, the leader of the archaeological dig, Professor Johnson (Billy Connelly), has suddenly headed back to the states to ITC headquarters, and they are unable to get in touch with him. They are then all summoned to ITC headquarters by Robert Doniger (David Thewlis), the head of ITC.
At ITC, they are told that the Professor has been transported by ITC back to fourteenth century France through a worm hole that ITC has inadvertently discovered. Unfortunately, the professor has not returned, and ITC wishes to send them back in time through the wormhole to help with the rescue of the Professor. It appears that their help is needed in order to navigate the intricacies of medieval life. One of them, Chris (Paul Walker), is the Professor's own son, so he needs no urging, Besides, he has a crush on one of his colleagues, Kate (Frances O'Connor), who is also ready to roll. Another, Andre Marek (Gerard Butler), is a romantic in love with a bygone time, and he. too, has no problem in going through the wormhole and landing in fourteenth century France.
You know the screenplay is bad, however, when Francois, the only one who is reluctant to go through the wormhole, is told that he is needed because he is the only one who speaks French, as if the French spoken today were the same as that spoken in fourteenth century medieval France! This would have been a line better left unsaid, as we all know that the French and English spoken today bear little resemblance to that spoken in early medieval times. It is a piece of information about which viewers always automatically suspend belief.
Garbed in clothing that is constructed to resemble that which the people of the fourteenth century would wear and carrying time travel markers that will enable them to return home, they go through the wormhole. When our intrepid time travelers, led by ITC security chief Frank Gordon (Neal McDonough), arrive in fourteenth Century France, they are immediately set upon by a marauding bunch of armored English knights, wherein their ranks are immediately thinned. They proceed into the town, where their ranks are further thinned. There, they find the Professor, when they are auspiciously imprisoned with him. Kate, who has excellent climbing ability, manages to help them all escape. They then split up, with Marek, incurable romantic that he is, forging on in his own way to help the Lady Clare (Anna Friel), a French noble woman whose fate spurs Marek on to acts of great chivalry.
They are all brought together for the historic battle between the English and the French over control of the town. There, the English are led by the ruthless and evil Lord Oliver (Michael Sheen), aided by a rogue knight named De Kere (Marton Csokas), who is really none other than a transplanted ITC employee. Marek finds himself fighting against the English in order to save the Lady Clare and makes a split second decision that will forever change his life.
The production values in the film are excellent and the direction is fine, as it is directed by none other than Richard Donner (The Omen, Lethal Weapon, Superman). The battle over the town provides some terrific action scenes. The actors themselves are also fine. They all do their best with the little with which they have to work. In the leading man category, however, Paul Walker is bested by Gerard Butler who is engaging as the romantic hero, Andre Marek. In the leading lady category, Anna Friel shines as Lady Clare, besting Frances O'Connor. The problem is that their is little chemistry between Paul Walker and Frances O'Connor. There is, however, chemistry between Gerard Butler and Anna Friel. Unfortunately, they are all done in by the simply dreadful screenplay for which Jeff Maguire should be flogged.
If one rabidly enjoys medieval festivals and/or time travel stories, or if one loved the book upon which this film is based, then one will garner a modicum of enjoyment out of this film. If not, deduct one star from my rating. In any case, all who are inclined to see this film should rent, rather than buy, it.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2004
Format: DVD
While it has been a while since I have read the book, "Timeline" was just one of those stories I truly enjoyed. The movie, while omitting some parts of the novel, actually follows the general plot of the book. A few changes are made to the beginning and end, but overall the actual storyline is similar to the novel. Many of the parts cut out of the book are actually parts that, given the cast, are better left out. The majority of these scenes involved the character Chris, played by Paul Walker. Luckily, the movie does not make him the main character like he was in the book. The less screen time of Paul is definately better. My favourite character in the book, Andre Marek, is excellently portrayed by Gerard Butler and he saves the film from being completely worthless. Anna Friel as Lady Claire as well as other supporting characters are also great performances.
I understand why many would not like the movie since there are many others in a similar genre. For me, I have never really been into these kind of movies and while I am an avid Crichton reader, I did not read this book when it came out due to it's subject matter. When I finally decided to read the book on a flight, it became my second favourite next to "Jurassic Park". This was the first film I really saw about medieval times, and even though the movie could have been better, I enjoyed it. I think this was because I love the story so much and the movie was not a total detour from this story.
A few points to make that many people seem to nit-pick about:
1. The fact that they changed Chris' character to be the son of the professor instead of his student is not a big deal. Also, I don't see why it isn't plausable that he could not be the son of a Scottish professor just because he is American. This is the stupidest argument I have ever heard since I know many people who are American and have foreign parents!
2. Yes, the fact they spoke American when they went back in time was definately unplausable, however, I would have preferred this than to see subtitles the whole movie. This was made from a sci-fi novel, it was not mean to be an ultimately realistic or overly historically accurate movie. They should have kept the earpieces from the book in though to explain it.
Overall, I really like the movie, and think people should give it a try. While it's definately not perfect, it is fun and keeps fairly true to the book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
This is actually 2 reviews blended as one; the first, the movie as a standalone film (disregarding the book), and the second, as an adaptation of the book.

THE MOVIE:
The movie was not very good. It moves quickly and is filled with action but suddenly dies half way through and grinds to a slow finish. They don't really take time to explain much, rather they press forward with the story and unsuccessfully try to allow the characters to explain important points as the film runs it's course.

The story is creative and could be exciting. Archaeologists go back in time to the place they had been excavating. The man who is sponsoring the archaeological dig is a bad guy, someone seeking to make money off of the scientific find of the ages, time travel, even if it costs a few lives.
The acting is OK, the direction is OK, the editing OK, the screenplay is horrible, and the costumes, landscapes, sets and period pieces are somewhat authentic although stylistic and cliche. The battle scenes are poorly choreographed and not exciting. The only thing of note that was accurate would be the siege engines. That was done well.

All-in-all, the movie is poor. It is an OK escape, a film that may be worth watching but which does little to add to the genre of action/adventure films. A below average outing.

THE MOVIE AS AN ADAPTATION OF THE BOOK:
This is where the movie really falls flat.

If you read the book, don't expect much from the movie. Everything is changed. Characters, their motivations and fears, reasoning and abilities, strengths and weaknesses, relationships and interactions with each other, are all changed from the minute the film begins. A few good characters are completely dropped and several others are significantly changed from the book. The best character from the book, Andre Marek (played by Gerard Butler) is uninteresting at best.

The plot, the scientific explanations of time travel (which the movie just explains was an accident), the historical figures, the confrontations and protagonists, are all different and lack the depth and richness they possessed in the book. This was a pathetic attempt at adapting a book to film.

The book, as usually is the case, was much better than the movie. I can accept that. The basic premise of the book is carried over; that is to say that "based upon the novel by Michael Crichton" is an accurate while also misleading description. This movie just does not maintain any similarity to the book aside from the basic premise. It was very disappointing.

I truly enjoyed the book and felt that it could have been better adapted. I don't know if Crichton (the writer of the book) was involved in the movie, but if this were an adaption of a book that I had written, I would be very unhappy with the hack job that Hollywood did on a novel that was well researched, well written and thick with character development, historical accuracy and suspense.

MY RATING:
So, to sum up; if you are looking for an adventure, set in medieval times, this may suffice as mindless entertainment. As a standalone film, disregarding the book, the movie is a 2 or 3 out of 5, if I am generous

As an adaptation of the book, I would give this a 1 out of 5, very poorly done and extremely disappointing compared to a very good book.

So, I arrive at an average rating of 2. Had I not read the book, I may have rated the film a 3, but that is a bit generous because the movie just doesn't hold up as an entertaining adventure. Sorry.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2005
Format: DVD
I wish I hadn't read Michael Crichton's Timeline novel so that I could simply say this is another bland action picture in a period setting from unimaginative storytellers which neither offends nor thrills. Unfortunately, having read the book, I know better. There was a lot of squandered potential which makes this film willfully bland and disappointing rather than accidentally so.

The basic story is about a group of archaeologists who travel back in time to the 1400's to rescue a fellow archaeologist who is stranded in time. That much of the story is the same as the novel. The problem is that the movie is poorly paced such that there is little drama and that the characters aren't sufficiently fleshed out to make you care if (or when) they die. The bulk of the story seems geared toward getting the heroes repeatedly captured and having them escape as well as to get to the battle scenes as quickly and as frequently as possible.

I'm not one of those people who feel that a novel should be slavishly adhered to at a movie's expense. Books clearly needed to be adapted but they should always lose detail or have the story restructured to the benefit of a movie, not to its detriment as was the case here. For instance, the means by which the characters time travel is altered and greatly simplified compared to the book and that was a good idea.

However, some of the best visual scenes in the book are simply not used in the movie for no reason that I can think of rather than being overly cheap. The opening scene is an excellent example. (Spoiler) When a person repeatedly travels in the story, there are alignment errors which creep into their reconstituted form. In the book, this is shown by a man whose face, body, and even clothing appear to be out of alignment. Instead of doing a little makeup and sewing to show this, a fellow is X-rayed and we're shown microscopic details of this misalignment. As an opening scene, the impact of a slightly and weirdly deformed man mysteriously showing up would have made for much better drama and suspense than the opening scene of the movie. (end spoiler)

It's disappointing that such an interesting book was made into such a boring movie. I hope Michael Crichton sold as many books for this novel as he'd hoped to already because the fact that the movie is so weak is sure to turn people off to the book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2004
Format: DVD
After months of procrastination, I finally got around to finishing the book of Michael Crichton's TIMELINE. I thought it was amazing, an absolute must-read. I waited until after I had finished the book to watch the movie, because I didn't want my mind tainted by a director's vision. I realize now that that director's vision needs contact lenses.
There are so many things wrong with this movie that I don't know where to start.
The first thing that's wrong is the intro scenes. The entire sequence of the man appearing in the road and dying at the hospital is completely rushed, and might as well not have been included in the film. The connection between the man and the dig at Castlegard is completely obliterated.
Another thing that bothered me was the relationship between Chris and the professor, which is described as fatherly in the book, not as the professor actually BEING his father - a fabrication of the screenwriter. Kate isn't supposed to realize that Chris has any feelings for her, and Marek's character seems unlike the one described in the book. Another thing that's left out is a vital clue on the parchment, along with the professor's plea for help.
Many of the characters are changed. Doniger is much older than described in the book, and Kramer has been transformed into a man. The character of Francios is an invention for the film, and totally unneccessary. A couple of military-types are added to the group that is sent back. In fact, there should only have been 5 people sent back - Kate, Chris, Marek, the man who set off the grenade, and the one who was beheaded (which should have been a woman, as in the book). They also conveniently have 14th century people speaking modern English as opposed to Occitan, like the book has it.
There are so many things wrong with this movie, that it was hard to sit through. I only finished it because the friends I was watching it were eager to see it. It's as if someone cut-and-paste a dozen words from the book and told someone else to make a screenplay. This movie is horrible. The acting is lamentable.
If you are a fan of the book, I would skip the movie entirely.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2004
Format: DVD
3 1/2 stars.

The amazon.com reviewers for this movie seem to be mostly of two types: middle school kids and pseudo-intellectuals. This is neither horribly acted, nonsensical trash, nor is it an instant classic/tour de force/best movie ever!!. It's an entertaining movie with some fair-sized shortcomings.

First, let me address the people who compare this movie with the book. As a history buff, I found the book terribly entertaining but terribly flawed (in fact, if you want to read my review of the book, look for the amazon.com review with that exact title). I found at least twenty significant plot flaws in Crichton's book and I really have to wonder how the editors let it loose on the public without tying up many, many loose ends or logical inconsistencies. Happily, the director Richard Donner and/or his screenwriters cleared some of those up, often by simply omitting them from the movie.

For instance, the protagonists in the movie have a reasonable number of moderately plausible escapes from danger, one of which involved Kate climbing out of a castle tower. In contrast, in the book Crichton thought it would be clever to have our heroes make over a dozen utterly incredible, miraculous escapes, three or four of which feature Kate rescuing the others by virtue of her Spiderman-like climbing abilities. Donner also rejected Crichton's ridiculous technological flaw in which he claimed that ITC's machine isn't actually a time machine, but instead sends people to alternate universes occurring at different points in time; if so, how could Professor Johnson, who visited a different, semi-parallel universe, have left his note and glasses 600 years ago in our universe? The cinematic ITC does not mess with elaborate explanations, but simply states that they must be going through a "stable wormhole" into 1357 France. Donner also sensibly axed Crichton's absurd "Green Knight of the Chapel of Death." Donner's Claire was a much more simple, believable character than Crichton's (i.e., she wasn't sleeping with or otherwise manipulating every non-peasant male in the story). Who really cares if the character Chris is the professor's son in the movie, especially given that he does not act quite so foolishly as he did in the book.

Let's address the acting. On a one-to-ten scale, the actors here range from about a four to perhaps a six. It was no oversight that none of these performances received Oscar nominations, but they weren't horrendous, either. Pretty much every performance was better than anything you've seen by Arnold Schwarzeneger, Adam Sandler or maybe even Kevin Costner. Nothing memorable, but nothing so poorly done that it ruined the movie.

There are some problems with this movie. First, Marek seems too attached to Lady Claire based on very little exposure to her. It might have worked if there was another 20 minutes of interaction between them in the movie.
Next, I didn't think Lord Oliver was quite sinister enough.

There was also some ambiguity about time in this movie. The spotlight reviewer claims the movie was set in the year 1971. Although at the end, there is some mention about that year in reference to Marek's life, I think that may have been the year of his birth. The movie is either set in approximately present day 21st century or has some big gaffs (I don't recall seeing any cell phones or four wheel drive Volvo sport utility wagons in 1971).

Overall, I thought the siege and battle were pretty well done, especially the trebuchets (medieval artillery, like a catapult), except for the archery aspect. First, the castle defenders shoot fire arrows, for no discernable reason, then they switch to regular arrows, which the French call "night arrows" and decide to retreat because of them??!? Doesn't make much sense.

Donner kept Crichton's subplot of Professor Johnson creating Greek fire, for no particularly good reason. Just exactly how is it that an archeologist knows how to make an ancient chemical weapon that modern chemists can't duplicate?

I rather liked Crichton's end for Donniger better than the movie's, sending him back to a slightly different period of medieval France, exposing him to the plague, but that would not have worked in the movie's technological world.

In summary, this was a decent medieval action-adventure/sci-fi movie. It has a very interesting basic plotline, with nothing either stellar or abominable. It doesn't follow the book exactly, which actually is a benefit - this is one of the few movies that is better than the book upon which it is based. Sit down with some popcorn, refrain from microanalysis and enjoy it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2004
Format: DVD
"Timeline" is a textbook example of how a Hollywood action director can butcher a fine sci-fi book by Michael Crichton, who by now must be used to such atrocities (e.g. "Congo"). Donner wastes no time on the book's careful buildup to the journey back through time to Hundred Years' War France, and introduction to the technology, "transcription errors," and the corporate Gates-clone who seeks to exploit time-travel as a high-tech business ("Lost World" redux). Instead, we get a ticket to a rollercoaster, and a rickety one at that.
Despite the retread themes, Crichton's book delves into both medieval technology and society which is actually interesting - it sounds good, at any rate. Needless to say, there was character development.
The film largly consists of a 90-minute chase scene through castles and forests, substituting English knights for dinosaurs. The book emphasized the grace and speed of the better warriors; in "Timeline", they are just as clunky as the knights in Monty Python's "Holy Grail." (About halfway through, I found myself wishing these guys would break out in a song while doing a witles stomp-dance on a table.) And how the main quartet of characters maneuver skilfully through 14th century customs and language (a major theme in the book) is of course a complete mystery.
Look for this turkey on the budget rack. Why is it so hard for Hollywood to make a decent medeival movie since John Boorman's "Excalibur"?
Harmless fun for kids but even they caught the film's many flaws. Read the book instead (highly recommended).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2006
Format: DVD
First of all, we have Paul Walker in the "lead" role. Secondly, this is, after all, a movie that was based on a book (enough warning in itself to expect disappointment) that was written just a few years before the movie came to theaters, a good sign of a typical Hollywood rush job, complete with the usual inconsistencies and lousy script. This movie, in many ways, is no exception, so you should know what you're getting yourself into. I would humbly suggest to anyone that low expectations are the best way to go if you're actually willing to spend two hours of your time watching a film that showcases the afore-mentioned flashing red lights.

Now, with these in mind, one might be ready to enjoy the gems within this movie! Billy Connolly played the vibrant professor wonderfully; I just wish they had given him more to work with. The REAL stars of this movie were Gerard Butler, a dashing young actor whom I had never heard of before this movie, and Anna Friel, whose small role is delivered with sparks, and whose face makes one want this movie to be a romance rather than a sub-par action flick. We would all be very fortunate to see more of her in the near future. These exciting performances almost manage to save the movie, and certainly bring it above the level of a complete "timewaste".
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 2004
Format: DVD
OK, I passed this by for many weeks, my sixth sense warning me that this was probably not worth the time and money. Then, in a pinch to watch something, I rented it. What it is:

Straight-ahead science fiction, poorly done, but watch able. It is short on the science and long on the fiction. I concede all the negative points others have indicated, but I managed to watch it anyway, without too much suffering. It has a couple of love stories that turn out well. The segueing from past to present pretty much was shabby and the movie is more centered in France in the 1300s than in the present. I did not mind the battle scenes and it was interesting to see the English as the bad guys for a change. I thought the ferocity of the English was fascinating. The fact is that I managed to get in the groove of it and forgot about its weak points, for the most part. While I would not seek it out again, I am not sorry to have seen it.

-- Michael Erlewine, Founder of the All-Movie Guide (allmovie.com)
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2004
Format: VHS Tape
Timeline is a novel based upon the workings of Michael Crichton (Congo, Jurassic Park, Eaters Of The Dead) and the outcome is a total waste, why because I read the book. Paul Walker's (The Fast and The Furious1-2) father, Billy Connelly (Mrs. Brown), is put back into the 13th century by a time traveling machine and he geos to get him back with the help of a groupe of his archeologist friends, Gerard Butler (Reign Of Fire) and Frances O'Connor (A.I.Artifical Intelligence) Trouble happens when one of them comes back but blows up the machine with a grenade. So Walker and friends are trapped in time with little to spare and the scientists back at home, Ethan Embry (Tv's Freakylinks), David Thewlis (Harry Potter and The Prisoner Of Azkaban) and Matt Craven (Masterminds), are trying to bring them back. Meanwhile, theres a war going on with the French and the British. Walker and friends are caught in the crossfire, with time barreling down its a race to get back home. The script along with the bland acting badly crushes it but the action set pieces are what keeps it going. Too bad, this one had some potential and couldve been directed by someone else other then Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon1-4). Also starring Neal McDonough (Walking Tall '04), Marton Csktos (Triple X), Michael Sheen (Underworld '03) and Lambert Wilson (The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions).
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