I saw the film with my friend Johnny Dee Master Magician, who worked as Video Assist on the “Timeline” shoot and spent the better part of two years talking to me about it. After it ended we had coffee and he told me some more behind-the-scenes anecdotes and honestly, that stuff is more interesting than anything in the movie. It’s not all that bad — Dick Donner is too much of a seasoned pro to make flat-out crap, and his decision to build full-scale sets and actually throw fireballs and blow stuff up gives the film an old-fashioned quality, more 1983 than CGI ‘r’ Us 2003 — but it’s desperately ordinary, unexceptional, forgettable.
I was never bored per se, but nothing particularly struck me either. That’s too bad, because I thought the Michael Crichton novel was a great read. In every page you sensed not only effective storytelling but all the extensive research Crichton put into it. Dozens of pages were devoted to quantum physics and how they could realistically enough be used to travel through time. Then when the characters got to the 14th century, details abounded about how people behaved and fought in that era. In the movie, alas, all this detail and research is absent, leaving only a contrived truncation of the plot and empty shadows of the characters. Everything is just an excuse to get to an epic but, again, ordinary, unexceptional and forgettable battle scene.
Replace the (barely mentioned) quantum physics by a mystical sceptre and what you’ve got is basically a remake of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III”, but without teenagers, mutants, ninjas or turtles. If you’ll remember, that masterpiece had spunky reporter April O’Neil being accidentally transported to feudal Japan, where the Turtles followed her and helped a small village defeat the evil Lord Norinaga and his army. In “Timeline”, it’s an archeology professor (Bill Connolly) who finds himself stuck in the past and it’s up to his son (Paul Walker) and two of his students (Frances O’Connor and Gerard Butler) to bring him back and help the French take back one of their castles from the English at the same time.
The craftsmanship is okay, but the way the story is rushed through makes no sense and we’re never made to care about any of the characters or what happens to them. The action scenes are bloodless and often confusing, and nearly all of the acting is rotten, especially in the “romantic” scenes between Walker and O’Connor. From listening to Johnny, I know a lot of time and effort was put into the enterprise, but it doesn’t translate on screen into anything worth remembering. I suggest renting “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III” instead.