Timeline Script Review
"Generally speaking, science fiction requires some suspension of disbelief. Things will happen that just don't happen in our every day lives and that can be hard to swallow. I have always loved sci-fi and so the suspension of disbelief for me is generally quite easy. There are limits however. I'm here to review George Nolfi's script adapting Michael Crichton's novel Timeline. The script is listed as a first rewrite and dated October 2000. Now I mentioned the limits to which I can go to suspend disbelief because this script (and possibly the novel, I never read it) spends almost its entire length hammering relentlessly against those limits.
The movie introduces us to a group of archaeologists digging up the medieval town of Castlegard in France. The dig is led by Professor Johnston with the help of his two assistants Kate and Marek. Kate is sleeping with Chris, one of the students on the dig, who is the step-son of the Professor. Then there is the tech guy Stern, the French student Francois and the billionaire Doniger, plus his right hand man Gordon. Don't forget a handful of ex-Marines too. Why so many named characters? It's basically the same reasoning as another Crichton story, Jurassic Park. The more characters you have, the more of them that can be killed in gruesome ways. Why show dinosaurs if you aren't going to have them eat anyone? Similarly, why show off medieval weaponry if it doesn't get used to hack some poor bastard to pieces?
Anyway, in the story after the crew makes a major find underneath a monastery in the town, the Professor heads back to America to speak with their benefactor, the aforementioned billionaire Doniger. Shortly after his departure, the crew makes a truly astounding find. A bifocal lense is discovered in a recently unearthed chamber under the monastery. Even stranger than finding such an object in a place that hasn't been seen since hundreds of years before the invention of bifocals is that it's the exact same type of lense worn by the Professor. Then they find a note written by the Professor:
E. A. Johnston
The note checks out as being over 600 years old. So how did the Professor do it? They call Doniger, looking to speak to the Professor but get blown off. Eventually though, he agrees to see them in his office. So the whole crew jets over to America to talk to the billionaire. Doniger eventually admits that they have invented time travel. He financed the Professor's dig specifically to get information on that time and place. The time machine works on a wormhole and only points to one time and place. They wanted the Professor's expertise to make exploring the time possible. Unfortunately they lost a marker that lets a person recall the time machine. And apparently this keeps open the wormhole, causing energy to leak out which will eventually cause another Ice Age. So Doniger wants to send the dig crew back in time to find the Professor and the marker.
Time travel stories are inevitably setting themselves up for plot holes. Telling such a story without tripping up on the details is virtually impossible. So this story takes an innovative new approach to that problem: ignoring science entirely. The script has Doniger explaining time travel in such a manner as to invoke quantum physics and then uses the unpredictability of quantum physics as a blanket excuse to do what ever the hell they want, logic be damned. I didn't buy it for a second and then developed the habit of throwing my script down in irritation every few pages. I'm no physics whiz but I did spend part of my college career chasing an engineering degree and thus feel comfortable with the basics and this story just flies in their face, riding on that flimsy excuse.
I might have been more forgiving if the script contained any memorable characters or perhaps a story that wasn't riddled with cliches. But what really bugs me is that this is a time travel story that almost completely avoids what makes time travel stories fun: paradoxes. Look at the Back to the Future movies as a great example. Those movies are a series of adventures as Marty and Doc Brown try to fix little mistakes that they made while traveling through time which have the potential to change history for them and possibly undo their existence. Then you wonder how something they did could result in their not having existed since it couldn't have happened if they hadn't done it in the first place and pretty soon your head starts to hurt. Timeline is almost completely devoid of such things. In fact, there is so little of it that you have to wonder just why the film is even about time travel. The same story could have been easily achieved by visiting a part of the world where the culture is more primitive or another planet with a primitive culture. Star Trek has done this theme to death already. Really the only concern there seemed to be about disturbing history was from an archaeological standpoint. The characters looked at it more like they were disturbing a dig site than anything else.
I mentioned the lack of interesting characters but what I didn't touch on were the villains. There are basically three villains, two in the past and one in present day. While the historic villains are fairly generic, the present day villain is as shoddily written a character as I've come across in some time. I won't get into who exactly it is but this person seems to have little to no point to their actions. Motivation seems to just be good old fashioned evil nature. I don't know what else to say about it other than that. I'm left speechless by its awfulness.
The feeling I got from Timeline was that this was a rewrite of Jurassic Park without the dinosaurs and the profit motive. Which is to say a story without much interest. This is going to be a big budget summer spectacular kind of film and to that end it has a huge battle scene that will no doubt be filmed with every imaginable CGI aid to produce maximum realism. Beyond that scene though, I find little in this script to recommend or praise."
(Review submitted by John Shea)