Friday, May 8, 2015

Movie Review - Timeline

Based on the book by Michael Crichton
Starring: Paul Walker, Frances O'Connor, Gerard Butler, Anna Friel, Billy Connolly, David Thewlis, Neal McDonough, Matt Craven, Ethan Embry, Michael Sheen, Lambert Wilsone, Marton Csokasr, Rossif Sutherland, Patrick Sabongui, and Steve Kahan
Release Date: November 26th, 2003
Rating: ★
To Buy

Professor Edward Johnston is teaching at Castlegard in France while excavating the site. The tech company ITC is funding the excavation and this has Johnston wary. ITC keeps suggesting places to dig and they are a little too spot on. Suspicious of their involvement and accuracy he decides to head to New Mexico and confront Robert Doniger, ITC's president, leaving the site in the capable hands of his assistants, André Marek, Kate Ericson, and Josh Stern. A few days after the professor's departure there is a cave in at the monastery site which leads to the discovering of a note from the Professor saying that he is in 1357 and needs help. The carbon dating proves the legitimacy of the note and Johnston's son Chris calls ITC and confronts them about the disappearance of his father. They promise a full explanation if they come to their headquarters in New Mexico.

Arriving in New Mexico the team is told that ITC's interest in their work and in Castlegard is because while trying to figure out how to transport three dimensional objects ITC discovered a wormhole to Castlegard in 1357. The Professor went back to 1357 and is now trapped there. ITC plans to send his team to bring him back because they are the most knowledgeable about the time and place and have a higher chance of success then they do. Of course ITC doesn't bother to warn them of the dangers of the time period they are entering or even the dangers of the technology used to get there. ITC has one goal, protect their ass and assets. If that means stranding people in 1357, so be it. But the Professor and his rag tag crew have more heart and determination then ITC gives them credit for and they're not going down without a fight.

Despite my continual disappointment with Michael Crichton adaptations I was willing to give the Timeline movie a shot. I mean, I didn't really like the book to begin with so how could they make it worse? Oh how naive I was. I should have realized that a mediocre book made into a movie with one of my most hated actresses ever, hello Frances O'Connor, would be nothing but a failed attempt at a blockbuster. Riddled with cliches, hello new character François, you shall be playing our Redshirt today, the movie actually dumbs down a fairly dumbed down book. The plot was streamlined, the women were sidelined, if it wasn't for the the pure visual appeal of trebuchets in action there is nothing worth remembering in this movie. The only joy I got out of re-watching Timeline all these years later was realizing that the despot Lord Oliver was played by a then unknown Michael Sheen, who obviously got that he was in the movie equivalent of Medieval Times and camped it up accordingly.

What shocked me most about this adaptation was the dumbing down, the softening of everything across the board, from plot to characters to hearts to women. Taking each aspect in turn, the plot was striped bare of anything redeemable. Instead of having ITC actually creating this interesting technology, it's just something they stumbled upon. There's a wormhole, we don't know how we found it, we don't know why it works, we don't know what we'll use it for, we don't know if there's a purpose to it, and we won't give you an answer after two hours, just go with it OK? So you have taken the sole interesting aspect of the book, technology that as time goes on looks actually plausible with the research being done at CERN and made it a MacGuffin. Thanks a lot. That's sarcasm. I'm sure the people behind this movie surely aren't able to grasp this, hence me spelling it out. Wormholes creating love stories and two hour battles and chances since 2003!

If dumbing down the plot wasn't enough, all the characters were made into idiots! They are literally stupider, as if their minds have been softened into jelly. Firstly, Paul Walker as Chris isn't even an archaeologist, just Professor Johnston's drifter son trying to get into Kate's pants. As for Kate, she's just a general archaeologist, who doesn't have an eidetic memory for architecture and a passion for climbing. Marek isn't the Medieval scholar who has mastered all past languages, that's what we now need Redshirt François for, instead André can wield a sword and shoot an arrow and rescue fair maidens. And the newly renamed Josh as played by Ethan Embry? He's just there for his frosted tips, his 90s goatee, and to try to get his friends home gosh darnit! Plus, by having Doniger stumble on the wormhole our one guaranteed smart person has been replaced by a bumbling David Thewlis, the go-to bumbler.

As their minds all melted into no existence apparently their hearts took on new properties, much like a certain character from Seuss, "Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day." Because the characters don't have the mental capacity anymore to understand the harsh realities of France during the Hundred Years' War, well obviously they're going to cry at every freaking death. In the book they personally lay waste to a lot of French and English troops, because it was a fact of life, a fact that scholars would understand, especially Marek. Instead all the characters are weepy. Understandably they'd get upset over the loss of their friends, but to go into full convulsive shock on killing someone? If it's you or them, I think survival instinct should be kicking in, not the instinct to cry. They seriously have red rimmed eyes for the whole movie! And then they even soften the heart of De Kere. Instead of being a complete and total psychopath who loves to kill, here he's totally not evil or a danger at all really, he'll even kindly tell you his tale of being misused by ITC instead of killing everything in sight like an enraged kitten.

But nothing pissed me off more then the softening of the women. I know a lot people go on and on about how books and movies don't give us strong female role models, and while I'm aware of this fact, well, I've never been that bothered by it. If it doesn't have something for me, obviously I won't read or watch it so it's not like I'm supporting this trope. Re-watching Timeline so close upon re-reading the book I was struck by how they had stripped out the female empowerment and made it almost painful to watch if you are in any way a feminist. The objectification was extreme, they were literally objects for the manly men to protect! Firstly two of the strong female roles, that of Gomez and Kramer, well, they became guys! While I had my issues with Kate in the book, she at least wasn't a helpless woman and a weepy mess. But the true kicker is Claire. Lady Claire isn't a pawn in the book, someone for Marek to rescue, she would be insulted. In fact Marek loves her in the book because she is playing every single angle, she's scheming, manipulative, and always looking out for herself! She's not a banner flown from the highest tower as a rallying point! She's looking out for herself any way she can!

Though this softening of females and hearts is a two edged sword because the result of this mushiness is that instead of being pragmatic the film is able to add a little romantic love, a little chivalry. But chivalry as we see and as was depicted by the Pre-Raphaelites, not chivalry as it existed then, which was about honor and protection, not giving your life for true love. And this romanticism of the past leads to the only redeeming feature of the entire movie, and that is Gerard Butler. He brings so much passion to the role of Marek that the romance of living and dying in another time for true love just makes the tear ducts a little moist. Earlier in the movie when he is describing the unique love depicted in a sarcophagus they found on the site and later when he realizes it's himself, you see the one true thing in this film, the everlasting quality of true love. It might not have been what Crichton wanted, but it raised the film out of the trope-tastic mire it had bogged itself down in for a minute and made me watch a few too many Gerard Butler films... hint, avoid Shooters, even with Ioan Gruffudd it's unbearably bad, and check out Dracula 2000 instead.


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