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Paramount Studios presents
"How come we have 600-year-old documents with the professor's handwriting on them?"
DVD ReviewTime travel fiction always present a dilemma, and requires that the filmmakers lay out hard and fast ground rules to which they must strictly adhered to make the concept as close to believable as possible. The core set of "rules" in Timeline are not as much that of traditional time travel as a cross between what one character refers to as "3D faxing" and taking advantage of an open wormhole, which allows a group of modern-day researchers/archeologists direct (and accidental) access to a specific place in time, in this case 1357 France.
In Timeline, mainstream action maven Richard Donner's treatment of Michael Crichton's novel, the head-scratching dilemma still remains: can someone change the past without affecting the future? Neither Crichton or Donner really care to answer that key question fully, and forsake some elements of questionable logic in place of simple entertainment, which isn't always a bad thing. I'm all for mindless action layered in quasi-scientific mumbo-jumbo, and Timeline definitely puts action ahead of logic.
ITC, a typically suspicious hi-tech company, has perfected the aforementioned 3-D faxing, but has somehow accidently tapped into a path to medieval France on the eve of a key battle between the French and English at a remote castle. A small group of academic researchers funded by ITC, who are taking part in a modern-day dig on the remains of the very same castle, are suddenly drafted into taking part in a dangerous mission; their task is to head back in time to search for the wayward Professor Johnson (Billy Connolly), who has already taken the journey back, but for some reason can't return. The team is led by an experienced ITC hired gun (Neal McDonough) with his own secret agenda, and includes the professor's son Chris (Paul Walker), cute researcher Kate (Frances O'Connor) and passionate academic Merak (Gerard Butler). The hook—and what self-respecting action movie would be without one?—is that they will only have six hours, and due to some unforeseen circumstances, they may not get back at all.
The screenplay had to condense Crichton's sometimes lumbering book into a logical 115 minutes, which in and of itself was no small task. I read Crichton's book a couple of years ago, and some elements of the story here are forced out too quickly, and at times some of the specifics of what was going on was a bit unclear, or worse, terribly rushed. Visually, it is a relatively clean 14th-century France, and Donner's medieval sequences don't have any kind of especially gritty realism, though the film is beautifully shot by Caleb Deschanel. Is that bad? Not really—even if the "renaissance fair" feel of the battles doesn't come close to rivaling the CG majesty of something like The Lord of the Rings, the wall of flaming arrows and massive trebuchets do certainly come across well.
Even with warnings against messing with the past, that is exactly what the main characters do, and that is where the conundrum of tweaking history comes into play. But without their meddlings, the story would lose much of its dramatic punch, and there wouldn't be much for us to cheer for if we already knew the outcome of things.
There is something that happens during these big blockbuster action flicks that requires you to either accept the premise or move on, and if you aren't buying it then you're in trouble.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: Paramount has issued Timeline in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The oddest thing was the presence of more than few white specks, which is unsettling to find on the print of such a new film. Fleshtones look natural, but during the sequences in France, colors have a restrained hue to them, while the scenes in the ITC lab are bathed in a cold, high-contrast blues. Black levels are solid, and during the night-time battles image detail and shadow depth were excellent.
A bit of edge enhancement here and there, but in general a good-looking transfer.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The primary audio choice is a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track that can really blow the windows out if you give it a chance. This is an extremely active surround mix, and there were a number of occasions where the rears kicked in with effects that really exhilarating, and expected things like arrows whistling overhead add to the effect.
The downside is that the actors suffer in comparison, and it was often difficult to decipher specific lines of dialogue over the roar of the score or clank of swords. I found this inconsistency in being able to understand some spots of dialogue personally troubling, but I watched Timeline with a pair of 12-year-olds who didn't care a lick about that, and instead were always looking over their shoulder or jumping out of their seats during some of the surround effects. That was fun, so crank up the sub, and enjoy a constant stream of thundering hooves and explosions.
An French 5.1 and a significantly less robust 2.0 English surround track are also included.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow, The Stepford Wives, The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie, Paycheck, The Perfect Score
Extras Review: Things start off with a neat but pointless feature consisting of two completely different menu design options (themed for either 14th-century France or the hi-tech ITC labs). The supplements are the same, but you get to chose which theme you prefer.
The Journey Through Timeline is made up of three separate shorts that can either be viewed separately, or with the convenient 'play all' feature. The immensely watchable quality of these segments is not your basic EPK fluff, and the cameras follow Richard Donner on location, and we get to see the evolution of some of the film's key sequences. Donner looks like a hoot to work for, and while we've all seen making-of pieces before, the material here is informative without being boring. Setting Time (18m:21s) gives a thumbnail view of the overall project, such as how Donner has to condense 100 pages from Crichton's book into just 10 minutes of screentime. The Nights of La Roque (22m:00s) gives insight into a massive photo collage used to help the production crew setup for the big battle sequences, and also delves into the launching of the trebuchets and the armory explosion. Making Their Own History (06m:52s) has the least formidable content, and is essentially a "this was like a big family" comments from key production personnel and cast. However, this one merits a look for a nasty continuity prank played on Paul Walker.
Also included is The Textures of Timeline (18m:17s), in which we learn about the creation of the visual look of the film, including everything from brick, stone, helmets, shields, arrows, and of course, fabric.
In addition to two theatrical trailers, the disc is cut into a meager 16 chapters, and features optional English subtitles.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsConfusing and illogical in spots, Timeline is still a moderately fun popcorn movie that hopes you don't ask too many deep questions amidst all the swordplay and hi-tech chatter.
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