Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Starring: Ethan Embry, Anna Friel, Neal McDonough, Paul Walker, Frances O'Connor | Directed by: Richard Donner | Produced by: Lauren Shuler Donner, Richard Donner, Michael Crichton, Jim Van Wyck | Source writer: Michael Crichton | Screenplay: Robert Nolfi, George J. Nolfi, Jeff Maguire | Distributor: Paramount Pictures
This is a high-production-value time-travel adventure with several heroic characters, but somehow the whole turns out to be less than the sum of its parts.
A group of archaeological students at work on an excavation in France has been receiving “hints” from its corporate sponsor, ITC, on where to dig next. The hints are too good, as though the ITC staff already knew what was buried where. Suspicious, Professor Johnston travels to ITC headquarters in New Mexico to get to the bottom of the mystery. Two days later, a cave-in leads the students to a room that’s been sealed for 600 years, and they find a bifocal lens matching the Professor’s prescription and a message for “Help” in his handwriting.
The Professor’s adult son Chris has no interest in archaeology, but has been hanging around the dig due to his infatuation for Kate, one of the students. Now, Chris threatens ITC with an investigation, if they don’t explain what’s going on. ITC flies Chris and a group of students to headquarters where it’s explained that, while trying to perfect teleportation of solid objects, ITC inadvertently discovered time-travel as well. The Professor, at his own insistence, was sent back to the year 1357, and didn’t come back. So Chris and the students, with the help of some ex-Marines, are asked to form a rescue mission. ITC President Doniger explains that they’ve been chosen because they know the culture and can “blend in with the locals.” One problem: they’re being sent back to the very day of a decisive battle between the English and French over the village of Castelgard and the fortress of La Roque.
As we might expect, this is going to be an extremely bloody story with all kinds of narrow escapes. And when the time-travel apparatus at ITC is damaged, there’s a ticking clock (emergency repairs) in the present in addition to the one in the past (the rescuers’ return devices are only good for six hours). So, if you take the story seriously, it’s an extreme nail-biter.
There’s room in the story for the development of two romantic relationships, both of them without any explicitly sexual overtones. The most suggestive line in the film is where Chris is amateurishly practicing with a broadsword and one of the students, Andr Marek, says something like “Better give me that before you cut off something that you’ll need later.” There are, however, a total of about 60 profanities, including one f* and several oaths.
The violence is extreme, but in a mostly bloodless “Indiana Jones” style. Weapons include longbows, crossbows, fire arrows, swords, axes, trebuchets (an improved version of catapults), wildfire (Greek Fire), and a grenade that one of the Marines brought to the past in violation of ITC rules. The members of the rescue team at first regret having to kill people who are only doing their job (soldiers, prison guards), as a necessary part of trying to rescue the Professor. But after a while, they get used to it.
One problem with this film is that, even though it’s greatly simplified compared to the novel on which it’s based, there’s too much background information for the allotted screen time. Many plot points and technical items cannot be adequately explained and therefore seem simplistic; the characters cannot be fully developed; and some character actions (like the students’ immediate willingness to be flung into the past) seem as hokey as those in a 1950s sci-fi film.
The main cast are all seasoned actors, although there are no superstars. The acting seemed somewhat flat; I expected better.
The actions of Chris, Kate, Andr and others in attempting to rescue the Professor do amount to an impressive example of “Greater love hath no man than this, than he lay down his life for his friends.” They had no idea they’d be called upon to do this; but when called, they don’t hesitate.
Doniger is a cardboard character who seems to simply not care much about people’s lives, and in the end he gets his just deserts accidentally. In the novel, he’s a conniver who’s willing to kill in order to preserve company secrets, and he “gets his” deliberately.
Additional Comments on the 1999 Michael Crichton novel:
Crichton is the writer of many fiction and nonfiction books, the creator of TV’s “ER,” and a sometime screenwriter, producer, director and actor. Some of his novels (“Jurassic Park”, for example) contain strong humanist-evolutionist propaganda which gets read by many people due to the popularity of the film versions.
This elaborate novel contains detailed material on jousting, armor, 14th Century culture and economics, and much more. And unlike in the film version, where the medieval folks conveniently speak modern English and French, in the novel they speak Old English, Middle French, and Occitan. The archaeologist rescue team is chosen in part because some of them know those languages. And for those who don’t, there’s a Star-Trek-like translator device inserted into the ear; so even if they can’t speak with “the locals” they can understand them.
The concept of backward time-travel, which by nature changes the past, and therefore changes the present and the future, is false and unscriptural. The good news is that in the novel version of “Timeline”, time-travel does not occur and an authority figure (an ITC expert) flatly states that time-travel is impossible. The bad news is that the novel advances the Quantum Physics theory of the “multiverse,” that is, that effect does not follow cause but may precede it, that the universe is constantly splitting into multiple alternate universes over any event that can have more than one outcome, that the number of universes is infinite, and that some universes lag in time behind others.
So, the “time-travel” in this book is really travel to a lagging-behind parallel universe. Crichton even uses the wave interference patterns of light (the dark bands seen when a single light source is shined through multiple slits) as “proof” that the multiverse exists, by asserting that light is particles rather than waves (actually, it has some characteristics of both), and therefore that the interference patterns we see must be caused by interaction with other universes. If that makes you scratch your head, it should. When one student points out that the travelers shouldn’t be able to be “rebuilt” in an alternate universe without a receptor machine there, It’s even asserted that ANOTHER alternate universe-one that knows how to “rebuild” people remotely-is the one that’s actually “donating” the travelers.
In other words, the Chris, Kate and Andr who leave the present day in Universe One bound for 1357 in Universe Two are not the ones who ARRIVE in Universe Two. They’re actually from Universe Three. And, of course, the Professor Johnston who wrote the message in 1357 and left it to be found by the students in Universe One was from none of these but from Universe Four, a universe that’s as far ahead in time from our own as Universe Two is behind our own.
The concept of the multiverse is well illustrated by the Schrdinger’s Cat theory (this theory isn’t mentioned in the novel, but it’s a classic example). Erwin Schrdinger proposed that if you seal a living cat and a vial of cyanide in a thick lead box through which no measurements can be made, sooner or later the cat will break the vial and die. At any given time, the cat may be dead or alive. Since we don’t KNOW whether it’s dead or alive, then according to Quantum Physics theory it’s in a superimposed multiple state of being BOTH DEAD AND ALIVE. But this superimposition is resolved when we open the box. Yes, folks, some of the world’s biggest eggheads are deadly serious about this stuff.
Notice how this view of reality excludes God. It asserts that if HUMANS don’t know something, then it isn’t known. What’s wrong with this picture?
The novel Timeline uses simple illustrations of the multiverse: in some universes, Hitler lost the war; and in others, he won. In some, Kennedy was assassinated; and in others, he wasn’t. In some, you brushed your teeth this morning; and in others, you didn’t. Supposedly, all of these universes actually exist and are equally real, equally valid. This theory destroys the objective nature of reality by making anything and everything not only possible but factual.
Let’s give a few more examples. In some universes, you or I are saved; in others, we’re lost because we had a different death date, one that occurred before our conversion. In some universes, a certain Bible prophecy came true; in others, it failed to come true. Does this begin to make you uncomfortable? Hope so. Crichton begins his fantasy in the Introduction, which appears at first to be factual history but which slides easily into a fictional account of ITC. At the end of the book, in the Acknowledgements section, he finally admits that his time-travel (or whatever it should be called) is fantasy. But not everyone will read that section.
Some people who continually overdose on Sci-Fi begin to lose touch with reality. And the situation isn’t helped by the fact that some supposedly valid science disciplines have lost touch as well. This novel is entertaining, but for certain readers it could be dangerous.
Violence: Extreme | Profanity: Heavy | Sex/Nudity: Minor