"Timeline" starts off well enough. This new directorial effort from Richard Donner ("Goonies") is an adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel, where a machine that allows items (or even people) to be "faxed" from one place to another. Unfortunately, instead of sending things across the room or down the street, the wormhole has sent the objects back in time - to 1357 in Castlegard, France - right before a war is about to begin. Professor Edward Johnston (Billy Connolly) is revealed to have been the "test subject", and is stuck in the past. It's up to his son Chris (Paul Walker), Kate Erickson (Frances O'Connor), Andre Marek (Gerard Butler), Francois Nolastnamegiven(Rossif Sutherland) and a couple of soldiers to save the professor.
Again, "Timeline" starts off well enough, despite its ridiculousness. The picture opens with a traveler "found" whose death seems to have resulted from his body parts not being connected. The travelers are given markers that can bring them back, but the markers expire after 6 hours. Another twist puts their way home in danger. The picture at least pulls some tension together in the first quarter...and then watches it drain out.
I can take a little bit of absurdity (Paul Walker playing the son of Billy Connolly is about the funniest father/son pairing...ever? Yeah, I think so.), but the picture never really even tries to fill the holes in its plot or explain away its rules. Characters are told - at all costs - to not bring modern weapons or other gadgets back in time with them. Yet, they manage to mess with events in the past enough to create some pretty serious concerns.
Then there's Paul Walker, who continues his legacy as an almost inexplicably terrible actor. While Walker's blank grin allowed him to coast through "Fast and the Furious", the actor's blandness doesn't work here and the result is either Walker looking confused or running without a moment's thought into trouble. The less said about not one, but two romantic entanglements (Walker and costar Frances O'Connor particularly lacking any sort of chemistry) that take place despite the fact that the characters should be more worried about being stuck in 1357, the better.
The picture really doesn't have much to say about the past or time travel, instead pulling together a series of action scenes that have the group getting captured, escaping, getting captured, escaping and then getting into a swordfight or two. These scenes should be fun, exciting and thrilling, but they start to become somewhat tedious.
I do appreciate that the film's big action scenes seem to have been done without the aid of much in the way of effects, but with character development running so low and performances so average (not to mention dialogue being weak), it's difficult to be that involved with any of it.
"Timeline" does have a moment or two (the bigger action sequences are technically well-staged) and a several moments that are so goofy as to be entertaining, but the film's 116-minute running time is mainly good for pondering the kind of picture that could have been if more care had been taken with casting and the screenplay.
VIDEO: "Timeline" is presented by Paramount in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation occasionally hit a few bumps in a handful of scenes, but image quality mostly appeared excellent. Sharpness and detail were inconsistent, with the opening piece of the movie appearing slightly soft, but the rest of the film looked crisper and more defined.
Edge enhancement appeared in moderate amounts in a few scenes, but the rest of the film seemed entirely free of it. Compression artifacts weren't noticed, but I did spot a speck or two on the print used. Colors appeared rather subdued in the present scenes for no discernable reason, but the sequences in the past offered stronger, more well-saturated colors that appeared accurately rendered, with no smearing. This was a very good transfer overall, but it had some ups-and-downs.
SOUND: "Timeline" is presented with a satisfactory Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which hits all of the required action movie audio marks, no more - no less. Surrounds are used conservatively throughout several stretches, but then kick in nicely to support the major action sequences. Soundwise, the time jumps don't compete with those in "Stargate". Dialogue and score remained clear and easily understood, with no distortion. Mild bass is also occasionally present.
EXTRAS: The DVD's main supplement is "Journey Through Timeline", a trio of featurettes that can be played as a 45-minute whole. I was pleased to find that this appears to not be a "promotional" piece, but instead a (mostly) fly-on-the-wall effort that's more geared towards the DVD. We follow director Richard Donner (who's hilarious) and his cast/crew across Quebec and elsewhere, as he runs into challenges both great and small. We are lead through a handful of major sequences in the film - allowed in on the planning and preparation, then shown meetings and other rehearsals before the final sequence is shot. There are clips from the film scattered about, but it's nice to see that they're actually used not in a promotional way, but to compare the final sequence versus what we're watching being worked on. This is a very entertaining piece (I especially liked a minor practical joke that's played on Walker) that moves along well and gives a nice overview of the process.
"The Textures Of Timeline" is a mixture of visual effects featurette and costume design presentation, finished with a bit of a chat about the score. We start off learning about the film's costume design and props, then look at the process of creating digital effects for the picture and wrap things up with the film's composer. In terms of the effects section, models, sets and other elements are shown and how they are integrated into the scene is discussed. This piece runs 18 minutes.
Also included on the DVD are two theatrical trailers for the film and previews for other Paramount features.
Final Thoughts: "Timeline" hooked my interest early on, then proceeded to lose it due to some very odd casting choices and the film's slide from an interesting sci-fi tale into a series of action sequences - some of which were better than others. Paramount's DVD edition provides fine audio/video quality, along with one terrific supplemental feature and a couple of additional extras.
The Film **