TBT: Timeline (2003) Is in No Way Worthy of a Review

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Timeline is a 2003 movie about a group of archaeologists who travel in time back to 1357 France and get caught up in the 100 Years War. You probably haven’t heard about it and that’s because it’s a middling film — I was vaguely entertained and had lots of questions. Really, it’s in no way worthy of a detailed review. But you know what? It’s going to get one — well, a recap. Why? Two reasons:

#1: Both Trystan and I keep running into the same problem: lately we’ve been seeming to watch historical movies or TV shows only to discover not all of them are really worthy of a review! At some point, we gotta do something with these bottom-feeders other than just stick them in another “Oh the Bad Movies” post.

#2:

Timeline (2003)

WAIT THERE IS A GERARD BUTLER VAGUELY-HISTORICAL MOVIE I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT??!!

Because there really isn’t anything to talk about other than the plot, this is going to be a spoiler-y recap. If you care about the plot of a movie that’s gotten 11% on Rotten Tomatoes, then please avoid this until you’ve seen the film.

Billy Connolly is a wacky archaeologist working on a dig at a medieval castle in France. His son, Paul Walker (sorry, few actors are going to get character names here), wants to branch out from being Fast and Furious so is visiting his dad, but thinks archaeology is lame.

Timeline (2003)

It’s only a model!

Why’s he hanging around? Because he’s got the hots for archaeology student Kate, aka Fanny Price (actress Frances O’Connor, but she’s Fanny Price to me!). But don’t get your heart set on her, Paul. Fanny will always choose archaeology over you, we are told.

Timeline (2003)

Check out that ancient technology!

Assisting Connolly in leading the dig is My Boyfriend Gerard Butler, who really should join the SCA because he spends his free time practicing longsword and bow-and-arrow skills. He’s WAAAAAAY into this medieval crap.

Timeline (2003)

“Lemme show you some cool ye oldey time-y stuff, son!”

Connolly goes away for a few days, and so ends any actual contribution he has to this film. Oh, he’ll show up on screen many more times, but every time he is cowering in corner uselessly.

The Scooby Gang makes an amazing discovery — a roll of 14th-century writings with a note in the margins saying “Help me!” signed by Connolly. We know it’s not a prank because our Resident Tech Geek tested the ink, and apparently carbon dating can give you a specific year on ink?

Timeline (2003)

The Scooby Gang accepts Tech Geek’s word because he has a goatee and unfortunate hair. It is 2003, after all.

The Scooby Gang finds out that Connolly has gone to soon-to-be-revealed-as Evil Corporation. They head there to find out what’s up.

The directors of Evil Corp. explain that they’ve made a time travel machine. Well, more specifically, they’ve made a machine that opens a wormhole to 1357 France. Specifically, “Castlegard,” the place the Scooby Gang has been excavating. Connolly went there and hasn’t come back.

Timeline (2003)

Professor Lupin is the lead bad guy at Evil Corp.

Timeline (2003)

Models are a theme here.

The directors of Evil Corporation want the Scooby Gang to go back to rescue Connolly. Everyone is gung ho, except Resident Tech Geek, whose goatee twinges in such a way that he knows this is a Bad Idea, and also François — but François has to go so he can interpret for them.

Timeline (2003)

Ah, the era of crop tops.

Evil Corporation also gives them some mercenary types to go along too for protection, with side hushed instructions to kill some guy should they run into him. Evil Corporation gives the Scooby Gang medieval clothes and hustles them into the wormhole machine! Hey, this is a good opportunity for Gerard to take his shirt off!

Timeline (2003)

You’re welcome.

Timeline (2003)

Nubby linen FTW! Nobody does anything about Fanny’s hair.

Timeline (2003)

Lead Mercenary Guy seems totally trustworthy.

We wormhole/time travel! We’re in 1357 France! Suddenly out of nowhere, a bunch of English knights turn up and kill one of the mercenary guys. Everyone scatters. Gerard meets someone who is running from the English, who turns out to be (dun dun DUN) A GIRL.

Timeline (2003)

ARE THERE GIRLS THERE??!!

The Scooby Gang heads to Castlegard to find Connolly.

Timeline (2003)

There is one cute moment where Fanny Price and Gerard Butler geek out over seeing the thing they’ve been excavating for however long.

The English take one look at the Scooby Gang and, since, in this movie English = bad and French = good, take them to their evil leader: Michael Sheen.

Timeline (2003)

All I can think is “Tony Blair is evil?”

LUCKILY THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS MIDDLE ENGLISH, SO EVERYONE IS ABLE TO COMMUNICATE JUST FINE. (Seriously. Watch this video if you don’t believe me.) Gerard explains that they’re Scottish. Tony Blair isn’t having any of it, whacks translator François (hope he spoke Middle French, not that it matters any more!), and throws the gang into jail where they discover Connolly, who commences not doing anything other than cowering.

Timeline (2003)

François (just behind Butler) knows these have all been Very Bad Decisions.

Timeline (2003)

“Why am I still in this movie? Oh right, plot device.”

The Scooby Gang decides to escape, and Fanny Price, thinking she’s in some Nickelodeon/”Kid in King Arthur’s Court” movie, announces scrappily* that she will climb out through the thatched roof and let them out since she’s the best climber! She does this, in the process killing a guard. Everyone escapes, except Gerard who spots French Nubby Linen being scrappy* with some English guards and decides to rescue her with his mad SCA-type bow-and-arrow skillz.

*Scrappy girls is also a theme.

Timeline (2003)

Rescuing milady.

Various crap happens. Gerard takes French Nubby Linen back to the French, who are super cool. He ascertains her single-dom.

Timeline (2003)

“Zere ‘as been a war since I was born. ‘Oo ‘as time to be married?”

Gerard discovers that she is Lady Claire, who he knows is going to get killed by the English tonight, thus enraging the French who will storm the English-occupied castle and win it back. He implores her brother to take care of her.

Timeline (2003)

“Pas de problème. I AM FRENCH.”

Lots of stuff happens. The Scooby Gang is recaptured by the Evil English, who also recapture French Nubby Linen/Lady Claire. Billy Connolly tries to get them off the hook with the English by promising to make “Greek fire.” Everyone, especially Gerard Butler, is aghast. “GREEK FIRE? YOU PROMISED THEM GREEK FIRE??!!” But no one ever defines WTF Greek fire actually IS.*

*If you care, there’s a Wikipedia article. I don’t care enough to recap it for you.

Tony Blair’s lead henchman turns out to be another time traveller/wormhole-er who got stuck in the past and is pissed about it. He and Gerard Butler get all mano a mano.

Timeline (2003)

Easy to blend in! Just adopt an English accent! Because again, THERE’S NO MIDDLE ENGLISH TO CONTEND WITH.

Eventually the battle starts. There are some cool shots of fiery arrows crossing each other, plus a lot of yelling of “TREBUCHET!!!” The Greek fire works and Tony Blair is pleased.

Timeline (2003)

Fanny Price and Paul Walker find a secret tunnel from a nearby monastery that leads to the English-occupied castle. Oh they also make out.

Timeline (2003)

Paul Walker is a totally modern block of wood, but I guess he’s well cast in that he’s supposed to be.

They lead a French strike force up into the English stronghold. Lots of swords are whacked. The French win. (I am simplifying things for you. You’re welcome.)

Timeline (2003)

You know, this kind of thing.

Timeline (2003)

Tony Blair gets killed by Arnaud.

During the battle, Gerard Butler saves Nubby French Linen/Lady Claire, who was recaptured by the English. He decides to stay in 1357 with his new Special Lady Friend.

Timeline (2003)

“She’s not my special lady, she’s my fucking lady friend. I’m just helping her conceive, man!” – The Big Lebowski

What’s left of the Scooby Gang (Fanny Price, Paul Walker, and Billy Connolly) get back to the future. Oh right, while they were gone a grenade blew up the time/wormhole machine (don’t ask, it’s a long story). Tech Geek has been alternately battling/working with Evil Corp. to try to repair it. As the Scooby Gang comes back, Professor Lupin (the truly evil one from Evil Corp.) gets sent back in time, right at the end of the battle (glad we’re all on the same timeline here), and is whacked.

We fast forward to everyone back on the dig. Fanny Price has finished excavating a tomb showing a medieval couple, which we now realize is Gerard Butler and French Nubby Linen/Lady Claire. The preposterously clear inscription tells us that they had a long and happy life and named their kids after Fanny Price, Paul Walker, and the long-ago-whacked François.

Timeline (2003)

The reason we’re here.

And now, after watching and writing all of this, I have just discovered that the costume designer is none other than JENNY FUCKING BEAVAN. You know, responsible for such greatness as A Room With a ViewImpromptuHowards EndJefferson in ParisSense and SensibilityEver AfterGosford Park, and who recently won an Oscar for Mad Max: Fury Road. My mind is blown!

 

Please recommend something better for me to watch in the comments!

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

23 Responses

  1. toranut97

    Wait – Michael Crichton? Richard Donner? Jerry Goldsmith? The pedigree says this should be at least moderately great. Wow! What a stinker! Thanks for saving me from it!!!!

    Reply
  2. Susan Pola Staples

    Well, maybe Ms Beavan had an off day or needed the money badly for a better project.
    Thanks for saving me from this.
    (although Gerard Butler swoon topless maybe worth it)
    Also Fanny Price is also Mrs Selfridge to me as well as Fanny Price.

    Reply
  3. Patricia

    I sort of liked it. I liked the book better. It was interesting to read about the fact that, at that time, England and France still had trees and the quiet was really “quiet”, no airplanes, stereos blasting music, no appliances running, etc. And the language thing, oh yes. Solved by a very early “translator” ala Star Trek.

    Reply
  4. LizaJane

    I read the book years ago (that’s several hours I’ll never get back), and he lost me many, many times — but the ones that I remember are (a) nobody realizes that some chick got up in monk’s robes (so of course long hair and no tonsure) is a chick, because they’re just that unobservant, and (b) characters successfully hide warbows under their clothes. So I’ve never seen the movie, because it can only be worse.

    Reply
  5. Kate D

    The book Timeline by Michael Crichton was great. The movie… eh. Well, it had Gerard Butler being SCA-ish, so I didn’t turn it off.

    And yes, I only refer to Frances O’Connor by Fanny Price or “Good Heavens Gwendolen” from The Importance of Being Earnest.

    Reply
  6. Ashley A

    I have kind of a soft place for it, as it came out when I was in college during my friend’s Gerard Butler phase. Mostly it’s fun to make fun of.

    “The bastards, they used Night Arrows! Because no one in history ever DIDN’T light their arrows on fire!!!”

    Reply
  7. picasso Manu

    I see Lambert Wilson got lost and so was taken in that fail.
    Oh, well… Sometimes work is slow and one has to pay one’s taxes, I guess.

    Reply
  8. Specially Made by Anne

    The book was infinitely better. Of course it was, it’s a Crichton…but on the subject of costuming, since you mentioned the SCA (which I was a member of, served on a royal court, blah blah blah) The details of the costuming for us are pretty good. In the scene of her climbing over the roof, her dress is properly gusseted under the arms and hand sewn, I can’t tell you how many costumers geek out over that little detail. All in all though I watch it for the Paul Walker (RIP) Gerard Butler eye candy.

    Reply
  9. Samantha

    I loved the concept of this movie but I felt like every one was phoning it in acting-wise. And I could not get over Fanny’s hair either!

    Reply
  10. Sarah F

    Some of the folks in our archaeology/anthropology department decided to watch it for lolz one evening. We were gonna do a drinking game based around historical/scientific inaccuracies, but we were all so shit-faced 20 min in that we had to stop. It was a room full of drunk archaeologists alternately yelling and throwing popcorn at the tv, and making thinly veiled sexual euphemisms whenever Gerard Butler came onscreen.
    I did genuinely enjoy the book.

    Reply
  11. ladyaquanine73551

    The novel (which is rather high in page number) is 100x better than this lousy movie. All I had to do was watch it twice to feel the disgust at this watered-down, dumbed-down, abbreviated shadow of a film. It doesn’t do the book justice, not by a long shot. I read the novel back when I was in high school, and while I could barely understand the science, I had a vague idea of what Crichton was getting at, and he did an amazing job studying both that area of France and the time period. His characters were also much more well-developed in the book, and he made everything at least feel realistic.

    Sadly, this movie was made just a few years before they started turning entire novels into miniseries and tv shows, so this was yet another casualty of the failed “turn-a-massive-book-into-a-crappy-2-hour-movie” formula. If it had been a miniseries with a large budget, who knows how popular it would have been.

    I mean, the time-travelers had at least a week to work with, rather than a few days, and they were traveling, not precisely into OUR past, but into another reality that had a similar timeline to us. The quantum mechanics in the book was difficult to get through, and I still have trouble fully understanding it. The only thing the movie got accurate from the book was that traveling too many times caused one’s molecules not to be properly put back together, (like blood vessels and other tissues) and you could eventually die. They couldn’t even get the design of the time machine right, lazy, penny-pinching producers!

    That “wormhole” shortcut was very lazy writing on behalf of the screenwriters. The archeologist girl was a blond tomboy that liked to do actual rock-climbing, and truly did know her stuff about archeology. In fact, she hated putting on a dress and a long wig for her hair. All the time-travelers wore special translators hidden in their ears so they could understand Lang d’Oc, in addition to Old or Middle English. I think 1 or 2 of the time-travelers really could speak the old French.

    Reply
    • ladyaquanine73551

      Lady Claire was an interesting character in the books too. She had long blond hair, and was a master of disguise as well as intrigue. In fact, she survived in the novel because she disguised herself as a nun and snuck out of La Roque before the big battle. And yes, one of the guys stayed behind and married her. There did appear to be some sort of quantum connection between that reality and ours, despite being in another dimension.

      The time-travelers kept commenting on how clean the air was, or when fighting, they were astounded as to how tough people were back in the 1300s. What I thought was dumb in the book was, all the modern people were given to defend themselves with were canisters full of sleeping gas, and it didn’t always work on some of their adversaries.

      Frankly, I think the entire movie was a slap in the face to everything Mr. Crichton did to write the book, and if there was any way to make it right, they’d re-do it ACCURATELY as a miniseries.

      Even with all the actor name-dropping, this movie truly did suck.

      Reply
    • The_L1985

      Oh yes, this. So much this. (Also, I have it on good authority from Actual Physicists that the quantum mechanics stuff is actually wholly inaccurate, and is only really there to handwave the whole time-travel thing.)

      And yes, Maurice in particular is described early in the book as being fluent in Middle English, Middle French, medieval Latin, and Occitan.

      Reply
  12. MatildaWynter

    I literally started dating my man-friend because he looked like Gerard Butler in this movie…I told him this…he says he looks better in a hood

    Reply
  13. shoujofan

    I’ve watched it a long time ago and I was bored an irritated. To make things worse, the movie was dubbed… But now, lookin at this gorgeous Gerard Butler again, I declare I can give it a second chance. No, I can’t, there’s plenty of good movies out there to watch.

    Reply
  14. Amy

    I saw part of this movie randomly on television a couple of years ago. I neglected to note the big name stars and I thought Lifetime had strangely done a period/sci fi flick.

    It was so bad I truly expected Meredith Baxter Birney to show up at some point.

    Reply
  15. The_L1985

    The worst thing about Timeline is that the book is SO MUCH BETTER than the movie that it’s obscene.

    It’s a Michael Crichton novel. If you just kind of smile and nod and hand-wave the weird pseudo-physics meant to explain the time travel, the rest is utterly awesome. The language issues are addressed. (Remember those old learn-a-language-with-tapes sets? Imagine one of those for Middle English.) Clothing is described in detail. The damage to the time machine was explained.

    And then they butchered it horribly. Francois didn’t exist in the book (way to introduce a character for the sole purpose of killing him just to prove that the Big Bad is…bad). They cut out Kate’s daring cross-dressing escape (WHY WOULD YOU CUT OUT RAFTER-HOPPING IN AN ACTION FILM), most of the humor, and like 90% of what made reading the book worthwhile. They left out vital explanations of plot points, leaving more holes than a Swiss cheese. They left out the part where “Sonny Boy” is, in fact, a student of historical architecture. They left out the lost glasses (the mold on which is what further confirmed that this was not site contamination, but Old Science Dude’s glasses had somehow been there since the 14th century).

    Worse: I’d read the book. My father, who was watching the film with me that night, hadn’t. So he had to put up with my whinging about how WHY DID THEY CUT OUT ALL OF THE GOOD STUFF the whole time. They took an exciting, well-researched time-travel story, and made it into a less-interesting A Knight’s Tale.

    Reply

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