Release Date(s)2003 (September 15, 2020)
Studio(s)Mutual Film Company/The Donners’ Company (Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: N/A
[The film review is by Adam Jahnke, edited from his 2004 DVD review. The disc review is by Bill Hunt.]
There’s no real mystery why Hollywood loves Michael Crichton. Like fellow authors Tom Clancy and John Grisham, Crichton’s name on the cover suggests a certain type of book with a certain type of built-in audience. So why is it that Hollywood has such a difficult time getting his books right on screen?
Directed by Richard Donner, Timeline has a typically Crichton-esque set-up. While leading an archeological dig in France, Professor Edward Johnston (Billy Connolly) returns to the States for a quick meeting with his team’s mysterious benefactors. Seems they’ve been dropping him too-accurate clues about where to dig and Johnston’s become a wee bit suspicious. A few days later, his team opens a vault that’s been sealed for 600 years and discovers a lens from the professor’s eyeglasses with an ancient note in his handwriting that reads, "Help me.” Key members of the team (among them Gerard Butler and Frances O’Connor), join the professor’s dilettante son Chris (the eternally fast and furious Paul Walker) in flying to New Mexico to find out what’s going on. It turns out the tech corporation funding the dig built a 3-D fax machine (read: teleporter). But rather than sending a package from coast to coast, it opened a wormhole to 16th Century France instead. So Chris and the team decide to “fax” themselves back in time to rescue the professor. Naturally, things do not go smoothly.
Michael Crichton’s novels are compelling because of the copious amounts of research he puts into them. For example, Jurassic Park is fascinating because of its detail on dinosaurs and cloning. Rising Sun works because of Crichton’s dissection of the differences between the Japanese and American economic models. And Timeline is a page-turner because of its focus on nanotechnology. But if you take those details out, all of his books are pretty much the same. Donner’s Timeline not only glosses over this detail, it offers nothing the director hasn’t already done before in films like Ladyhawke. The action here is pedestrian, the dialogue is on-the-nose… even the time travel effect leaves much to be desired. And while the cast is full of actors who’ve gone on to bigger things, none of their characters feel more than stock. David Thewlis is amusing as the evil CEO responsible for the technology, and Butler does his best to be likable and heroic, but Walker is basically in the background for much of the picture. Even when he’s not, it’s hard to imagine that this very SoCal actor is meant to be the son of the ultra-Scottish Connolly.
Still, it’s been a long wait to have Timeline on Blu-ray for fans. Paramount has finally released it, and at a budget price no less. That’s probably for the best, because the result is far from reference quality. The film is presented in 1080p HD at the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This appears to be an older scan of the master interpositive, perhaps done in 2K. The image is a bit noisy, with some baked in edge enhancement and contrast haloing, along with a digitally-processed appearance. That digital look shows up on the 2004 DVD as well, so it appears to be baked into the film itself (possibly a result of the low post-production resolution of the day). Timeline was also shot in Super 35 format, so there’s notable grain visible in the image. That said, the grain is organic looking and detail is decent. Shadows are deep and colors are well-saturated. This certainly doesn’t hold up to the level of a modern Blu-ray presentation, but it’s a big step up from the DVD.
Audio is included in lossless English 5.1 in DTS-HD Master Audio format. This too is a significant upgrade over the DVD’s 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. The soundstage is nicely wide, with good dialogue clarity. Panning is smooth and active, with the surround channels engaging often for directional effects, atmosphere, and score. LFE is muscular and firm, adding heft to the sound of thundering horses and pounding catapults. Again, it’s not reference quality, but this is a good surround sound mix for an action film of this vintage. Audio is also available in French 5.1 Dolby Digital, as are optional subtitles in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, and French.
Unfortunately, there are no extras on the Blu-ray—not even a Digital code. That’s a shame, because the DVD included the 3-part/45 minute Journey Through Timeline documentary on the making of the film, an 18-minute The Textures of Timeline featurette, and 2 theatrical trailers. So fans may wish to hang onto the DVD to retain that content.
In the final analysis, Timeline is a bit of a misfire and generally underwhelming. It’s better than Philip Kaufman’s Rising Sun and leagues better than the abominable 13th Warrior. But it’s certainly not as good as Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, which itself wasn’t as good as Crichton’s original novel. It may just be that long-form television is the better venue for adapting this author’s work. In any case, if you do enjoy Timeline—either honestly or as a guilty pleasure—it’s nice to finally have it on Blu-ray. And for $9.99, you can hardly beat the price.
- Adam Jahnke with Bill Hunt