In 2003 upon the release of TIMELINE, the movie adaption of his hit novel, Michael Crichton was so upset that he never granted the film rights to any of his other books. Having read the book, which was FAR superior and watched the film again, I get why he was pissed.
It’s hard to believe the movie is as average as it is.
He’s got strong young leads, with Paul Walker and Gerard Butler in two of their first roles. It’s directed by Richard Donner of “Superman” and “Lethal Weapon” fame. The screenplay adaption is by Jeff Maguire, who wrote Eastwood’s “In The Line of Fire”. It’s hard to understand why it’s such an average final product.
Crichton’s story is excellent. Young archeologists are sent back in a time machine to rescue their professor, played by the terrific Billy Connoly. Professor Johnston has gone back to the fourteenth century at the same digs he’s working on in the present. But he’s left a note that carbon dates back 600 years, asking his students for their help.
David Thewlis (Fargo) is wealthy industrialist Robert Doninger, whose team has invented the teleportation device. Neal McDonough (Minority Report, Captain America) is head of security Frank Gordon, demanding his passengers don’t bring ANY modern weapons with them.
When they get back to old France, the always terrific Michael Sheen (Prodigal Son, Frost/Nixon) is Lord Oliver, spouting royal commands and sharp wit with the best of them.
Anna Friel has some very good moments as Lady Claire and she and Butler make a formidable pair battling enemy soldiers.
Crichton’s book did a terrific job of detailing time travel, while avoiding all the cliché “butterfly effect” nonsense and delivering three dimensional characters in both eras that you grew to care about on the page.
Alas, those same characters fall flat on screen. Butler is the best of them all, reveling in the 14th century derring-do and pulling off every scene with the first glimpse of his screen presence that’s only grown in the two decades since. Sheen also delivers, but Walker and his love interest Kate are rather dull and give off all the sparks of a brick.
Much was made by Donner of the fact that almost all the scenes are filmed real and full size, without CGI. The first couple times they release those huge, flaming boulder launchers, it is impressive. But after a half dozen times, I had to really care about anyone those things might hit to really be invested.
Other than Sheen and Butler (and maybe Lady Claire?), I didn’t.
I knew I was in trouble when the billion dollar time machine looked remarkably like Stewie Grifffin’s on “Family Guy”.
With an $80 million budget and less than $20m at the box office, it was clear audiences agreed with Crichton. Do yourself a favor and read the book, it’s terrific.
As for the film, it gets a C-.