A Michael Crichton adaptation has always been a tricky thing. Crichton is the ultimate techno-thriller author, he delivers intriguing premises and puts a lot of research into his books and tricks which make it all the more compelling. Its long and slow but so worth it in the end.
Thus the movie adaptations yank out the research and usually alter the premise slightly which results in some barely decent movies. So far the only two that came close were "Disclosure" and "Jurassic Park," the latter being a good movie but an all too clean take on Crichton's adult horror tale. Now comes "Timeline" which has to rank amongst the worst yet. Admittedly the book wasn't one of Crichton's best but it was an interesting study of medieval sociology and a surprisingly different yet compelling theory about time travel.
Gone is all that, replaced with some half-assed wormhole theory and a movie desperate to be a swashbuckling action piece but one lacking in any excitement and with only a muddled limp excuse of a story. Elements from the book, most notably the setup to get our heroes back into the past are rushed through so fast and with such little explanation it all feels terribly flimsy.
Thankfully once in the past is settles down a bit, although it all gets a bit cheesy from there on in. There's constant talk of not interfering in history, seconds later they do just that. Chances to follow the intelligent or sometimes clever actions laid out in the book such as the mystery of the traitor and the tunnel are botched from the get go, other characters which were richly double sided such as the duplicitous Lady Claire in the books are portrayed as little more than a bimbo here.
This comes as a real shame considering many of the lead actors in this like Walker, Butler, O'Connor, Embry, and Connelly are personal favourites of mine and to see them in material which is for all intents and purposes beneath them, its gravely disappointing. When the action gets going Donner's skills come into play and there's some admittedly fun or thrilling moments. The greatest strength he brings is the unknown factor with various cast members dying left and right which leaves you wondering who'll survive until the end.
At two hours and even with the rushed feel it still feels overly long and worst of all - cheap. Crichton's novel was one of his weaker ones as it was penned with a movie in mind - but had it been followed it would've made a great blockbuster movie. This movie hasn't followed it at all really, and the result is a rushed and mundane action movie at best, a grave disappointment at worst - especially considering the talent behind it. So much for "Prey" or "Airframe" hitting the big screen.