3 items from 2003
Wednesday, Nov. 26
Time machines certainly aren't what they used to be. The one in "Timeline" conveys our bumbling heroes into a medieval world, where they change history with nearly every hiccup and someone actually agonizes over killing a man who has in fact been dead for 650 years. "Timeline" is a glorious so-bad-it's-good entertainment that, whatever audiences' initial reaction is in its theatrical run, should prove a hit in home entertainment. This is definitely a movie to which you want to talk back or, even better, supply alternative dialogue.
While it may be surprising that such a corny/fun movie would come from tentpole director Richard Donner working from a novel by Michael Crichton, who usually nails the scientific-fiction stuff, one is grateful for such an unpretentious diversion prior to all the solemn and sometimes downright gloomy holiday films. "Timeline" is harmless fun with a game cast in the grand tradition of '50s B movies that don't seem to realize how funny their dialogue is. ("We'll be back before you know it!" says one cheerful soul as he steps into a time machine ready to blast him back to the 14th century.)
The story goes like this: Once upon a time -- so to speak -- a team of student archeologists are happily digging in the ruins of La Roque Castle in France's Dordogne Valley under the direction of chummy Professor Johnston (Billy Connolly). The fortress is the site of a famous battle between the French and English in 1357. This crew includes the professor's son Chris (Paul Walker), who digs fellow student Kate (Frances O'Connor), which is where his interest in digging ends; enthusiastic assistant professor Andre (Gerard Butler); the passionate Stern (Ethan Embry);
and a quiet Frenchman named Francois (Rossif Sutherland).
Only something is not right. The professor is disturbed by the prescient suggestions coming from the dig's sponsor, an ominous corporation in New Mexico. Determined to get to the bottom of the corporation's unusual interest in this dig, the professor jets off to headquarters and isn't heard from again. Then the students unearth a chamber sealed for 600 years only to discover a plea for help dated April 2, 1357, from ... Professor Johnston.
Demanding an explanation from the ominous corporation, the students also are flown to New Mexico, where the top scientist (David Thewlis) fesses up: A while ago, in an attempt to devise a machine to transmit 3-D objects through space much as one would send a fax, his scientists inadvertently discovered a "wormhole" in space that leads directly to La Roque Castle in 1357. When the professor learned of this, he insisted that they "fax" him back in time to have a look around. He never returned.
So his students immediately form a 21st century rescue party to go fetch the professor. The group, accompanied by a couple of henchmen from the ominous corporation, make up some strange rules such as no modern weaponry, which would have really come in handy. Each wears an amulet of some sort around his neck that, when you rub it, whisks you back to present day. The ominous scientists tell the rescue party they can only last six hours in the past.
Once deposited in 1357, they make a botch of nearly everything. Two in the party are immediately killed by marauding English troops. Others get themselves captured, and one henchman, who rubs his amulet as arrows pierce his body, whisks himself back to 2003. Only he cheated by bring a grenade with him. It blows up, damaging the time machine and thus stranding the rest of the crew in 1357.
Meanwhile, the contempo crew finds themselves caught up in the siege of Castle La Roque. No worries, chimes one optimist, they can lick these medieval knights because they have "600 years of knowledge" on the warriors. A moment later, one student picks up a rock to attack a knight. So much for 600 years of knowledge.
For some reason, the time travelers decide that the French are the good guys and the English the bad, thereby blowing any chance of "Timeline" getting a White House screening. Yet every strategy proves disastrous. Worse, they keep tampering with history. Andre, for instance, falls in love with Lady Claire (Anna Friel) and is determined to save her from her fate despite the fact that her death will lead to a French victory. Meanwhile, Professor Johnston promises to give to the English forces "Greek fire" -- whatever that is -- to tip the battle in their favor.
Donner paces the action briskly and seems unaware or simply unperturbed by the campy dialogue supplied by Crichton's adapters -- writers Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi. Similarly, the actors tear into these thin roles with a passion worthy of Shakespeare. Walker is stiff and earnest as befits a '50s matinee hero, while O'Connor and Friel smile sweetly but prove their mettle when action is afoot. Michael Sheen has fun with the haughty English lord. Lambert Wilson is his fire-breathing French adversary.
The film's technical credits look very cost-conscious but get the job done nicely. The best things in the movie are Caleb Deschanel's colorful, atmospheric cinematography and the film's portrait of how a medieval army lays siege to an enemy fortress.
Paramount Pictures, Mutual Film Co. and Cobalt Media Group present
A Donners Co./Artists Production Group production
Director: Richard Donner
Screenwriters: Jeff Maguire, George Nolfi
Based on the novel by: Michael Crichton
Director of photography: Caleb Deschanel
Production designer: Daniel T. Dorrance
Music: Brian Tyler
Costume designer: Jenny Beavan
Editor: Richard Marks
Chris: Paul Walker
Kate: Frances O'Connor
Andre Marek: Gerard Butler
Professor Johnston: Billy Connolly
Robert Doniger: David Thewlis
Lady Claire: Anna Friel
Frank Gordon: Neal McDonough
Steven Kramer: Matt Craven
Stern: Ethan Embry
Running time -- 116 minutes
MPAA rating PG-13 »
Five new governors, including four first timers, have been elected by their branches to serve on the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In addition, nine incumbent members have been reelected with all governors to begin their terms on Aug. 1. Newcomers to the board are Caleb Deschanel, cinematographers branch; Larry Gordon, producers branch; Kevin O'Connell, sound branch; and Tom Sherak, executives branch. Returning to the board is Bruce Broughton, music branch, who represented the branch for three consecutive three-year terms between 1990 and 1999. »
Opens Friday, March 14
"The Hunted" is about as basic as a chase movie gets. Tommy Lee Jones, a retired teacher in survival and assassination techniques, is called in to hunt down Benicio Del Toro, a former pupil gone bad. Jones hunts Del Toro down. Government operatives let him escape. So Jones hunts Del Toro again and the two fight to the finish. By stripping an action thriller this close to the bone, director William Friedkin has removed too much meat. Because these two guys intrigue an audience, especially given the relative nature of good and evil in their mano a mano conflict, one feels cheated by the movie's relentless drive to oversimplify the narrative. The urge is strong to cry out: Where's the rest of the movie?
The film's bloody action includes enough knife fights and suspenseful tracking sequences to hold its mostly male target audience. Del Toro should create female interest in the movie as well, so Paramount can expect above-average results. But they missed out on a classic thriller when Friedkin and writers David and Peter Griffiths and Art Monterastelli decided to cut to the chase and leave the potential for thematic complexity to the audience's imagination.
In a sense, this is a bold movie. Friedkin wants us to read volumes into the film's silences, into the men's physical movements and eye contact with each other. But in an action movie, this is asking too much even of actors this talented. We sense their connection but have no idea how they feel about each other.
In long-ago training sessions, Jones' L.T. Bonham turned Del Toro's Aaron Hallam into a killing machine. Yet L.T. has never harmed a fly. Hallam has killed so many at the behest of the U.S. government that he has lost all sense of moral control. Each gets an opening "credentials" sequence: In 1999, Hallam slips into the nighttime chaos of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and without being seen or heard swiftly kills a murderous Serb officer. In the British Columbia wilderness, L.T. tracks down and gently heals a wolf wounded by a hunter's snare.
Four years later, Hallam is stalking and butchering hunters in the Oregon forest. The FBI calls in his teacher to track him down. Does L.T. feel any guilt? Does Hallam? Might not L.T. empathize with Hallam to the point he really doesn't want to kill him? Why is he so willing to kill a pupil for a government that has exploited them both?
Their brief, tenuous scenes together fail to answer any of these and so many more questions. A young woman (Leslie Stefanson) and her child are part of Hallam's world, but how they are involved is anybody's guess. A glimmer of a relationship develops between L.T. and an FBI agent (Connie Nielsen), but the movie has no time for that. What it does have time for are absurdities.
Hallam escapes from gray-suited government operatives in Portland. The city, L.T. remarks earlier, is a wilderness, and the movie means to prove his point. As if he were back in British Columbia, L.T. tracks Hallam through the city's tunnels, artificial waterfalls and riverway -- much of this implausible, to say the least. An elaborate sequence on the Interstate Bridge, where Hallam is exposed to SWAT sharpshooters for minutes but emerges unharmed, stretches things even further. But the final absurdity comes when the two men stop their hunt to give us a primer in turning urban debris into flint and steel weapons. OK, Hallam must do so since he has no weapon. But can't L.T. just grab a good hunting knife?
Their one-on-one fight is well-choreographed and contains visceral tension. This is a far cry from the martial arts follies in most action movies. But the stakes aren't high enough. Instead of two guys struggling to kill each other, we should sense their ambivalence. Truffaut once said Hitchcock filmed his murder scenes like love scenes. That should be the case here.
Fine location work by a superb crew -- cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, production designer William Cruse and costume designer Gloria Gresham -- adds compelling elements to the chase. Augie Hess' razor-sharp editing lets the movie flow gracefully.
Paramount Pictures in association with Lakeshore Entertainment a Ricardo Mestres/Alphaville production
Director: William Friedkin
Screenwriters: David Griffiths, Peter Griffiths, Art Monterastelli
Producers: Ricardo Mestres, James Jacks
Executive producers: David Griffiths, Peter Griffiths, Marcus Viscadi, Sean Daniel
Director of photography: Caleb Deschanel
Production designer: William Cruse
Music: Brian Tyler
Co-producer: Art Montersatelli
Costume designer: Gloria Gresham
Editor: Augie Hess
L.T. Bonham: Tommy Lee Jones
Aaron Hallam: Benicio Del Toro
Abby: Connie Nielsen, Irene: Leslie Stefanson
Ted: John Finn
Moret: Jose Zuniga
Van Zandt: Ron Canada
Dale Hewitt: Mark Pellegrino
Running time -- 94 minutes
MPAA rating R
3 items from 2003
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