Like most people, I have always been fascinated by the concept of Time Travel. Back in the early 80s, I remember a reading an article written by astronomer Carl Sagen. He was so excited about the “reality” of sending a letter to anywhere in the world, in mere seconds. Can you imagine sending humans across the universe to a parallel universe or better yet to another era of earth time? I often wondered if he ever thought that the idea of faxing might be the building blocks to actual time travel?
I also wonder if Albert Einstein believed time travel was possible in the 20th century; since, he spent so much of his energy/time and space on this possibility. As a result, he left us with his time-continuum theory/ theory of Relativity. Even today, it is one of the most recognizable or iconic equations of all time: E=MC2. Basically, this is an equation that symbolizes the conversion of mass into energy and energy into mass by manipulating the travel-speed of light.
As you can probably tell, I am excited about the theme of this blogathon: Time Travel in the movies. I want to thank Rich of Widescreen World and Ruth of Silver Screenings for hosting this event. Please use the link below to find more articles on time travel in the movies:
Why I chose this time travelling movie?
This movie is based on a book: Timeline (1997) by author Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, Coma, Andromeda Strain, Westwood...). Due to his background in medicine, he immersed his novels with his science and medical knowledge. One of the reasons I choose this movie was because of Crichton’s meticulous approach to details. When he sold the movie rights for this book, it was with the condition, they would use his back drop story. He had a theory about how time travel might actually be accomplished. He took the idea of faxing to a Time Travel level. Carl Sagan would be proud.
The Movie Summary
Professor Johnson (Billy Connolly) is working at an archaeological dig in France near a medieval castle, Castlegard. He is aided by his assistant, Kate (Frances O’Connor), and his son, Chris (Paul Walker) and his other assistant, Andre Marek (Gerard Butler). The funding of this dig comes from a corporation that is conducting experiments on an accidental “wormhole” it created while attempting to transport a box through a type of huge Fax machine (Time Machine).
All reports from the dig-site are sent to this corporation. The CEO, who receives the dig site reports, also directs the transportation project. He kind of reminds me of Bill Gates type, Dr. Robert Doniger, played by David Thewlis. At the dig site, Chris is trying to start a romance with Kate. Marek explains to him about true love. He uses a medieval grave site of a royal couple to help explain the aspects of true love.
Later, Kate and Marek are lowered into a “just found” tunnel. They find something that astounds all reason: Professor Johnson’s reading glasses are there. Unbelievably, the eye glasses are six hundred years old. Yet, they recently seen them on him the day before. When they try to locate the Professor, they find that he is missing. He was last seen going to the Corporate Lab to report dig findings. The three assistants, along with a few other scientists from the dig site, accompanied them to Corporate.
Frustratingly, Dr. Doniger gives them his explanation. Professor Johnson has been transported back in time to 1357 Castlegard, France. He has a “marker” that will direct him back to the 21st century as long as he is at the opening of the wormhole by the designated time. Problem is, he didn’t return. They are not sure what happened to him. The marker only works for a limited amount of time. So, Doniger elicits the help of the three assistants with their co-worker, Francois Dontelle (Rossif Sutherland) to go on a mission to bring the Professor back. To lead them and protect them, Frank Gordon (Neal McDonough) and a few other Corporate men go with the group.
Already, something about all this feels wrong. Why did Doniger wait to contact them about the missing Professor. They would not have known anything if the Professor had not left his glasses, five hundred years ago, as a clue. Plus, Gordon acts a bit afraid to go. Not quite trusting Doniger, the group agree with the plan to retrieve the Professor.
Sadly, the time machine looks like the transporter from 1960s classic TV show: Star Trek. There we find Engineer Scott “Transporting” Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Doctor McCoy (Deforest Kelly) to the surface of a planet from space. A beam of light is manipulated to transport their bodies through space.
So with earth shattering pain from the transport, the adventure begins. They are transported back six hundred years ago. They arrive in the middle of a war. This war is the Hundred Years War between France and England. The same war that saw combat action from Richard III, Henry V, and Joan of Arc, although they never actually met on a field of battle or anywhere else. A time period where the Black Plague was prevalent and European men loved
cropped hair styles God and obeyed the Church.
Before the Professor can be found and just after they appear in 1357 France, a couple of the Corporate guards are murdered by English soldiers. Marek rescues a boy from English soldiers only to find out the boy is a girl, Lady Claire (Anna’s Friel). Then, the whole group is captured by the English Lord Oliver (Martin Sheen) as French spies. We also learn he is holding the Professor prisoner too. To keep Oliver from killing him, the Professor promised to make him a weapon to defeat the French: ” liquid Fire” or Greek Fire. This plays havoc on the whole changing the future idea.
Back at corporate headquarters, one of the wounded men is sent back. Unbeknownst to them, he had pulled the pin to a grenade (illegally brought to the past) while he was fighting the English for his life. Right after the body is transported, the grenade in his hand blows up in the time machine. So, Doniger is busy trying to repair the damage before the time will expired to bring the group back.
The group escaped Lord Oliver but get separated. Marek rescued Lady Claire again. Professor Johnson, Chris, and Kate are captured again. After all these rescues, Marek and Lady Claire begin to fall in love. They have some cute courting miscommunication even though Marek is the only one who speaks her archaic French language (Occitan). They are eventually found by her brother, Prince Regent, Lord Arnaut (Lambert Wilson).
When Marek leaves the French camp to find his friends, he becomes captured again by the right hand man of Lord Oliver, Sir Dekere. As a prisoner, Marek is reunited with his friends who are also prisoners. Soon they learn, that Sir William Deker (Marton Csorkas) is really William Decker from their time. He was left behind and assumed dead. He is convinced that the group is there to kill him. He explained that he has Time travelled several times. He reveals to the group a secret. A secret that Dr. Doniger wants to kill him for in order to ensure his silence. The secret: Each time you go through the transport, your cellular atoms mutate. Due to the internal damage, you will eventually die sooner than you normally would.
Dr. Doniger really wants this rescue mission to fail; and, he sabotages the efforts to fix the time machine before the wormhole appears again. Not wanting to spoil the interesting ending, I will leave the summary here.
Personally, I enjoyed the movie. I don’t know anyone who didn’t like this movie. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its flaws or that there are people who hated it. Crichton hated the movie so much that he refused to sell any more movie rights for his books. However, after he died of cancer in 2008, his estate did sell his friend, Steven Spielberg, the rights to Pirate Latitudes.
So, what happened to this “could have a great movie?”
It is directed by Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon [1 – 4], Superman (1978), Goonies (1985), Scrooged (1988)…) The cast is exceptional: Sir Billy Connolly, David Thewlis, Gerard Butler, Paul Walker, Frances O’Conner, Michael Sheen, Anna Friel, Neal McDonough, …. It had a generous budget of 80 million dollars. By all rights this movie should have been a huge hit with some sequels.
Again, it has a great story, an excellent director, cast and crew and mucho money. So, what happened?
First: It was a disaster at the box office. The first week it opened it made a little over 8.4 million dollars. It grossed not quite 20 million in the USA. In the international market it made 43.9 million. In other words, it lost money.
Second: The hype was overwhelming….people wanted to see this movie. Yet, release dates kept changing. Donner had to ‘re-cut this 136 minute movie to 116 minutes. The studio sent this movie back four times for edit/cuts. Of course, details of the story were cut out of the film. These details helped audiences understand the story; and, allow it to be believable. As a result, it became an action movie and the valuable concepts and plots were lost on the audience.
Third: Possibly, the heart of the movie was removed. At the beginning of the film, Billy Connolly had a prologue that explained his character’s disappearance. This was vital to the story: and helped introduce the plot. Instead, the movie starts with some guy in a robe running around in the desert/forest. One minute he is in a forest running from a knight on horseback. Then, he is struck down by sword. Then, he falls in the middle of the road in the desert. A car stops to assist. We don’t know the guy; and, he dies in the emergency room. Some suits show up to retrieve his medical records and x-rays. The attending doctor says there are abnormalities in the x-rays. For me, this was too soon for a such a small clue for me to use later. Of course, I completely forgot the scene because it is not memorable.
Fourth: Historically the film is inaccurate. There was no Battle of Castlegard. The language was neither French or English. It was before Shakespeare and after Chaucer. In the book, Crichton gave each of them a high-tech ear translator. This was not done in the movie. The language barrier was not appropriately addressed. On top of that detail, the shields had emblems of countries and regions that did not exist in 1357. Canada is one and Germany is another country.
Again, I thought Timeline was an enjoyable movie. No, it does present a reliable theory concerning Time Travel or its impact on society. If there was a perspective about Time Travel in this film, it might be that time travel should not be attempted. What good can come from tinkering with the past? Besides, according to this movie, the human body was not made to withstand the subatomic makeover from travelling the speed of light; with or without a wormhole. It is sad that the movie was edited and cut to its death. This promised to be a great movie; but, was reduced to enjoyable in 116 minutes.
Presently, quantum physicists are still working on the possibility of time travel. What I do know is that six years ago, college students were able to bend light from another room. At this rate, who knows if space and time travel is not only possible but may actual happen in our near future. Honestly, didn’t we just send a Tesla car into space blasting David Bowie’s Space Oddity on the radio. On second thought, maybe there are travels that we, as humans, will find beyond of our realm of attainable possibilities.