As a fan of Richard Donner and an armchair archaeologist, I was hoping that the big budget adaptation of Michael Crichton's time travel novel would, at the very least, provide some mindless entertainment for two hours. Adaptations of Crichton's canon have ranged from good (Jurassic Park), to bad (Sphere), to unwatchable (The 13th Warrior). Sadly, most have been of the later two categories, and Timeline is no exception.
The plot itself is moderately promising. As the film opens, a team of young archaeologists is working on an excavation site in France under the tutelage of Professor Edward Johnston (Billy Connolly). Along for the ride is the professor's son (Paul Walker), who is more interested in romancing one of the diggers (Frances O'Conner) than actually finding anything. Growing suspicious of the source of the project's funding, Johnston heads to New Mexico to meet with the financier (David Thewlis). No sooner is the professor gone than the students make a truly fascinating find--a chamber that has been sealed for 600 years.
Inside, they discover two items that shouldn't be there: a bifocal lens and a scrawled plea, dated April 2, 1357, from Professor Johnston. At first, the team assumes the find is a joke, despite the fact that such a trick would be out of character for their teacher. But when carbon dating proves that the parchment is in fact 650 years old, the students head back to the states, where they find that ITC, the dig's benefactor, has created a time machine.
Initially intended to move items from place to place (and, hence, put FedEx and UPS out of business), ITC's machine actually moves items through time. In fact, can also move people through time and, in this case, has sent Professor Johnston back to 1357. Naturally, his students are sent to rescue him.
The film progresses through a continuingly more improbably series of events, culminating in a hackneyed ending that sorely disappoints. While Crichton's original novel was not his best, screenwriters Jeff Maguire and George Nofli have done what they can to excise any character development or motivation from the film. The characters are so one-dimensional and unlikable that when they start to get picked off one by one, you can't help but root for the 14th century English knights to finish off the lot of them.