Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Timeline, by Michael Chichton.

Not bad. A bit of a swashbuckling adventure romp, but so long as you don't take it as anything else its entertaining enough. Its maybe a bit too obviously written to be a movie; the pacing, the scene changes, the lack of a narrative voice (and consequently, the fact that otherwise extraneous characters suddenly drop into narrative explanation to fill the gap. What is it with Crichton and the ubiquitous child prodigy expaining technical details to the adults, anyways?) But the movie pacing keeps the action coming, so as an adventure it really works fine. Theres some sword fights, an explosion or two, a nifty visual effect for the time machine, plus a dramatic race to a deadline at the end.

As historical fiction it has its moments, but despite the fact that he goes out of his way in the afterword to describe the middle ages as not so dark and violent an age as everyone believes, pretty much every character in his medieval world is trecharous and violent. He gives us glimpses of some fairly extensive research into details, but the overall picture of the world gets overrun by the necessities of the Hollywood pacing.

As science fiction its pretty jokey. The frantic hand-waving where the science suddenly disappears out from under him is a little disconcerting (they're reconstituted on the other side by "someone else"?) Its also a little odd to have a story where the main conflict is a race against time... and they have a time machine. Its as if, once he gets to drop his modern characters into the past, he just forgets about all of the familiar and interesting questions that time travel normally brings up in order to get on with the swordfights. Some dude used your time machine to get lost in the past? Well, spend 3 months training a crack team to just hop back in your time machine and arrive seconds after he does, pick him up, and come back; whats the use of having a time machine if you don't use it? There are lots of ways you could explain around this (though some of the more obvious ones are invalidated by seemingly extraneous details of minor scenes) but Crichton never really does, leaving it feeling weak.

And then there's the whole corporate intrigue subplot. This is here why? Oh yeah; because its going to be a movie, and we need to pan away from the action occasionally to build suspense. Bugger that, I'm reading a book; add it back in for the movie if you need it there. The plot goes nowhere, does nothing except leave you with a strong dislike for a Gatesian bastard in charge who nonetheless does nothing particularly wrong; he's willing to, but he never has to. And then, lacking any way to bring this non-plot to a successful climax, the good guys just arbitrarily kill him at the end. What?!? I mean don't get me wrong - the guy's a jerk - but if morally we got to kill people for being a jerk then the world would have a lot less of a population problem...

No, leave it as a fun adventure. Cheer as our heroes miraculously survive medieval combat! Jeer as the baddies threaten hideous torture! Ooh at the pretty explosions! Gasp as our heroes struggle to get home before time runs out! And whatever you do, try not to think too much...


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