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MORIARTY Reviews Donner's TIMELINE Script!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

Chalk two up for George Nolfi, a name to remember for anyone interested in strong, clean screenwriting.

His PATHFINDER has been one of those long-in-development hot potatoes that’s been bounced from director to director. I read it around the time David Fincher was flirting with it, and I thought it was smart and powerful work. Writing an original and writing an adaptation are very different skills, though, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up his screenplay for Richard Donner’s next film TIMELINE, based on the novel by Michael Crichton.

Crichton, like John Grisham or Stephen King, is practically a franchise unto himself. His genre books all take a strong scientific premise, then spin stories that allow him to examine the various ideas inherent in that premise. From the days of WESTWORLD and THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN to more recent work like JURASSIC PARK and this novel, Crichton has always had a strong sense of how to manipulate an audience without insulting them. The film versions of his books have been mixed bags, at best.

That’s strange, because Crichton is a screenwriter at heart. His stories are all built with an audience in mind, and no matter how much tech background is offered up, the stories themselves remain fairly simple, easy to boil down to their essence. I’ve been puzzled by some of the choices we’ve seen made in bringing his work to the screen before, and when I read the novel TIMELINE, my first thought was, Great read, but they’ll screw it up. They always do.

So it is to George Nolfi’s credit that he managed to take TIMELINE, strip it down of anything extraneous, and turn it into a sleek, streamlined script that should play sensationally with the right cast attached. Richard Donner’s going to have one of the most strenuous shoots of his career with this one, and if he follows the script as written, one of the roughest adventure films we’ve seen in recent memory.

As you can imagine from the title, TIMELINE is a time travel film. As in the book, we are given information in little pieces, tiny clues that add up to a larger picture. A mysterious figure appears in the road, bones broken, bleeding internally. In a secret research facility in the desert, billionaire ROBERT DONIGER orders a cover-up involving the mystery man. In the Dordogne River Valley in France, an archaeological dig is underway on a medieval town called Castelgard. We meet a number of members of the team, including ANDRE MAREK, KATE ERICSON, CHRIS HUGHES and the man in charge of the dig, PROFESSOR EDWARD JOHNSTON. The character exposition in these scenes is handled well, with a nimble touch. Marek is a man who is in love with the world he uncovers, who has romanticized the whole notion of the medieval lifestyle. Kate and Chris are struggling to balance the sexual attraction they feel for each other and their responsibilities on the dig. And the Professor... well, he’s got a few secrets, including the source of the funding on the project. He’s in the middle of piecing together the full story of the Seige of La Roque at Castelgard. There’s no clear answers in the historical record about how the French finally defeated the last English stronghold in the region, and the pursuit of that answer is what fuels the Professor’s quest. His efforts are interrupted briefly when he is called to New Mexico to meet with Doniger, the project’s benefactor.

While he’s away, a startling discovery is made that throws the integrity of the dig into question. In a room that’s been sealed for 600 years, a bifocal lens is found, something that can’t possibly be there. When they try to contact the Professor to talk to him about it, he’s impossible to reach, something that really sets their nerves on edge when they find a set of documents wrapped in oilcloth in that same room, one of which is clearly a note reading "HELP ME. E.A. JOHNSTON. 4/7/1357." Carbon dating confirms that the note was written 600 years ago. This leaves them totally baffled, and they confront Doniger with what they’ve pieced together. He flies them to the New Mexico, and by page 22, the words "time travel" have finally been spoken in an almost non-chalant manner. Doniger confirms for the team that the Professor went back in time and got separated from his group, and is trapped. Doniger wants them to go back and help locate and rescue the Professor, and in order to help persuade them, he demonstrates the technology for them.

As longtime readers of AICN are well aware, I have a Time Machine here at the Moriarty Labs, and I’ve written before about how painful the process can be. Well, hats off to Crichton and Nolfi for getting it right. The act of travelling through time isn’t just sitting in a chair and taking some passive ride in this script; instead, it’s turbulent, disruptive, and potentially dangerous. When Marek, Chris, Kate, and Francois, a translator, are sent back, they are accompanied by a couple of Marines. The rule is that they can’t take any weapons back that don’t belong in the time period. One of the Marines smuggles back a couple of grenades, though, a decision which sets of a shocking series of events that ends up with Francois dead and the rest of the group trapped back in time, still not sure where the Professor is, and not sure how they’ll get home.

If you’ve read Crichton’s book, allow me to assure you that Nofi managed to get all the good stuff into the film. It’s brutal, full of shocking violence and an unflinching eye for the reality of medieval life. If you haven’t read the book, you’re in for a real treat. This is one of Crichton’s most effective yarns overall. It’s a pulp story told with energy and an inventive sense of fun. The role to end all roles in this one is Marek. Within his first few hours back in time, he’s killed several men and come face to face with the not-so-romantic reality of this time and place that he’s always idealized. Yet, even though it’s not what he thought it would be, it’s still a place where he seems to fit in a way that he never has in modern life, and watching him come into his own as a person is one of the treats in the script. With the right actor in the role, Marek could be an iconic character. Equally effective is the main villain of the piece, De Kere, a mysterious figure with some connection to both time periods. His nature and his origin are truly horrific, and should give someone a chance to really shine.

I know it sounds like I’m in a good mood this week with all the positive reviews I’m handing out, but what can I say? I lucked into a great reading stack, and it’s been a real pleasure while I’ve been dealing with this fucking flu to have material this rich to dig into. I’m going to try to bring you three or four pieces a day for the rest of the week in an effort to keep up, and watch the site for a big announcement for all LA area AICN fans coming later this week.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • July 11, 2001, 1:54 a.m. CST

    Medieval time park machine

    by The Reef

    Good book but it still feels like 'Medieval Park' + 'The Time Machine'. Also the scope and content of the book I have a sneaking feeling will fall victim to the cutting room floor. I can already hear execs thinking "What's a quantum?". At least Crichton has produced more material of quality than virtually any other contributor for film and T.V. Some of it may be a little formulaic but at least it's better than big brother/survivor/boot camp. Kill the people that peddle that dross. Let the SCI FI channel control the airwaves, at least they are looking for and producing items that are interesting (even if slightly flawed - dune). So, TIMELINE, liked the book but think the dumbed down movie will be a disappointment, after all we are only the audience and demographically speaking we would 'respond unfavourably' to anything that was 'yawn' vaguely intellectual. (Thankyou D.Arronofsky for PI). I'll wait and see.

  • July 11, 2001, 1:54 a.m. CST

    One of Mikey's best books.

    by Mulengro

    High hopes for this one.

  • Timeline,Michael Crichtons last novel,was'nt anything new but it did prove that a section of the publishing industry loved books which read like blockbuster movie scripts right down to set pieces and money shots.Crichton,a screenwriter of some repute(westworld),before he formulated the will-make-money-by-attracting-people-with-sceientific-gobbledygook idea to write a book,served up a fairly run of the mill entertainer but i really dont know what Mr.Donner is gonna do to make it palatable to sections of the moviegoing crowd who were sympathetic to these themes of science running amok 5 years ago when the book was published,but have now been disenchanted by all the pedestian cgi movies that Hollywood has been feeding them.Nah,I'll probably go and watch Minority Report.

  • July 11, 2001, 2:03 a.m. CST

    They better not screw this up!

    by ToquefaceBenalto

    I hated "Congo" and "Sphere"...both were really disappointing. I love MC and agree that it's like he writes everything for the big screen...argh...wonder if "Airframe" is gonna suck? Anyway, if anyone important reads this.. DON'T SHY AWAY FROM THE VIOLENCE! Put out an intelligent action/sci-fi film, go with the script and rock it out...

  • July 11, 2001, 2:47 a.m. CST

    Shiva is right.

    by Bambi

    I have to tell you, Shiva is right. TIMELINE isn't one of MC's best books. Here it seems if he starts stealing from his own books and mixing up a new one. Best thing about it was the epilogue. No joke it was really nice to read. But if Donner is going to do this movie it could be fun. By the way, does any one know anything about an upcoming movie-adaption of Mark Frost

  • July 11, 2001, 2:50 a.m. CST

    Crichton as screenwriter first??

    by straxboy

    Don't think so mate. a) Remember the guy's a Dr. For real. Incredible intellect. And b) how did he fund his way through medical school ? He wrote novels. The kind of thing Robin Cook seems to splurge out all the time (how quaint then that Crichton should choose Cook's Coma to adapt for the scren) He wrote them under a pseudonym, Jeffrey something (memory fils me sorry), in the summer vacation to fund the next year's tuition. Quite a guy. And they are just as brisk and frantic as the scripts and subsiquent novels we all know and love. I read a very cool little one (again the memory fails) 'A Case of somethingorother'. Would make a really great TV movie (not an oxymoron - some things can be done far better and are more suited to the TV format and are the greater for it). Timeline's a blast though and Im really looking forward to Donner doing a bang up job. I was watching the Lethal Waepon quartet over the weekend and I just realised how fucking fantastic Donner is as a director. He's a subtle guy to be sure (bombastic, yes, but not show offy) but man can he wield a camera confidently. He's had a slump of late but, well, I think tha wil change with this

  • July 11, 2001, 3:01 a.m. CST

    Donner + Crichton? I'll give it a spin...

    by Dave_F

    ...though I'm in agreement with some of the others here that it's not an especially great book. I really enjoyed the first third or so - the build-up, the mystery, the wild ideas - and found myself far, far less interested when it degenerated into non-stop action for the latter half. Too many cliffhangers, Mike! Felt the same way about "Jurassic Park" too (the book), though it was considerably better than "Timeline." But Crichton remains a somewhat guilty pleasure for me. Recently read "Lost World" to kind of get hyped for the third "Jurassic Park" movie, and found the book infinitely better than the movie. And completely different, too. "Lost World" the movie is complete and utter shit, but the book, which featured a very different plot and vastly different characters, was quite a fun ride. Teamed up with a knowledgeable director like Donner, Crichton may yet have something to offer movie fans. Oh yeah, and "Eaters of the Dead" kicked ass...

  • July 11, 2001, 3:37 a.m. CST

    Mike's movies...

    by evilbobb

    are mostly good. I think the adaption of congo was perfect because the movie sucked just like the book did. The book was very unsatisfying to me, it built up, and built up, and built up, then they left. thats it! Oh, and eaters of the dead kicked some serious ass, and The 13th warrior was a very very good adaption of it. Hopefully this will mirror The 13th warrior and be a good adventure flick (haven't read Timeline yet, so I am assuming that it is an adventure book).

  • July 11, 2001, 3:41 a.m. CST

    TIMELINE read like a script treatment...

    by iamroman certainly didn't read like a book. Great story but he's not exactly the best writer (the grammar and sentence structure are pretty weak). I'm sure this will make a great movie though, if they can flesh out the characters some more and re-work the ending. Plus it's in Donner's capable hands, and as long as he doesn't somehow stick a twenty-foot high anti-NRA billboard in the background of every shot like he does in every movie he makes these days, it should be pretty cool.

  • July 11, 2001, 3:57 a.m. CST

    Anubis Gates

    by Spanjab

    Anyone read 'The Anubis Gates' by Tim Powers? That's a time travel story and a half!!

  • July 11, 2001, 5:47 a.m. CST

    Am I the only one who didn't like Timeline?

    by ejcarter9

    Of course, I'm a huge Who fan and have seen and read many GREAT time travel stories (and some bad ones, before anyone starts to slam on the good Doctor.) I found Timeline to be somewhat cliched and predictable. Also somewhat boring. And the "problems" present seemed forced, a plot device just to add uneeded tension. Of course, that's just my opinion, but I'm usually right.

  • July 11, 2001, 6:15 a.m. CST

    The book was decent.....I think the movie will be even better.

    by Ldyandrea

    I actually did like the book "Timeline", but wouldn't call it an all-time favorite. Mainly, I think, because although I liked the story, it's delivered in a fairly distant manner. I must admit, it truly did read more like a script, and would benefit greatly on the screen where a good cast could bring this story to life. I think that Crichton is one of those writers with great story ideas, and an ability to develop them. I didn't, however, see a great deal of character development in this book....I can't say that I felt I knew a great deal more about the characters at the end of the story than I did after just a few short pages. Now that I think about it, it's just this type of story that has a much better chance of doing better than most adaptations by writers who *are* great at character development. With those types of books, a precedent has been set that an actor or actress now has to live up to. At least with the rather "blank-ish character slate" that Crichton gives us, an actor has the opportunity to actually make that character themselves, rather than try to fit into a strictly defined mold. Okay, I'm rambling, but I guess in writing this I feel I've somehow had a small epiphany on movies......something that doesn't happen too often, I think. I will be interested in seeing just how realistic they can indeed make this film....not just the violent aspects, but the recreation of a truly medeival time period. As much as I have cutesy romantic notions as much as the next woman, I do have an appreciation for those few films that have been able to portray a much more realistic atmosphere of that time period rather than sanitize it to the tastes of our much more "civilized" time.

  • July 11, 2001, 6:16 a.m. CST

    Great Book, I hope they make a great movie

    by Russman

    Always the sucker for a time travel story, I really enjoyed Timeline. It's been a while since I've read it but I hope they don't "adapt" it to much that it's not cool anymore. I thought one of the students could translate and speak the old English and it was the guide who got killed (beheaded)? Oh well, they already have my $8.00 I mean $8.50, opps I mean $8.75.... ohhh it's $9.00 now :-(

  • July 11, 2001, 6:48 a.m. CST

    Vin Diesel as Marek.....

    by The Funk Drummer

    If anyone has read the book, can't you picture Vin Diesel as Marek??? I think he could pull this off as a total badass. Plus Diesel has his acting chops to do this role justice.... And this might just be a fanboys dream but anybody feeling Sean Connery as the Professor????

  • July 11, 2001, 6:52 a.m. CST

    Isn't it Nolfi's script. Not Donner's.

    by Wee Willie

    Donner's just the director, not the writer.

  • July 11, 2001, 7 a.m. CST

    a bad book

    by Uga

    "Timeline" was one of Crichton's weaker efforts. He seemed to go out of his way to create characters for today's "young, hot stars." Whoever said it read like a script treatment is dead-on. It was pretty boring.

  • July 11, 2001, 7:04 a.m. CST

    This movie has potential...but only as an "R"

    by ilducemafioso

    Alright....we've all read the book and must realize that a simple PG-13 gloss-over will not do it justice. Crichton wrote the book and I think, captured the essence of the Middle Ages in his gruesome depiction of castle life. With this in way can the final product be anything less than an "R" without sacrificing some sense of quality and reality. I guess at this point, rating has to be a distant worry, but when writing the script, I believe Donner and Party should consider the gruesome atmosphere as almost another character...and a good screen play adapter never phases out a whole character....

  • July 11, 2001, 7:17 a.m. CST


    by straxboy

    Gerard Butler (Dracula 2000) is basically confirmed as Marek. The makers of Timeline are paying him a retainer to keep him from commiting to any other projects cos they want him. Not my first thought when I think of the character but hey....who knows what the guy is capable of. I think Russell Crowe would make a good Marek myself - hard bastard and suave with it. But he might be a bit 'above' it in his eyes. (the casting info is on Dark Horizons today, BTW)

  • July 11, 2001, 7:22 a.m. CST

    Dark Horizons yesterday

    by straxboy


  • July 11, 2001, 7:45 a.m. CST

    Best aspect of the story not the violence...

    by Wesley Snipes

    ..but the Medieval language and life parts. I found that stuff very interesting and I'm not an anthropologist or linguist or anything like that. Of course, I do hope they keep it true to Crichton's strongly R-rated vision...

  • July 11, 2001, 8:28 a.m. CST

    Mmmmm Devore

    by straxboy

    Someone's only read Disclosure and didn't get it then ? Timeline actually feature quite strong female characters and the men come across as quite bumbling and inept at times. Especially our hero Chris who relies on the ingenuity of his lady-pal to help him out of many a tricky spot. And the Female Medieval lady (forget the name) is a tricky old thing - duplicitous and cunning as the men and ultimately a bastion of good intention and noble rebeliousness. And many of the the men in Chrichton's novels (Hammond in JP anyone) are really less than idiotic egotists who meet with poetically comuppances. And I belive Amy in Congo (though not a great novel)was a girl gorilla.

  • July 11, 2001, 8:48 a.m. CST

    Connie Willis 'Doomsday Book'

    by austinguy

    The previous comment about Crichton's 'stealing from his own books' has it half right. Check out Connie Willis's Hugo and Nebula Award winner, 'Doomsday Book' and decide for yourself who deserves the credit for this project. Let's see -- time travel by medievalist to 14th century, the ugly realities of the medieval world, modern day artifact in unexpected places .. gee, sounds familiar. Sure, this is a hallowed theme in SF dating back years -- check out classic Howard Waldrop's 'Them Bones' for similar treatment of displaced military in pre-Columbian America, or any other similar Time Patrol kinds of lit... but this particular time and place and set of characters is a bit close for coincidence. Someone at some point ought to ask MC if he's heard of (or read) 'Doomsday Book' -- given its prominence in the SF field, it's very unlikely that he hasn't. Then he ought be asked if he's willing to share the royalities from this project with C. Willis. If you aren't familiar with Willis's work, check out amazon's review of this one: " Connie Willis labored five years on this story of a history student in 2048 who is transported to an English village in the 14th century. The student arrives mistakenly on the eve of the onset of the Black Plague. Her dealings with a family of "contemps" in 1348 and with her historian cohorts lead to complications as the book unfolds into a surprisingly dark, deep conclusion. The book, which won Hugo and Nebula Awards, draws upon Willis' understanding of the universalities of human nature to explore the ageless issues of evil, suffering and the indomitable will of the human spirit." Then again, MC's genius lies in always always including the commercial element in his work. Connie W. would be more commercially successful if she had included a "Marek"-like character in her book. But then, that's why she's Connie Willis -- she doesn't write scripts for Bruce (grins).

  • July 11, 2001, 9:02 a.m. CST

    OMG, this will be the greatest movie ever!!!!! Hell no, it will

    by BadAshe

    This movie sucks! The script sucks, the director sucks, the yet-to-be-cast actors suck, the yet-to-be-built sets suck. Yes it will be the greatest ever! The script is the best thing that has ever been put down into screenplay format. Criton is a God among mortal men. I want to make sweet love to Richard Donner cause he is such a genius. The yet-to-be-cast actors are the greatest actors in the history of ever and the yet-to-be-built sets make the Sistene Chapel look like a shithouse. To close, Suck on my big ol' chocolate hog.

  • July 11, 2001, 10:43 a.m. CST

    Regards to Andre Marek

    by Alex Rain

    I agree that Vin Diesel would kick serious poopa as Andre Marek, As he IS Vin Diesel, and I would never dream of denying Riddick a part. The truth though, is that this role has been cast. It is a done deal (look around at this site and others for TIMELINE info)that the part of Andre Marek will be played by gerard Butler of Dracula 2000 and TNT's Atilla. The guy is not a bad choice, as he can act, when given the right script. He also has the look of a man in love with the dark ages.

  • July 11, 2001, 10:56 a.m. CST


    by jeff bailey

    I really wanted to read that script. There used to be a really cool website that had all these great hollywood scripts, produced and unproduced. Pathfinder was one they had and some other cool ones like the Ticking Man. But the site disappeared before I could order any. Would anyone know of any other sites like that which are still functioning. Please let me know.

  • July 11, 2001, 11:01 a.m. CST


    by Silver_Joo

    Congo was a good read, and Sphere was amazing, but the films...? I just think that even Spielberg messed up JP, missing some key elements out. Oh, and Crichton's best Westworld was a screenplay, not a book so that dude sprouting biographical shit can shut the hell up.

  • July 11, 2001, 11:24 a.m. CST

    Jimmy James as Doniger!

    by Redwood

    Does anybody remember a while back when Moriarty said that he had something really exciting to announce about Tim Burton but he couldn't? And how about Gerard Depardieu as Marek, huh? I think it's time he went medieval France on someone's ass. And has anybody else gone back and really noticed how good John William's score to Temple of Doom is? So many unanswered questions.

  • July 11, 2001, 3:42 p.m. CST

    Marek, Marek, Marek... What about De Kere

    by Iago77

    I have been reading all of the posts and it seems everyone is really obsessed with the character of Marek. I'll admit that he was a great character and provided for a sensational ending, but people seem to be forgetting about the other spectrum of any movie. The bad guy. Marek is our hero, and he is most likely already cast. The question we need to ask is 'Who will play the evil and mysterious De Kere ?' I still have to really put some thought into this character, but my inital call would ironically be Vin Diesel. He is being talked about as a hero, but i see this big bad mother as a tough sword-swinging villain. Any other ideas for a De Kere ? ?

  • July 11, 2001, 5:24 p.m. CST

    Oh, cool!...I live in L.A., what's the announcement?!?!?!

    by Psyclops

    I hope it's something cool! Anyway, the book is something I've always been meaning the read. I have friends who love the story and go on and on about how cool a movie it would be. Let's hope Donner pulls it off.

  • July 11, 2001, 7:20 p.m. CST

    Mixed bag...

    by SaigonWhore

    I read Timeline about a year ago and I immediately knew that it would be turned into a film; it was just a question of when. Marek is a great character and the story is filled with bone shattering action. The sword fights aren't your 3 Musketeers-flipping-showboating-5 minute-cute stab wound fights. They are people getting hacked and gored and slashed and fucked up in general. I am a huge fan of Crichton, but the adaptations of his novels into movies have been a mixed bag... some plain out sucked ass. For every Jurassic Park there has been a Congo, but I hope this one will succeed. Me love you long time.

  • July 11, 2001, 7:57 p.m. CST

    Timeline Casting

    by Penter

    While reading the book, for some reason I always pictured Christian Bale as Chris the student. I also pictured Marek as a bit older. Certainly older than Vinny Deisel. Remember, Marek is an established tenured prof who studies medievel esoterica. Think big, stocky and balding.

  • July 13, 2001, 8:12 a.m. CST

    Finished the book last night...(Spoilers)

    by Jack Burton

    I read the last 200 pages in one sitting. The book is great. Within the first 10 minutes of arriving in the 1300's, 2 people are dead, the lab is destroyed, and the heroes are separated from each other in a world that really only one of them understands. It is very Crichton in the respect that a team is sent to do something that they are unprepared to handle and just go from crisis to crisis until the breakneck conclusion. This film has to be have an "R" rating. It is brutal and will lose it's impact if it is toned down. As for casting, I have no idea really. I think Patrick Stewart would make a good Professor, Vin Diesel (as was mentioned) would probably make a good Marek, other then that, ...? This movie is going to be big. There are multiple large settings in the book, and even if they condense passages, it still requires large scale battles and locations. This one should be a lot of fun!

  • Aug. 18, 2008, 7:08 a.m. CST

    bad, bad, bad, bad, bad movie...

    by just pillow talk

    And yet it warms my heart to catch it when on sci-fi...