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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 08.24.09] United Kingdom post apocalyptic movie review news script scifi thriller

Of all the zombie movies to hit in recent memory, few have sparked quite as much praise, criticism, debate or controversy as Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates' debut effort, The Zombie Diaries. Part faux-documentary, part shorts series, The Zombie Diaries may not have been everyone's cup of tea, but it showed the duo as budding film talents who understood the fundamental principles of how to make something out of nothing. Like a lot of low-budget hits before it, it was high on concept and low on production cost (ie. the documentary aesthetic), but by refusing to scrimp on story or direction, TZD got noticed fast and was scooped up by Weinstein's Dimension Extreme for American distribution.

Luckily for us, Michael Bartlett has become as much a fan of QE as we are of his work, so through the years since TZD we've kept in touch and have hounded him enough about his upcoming projects that I woke up one morning to find a draft of a film called "Timeless" in my inbox with a subject line that read "for your eyes only." To say I was stoked might just be the understatement of the year. See, Timeless is Bartlett's passion project - a smart, genre blending time travel story about lost love and redemption set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic London. Woah, right? This s#!% sounded so far off the hook I was dying dig in. So I started reading... and was done in just over an hour.

But there's a problem. While Bartlett and crew have granted us permission to share our thoughts on the screenplay, they're being understandably tight-lipped about releasing certain plot details, so there's a lot I can't get into here. Actually, pretty much everything. What I WILL say, is that the poster art you see before you actually holds many hints about the film's plot, tone and who Warren (the main character) is, what makes him tick and what he does for a living. So let's look at it in a little detail shall we?

We've got a guy in all black with his back to us, head slightly down. His pose suggests that he's a man of action but the way his gun hangs languidly beside him tells us that he's a thoughtful character and not some crazed zombie hunting hillbilly. And that gun - is that a military grade sniper rifle? This guy is obviously not your typical apocalypse survivor, so who is he? Ex-military? Assassin for hire? Either way this character is already fascinating isn't he? And of course he's looking at a half destroyed London, but we know there's time travel involved so how does that fit in? Will he put this devastation right, or is he somehow responsible for bringing it about? Sorry if I'm torturing you with questions, but it's my hope that posing them will intrigue you just as much as getting the answers.

Now, onto the script itself. I loved this script. Bartlett manages to play with all our favorite genre tropes and yet be totally original. I loved the world he creates. The way Bartlett has conceived the post-apocalyptic set-up is smart and how he presents it grabbed me right away. There’s no question that this future could actual happen. Warren, the main character, feels immediately strong and thoughtful and you're drawn to him and his story pretty much by the end of the second page. Honestly, it actually starts off this fantastic.

One of the things I’m definitely not supposed to talk about is the time travel aspect of the story, but I will say is that we've NEVER seen time travel handled like this in a film before. The way it happens is totally new and, quite honestly, a bit of a shocking twist that you don't see coming. If Bartlett succeeds in drawing people into his world so that they buy what's going on, Timeless has the potential to be an instant time travel classic just because of how he does it. When speaking with Bartlett about this I drew a thin parallel to the great French film La Jetee (which of course became the basis for 12 Monkeys), but, as I say, that's just a very thin parallel.

The screenplay features some of that great street dialog you only find it UK films. By the end of the first act I was thinking "man, this is like a dystopic Guy Ritchie flick" and yes, that's also another small story hint folks. It's quick witted and the lines come at you fast a furiously from some truly memorable characters.

There are two strong, but very different female leads. The first, Angel, is your classic “Daisy” character. She's "the one that got away" who Warren loves, but can’t help but pull into his cycle of violence. The other, Chelsea, is your typical “hooker with a heart of gold” (or in this case, "junkie with a heart of gold"). Both are strong female characters who play an intriguing role in the film’s larger arc, but in some way I felt each was given short shrift, which means Bartlett needs to make sure he casts two equally talented actresses in these roles give them the depth they need.

Actually, one thing Michael did speak to me about, was his desire to sign Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls, Post Grad) in the lead role of Angel. He told me that based on how she has been type-cast with such similar roles in TV and film, it would be a perfect opportunity for her to move away towards an edgier project. I have to tell you - based on the script - I think it would indeed be a win-win situation for both Timeless and Bledel, not to mention us fan-boys who would all love to see her in something like this.

I should also say that, despite what the poster may convey, this isn’t a script that features a ton of intrusive action set pieces. There are a couple of great beats and of course an adrenaline fueled third act, but with its time travel angle, amazing futuristic apocalypse set-up and moody atmosphere it easily sustains itself (and our interest) without a lot of gun-heavy mayhem getting in the way of the story.

To close this review, I'll repeat some feedback I gave to Bartlett right after reading the script for the first time. I told him that Timeless was reminiscent of how smart Franklyn tried to be, but that I was glad his story was less obtuse and arty in terms of how it laid out its narrative. I also told him that the film had a great Philip K. Dick vibe to it, because at some points you're not sure if what you're reading is actually even really happening (and honestly, I'm still not sure). I also provided Michael with a number of constructive comments regarding some of the subtleties of the script's architecture, which on a first read could lead some readers into scratching their heads. Such are the twists and turns of the narrative. Most importantly though, I told Bartlett that Timeless contained all the high melodrama and mythological underpinnings of early John Woo films. In fact, when I finished reading it, I had a similar reaction as when I first watched The Killer, John Woo's classic bullet opera about a killer who accidentally blinds a woman with a stray bullet and seeks redemption. I was floored by how dense it was with big themes and mythological scale musings, and that's something I felt about Timeless by its last page.

Personally, I've got my fingers crossed that this project gets off the ground soon. We know some names of actors that are either confirmed or in talks with the production right now and they are all pretty big. Hopefully we'll have more for you in the months to come. One thing we do know for sure is that Zombie Diaries co-director Kevin Gates is back on-board to work in tandem with Bartlett on the project. It’s awesome to know the old gang will be reuniting if/when cameras start to roll.

We know it’s not much to go on folks, but we hope this look, however short, has intrigued you and as soon as we're given the green light we'll give you even more information on the project.

If you are industry and want to know more about how to get involved in the Timeless project, contact Bartlett's manager, J.P. Henraux, of Shelter Entertainment at HENRAUX[at] (where "[at]" is replace with "@").

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Hot Fuzz (13 years ago) Reply

This sounds like it has everything I need in a movie. Bring it on.


Anonymous (13 years ago) Reply

so has he got finance for it yet? or any producers associated? whats the budget estimate? what are preferred locations? london is obv going to be too expensive?


agentorange (13 years ago) Reply

I don't know the exact funding details at the moment but Bartlett told me: "the film will be shot entirely in London."


PhantomSpaceCop (13 years ago) Reply

Sounds excellent. Honestly from looking at the poster I would have assumed it was yet another film about some tortured anti-hero who's forced to go and shoot things but your review gives me hope!


Stephen Wood (13 years ago) Reply

When i read `never been handled this way` in a article I worry.
I am not a fan of his work and don't subscribe to the cult of personality thats form around his previous and current work. But !

I must admit I want to give it a try.

BTW the way he's handling that rifle says to me, I have never shot s*&t what do I do, but thats me mr picky.


Rob Brown (13 years ago) Reply

I have to admit, this sounds really good. I've not seen Zombie Diaries, as to be honest I think there are one too many Zombie movies out there, but the reason this has me 'optimistic' is that it seems original. UK cinema is sorely lacking in original material.

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