Warner Bros. // 2009 // 107 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // February 8th, 2010
Clock time is our bank manager /
tax collector, police inspector /
this inner time is our wife.
-- J.B. Priestly, "Man and Time"
Before Audrey Niffenegger's first novel became a worldwide best-seller, Brad Pitt (of all people) bought the rights to bring it to the screen. Released as counter-programming in Fall of 2009, The Time Traveler's Wife did decent box office business. It was also greeted with a fair amount of negative reviews. Is it worth a second look?
As a young boy, Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana, Star Trek (2009)) miraculously survived a car accident which killed his mother. Right before his mother smashed into a truck, Henry literally dissolved into thin air, only to find himself back on the highway. It's only then he realizes he has a special gift; traveling through time. The catch is he never knows where he's going to be transported or when.
Twenty years later, Henry is working as a librarian in Chicago. One day, he's approached by the beautiful Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams, The Notebook), who claims to know him as someone who used to visit her when she was a child. Henry doesn't recognize her at first, but soon realizes Clare is the woman he's going to marry. However, his time traveling genetic disorder is getting worse, threatening their ideal union.
The romantic magic of Niffenegger's book takes some time to generate, but it's still one of the best novels I've read in the past year. At first glance, it looks like a forgettable cross between Richard Matheson's Bid Time Return (filmed as Somewhere In Time) and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. Trust me, it's better than that. The book is a hauntingly romantic and emotionally stirring journey of two people who come together under unusual circumstances. Some may find the time travel mechanizations and constant perspective shifting too much to take, thus opening the door to multiple reads.
Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin was faced with a challenge in adapting Niffenegger's complex narrative. However, this is one of his fortes -- as proven through other romantic weepers such as Ghost and My Life -- and he does an adequate job here, condensing a 500-page novel into a workable script. Rubin introduces and develops the two primary characters in compelling fashion, slowly brewing the conflicts as the romance consummates. It's far from a perfect adaptation, but works well enough to avoid becoming too trite or illogical.
Most cynics will have a difficult time accepting a love story with a time-travel aesthetic, as the explanation of his traveling "rules" take a backseat to how Henry and Clare meet, fall in love, and get married. Sure, it's tempting to question The Time Traveler's Wife on its numerous leaps of faith, but why bother? As long as you don't think about it too much, the film is absorbing in its intimacy.
What really makes The Time Traveler's Wife a cut above most screen romances is the luminous Rachel McAdams. She practically glows in every scene, at the same time creating a moving portrait of a woman vowing to love a man who frequently disappears without warning. She's fully aware of the complications and repercussions seeping into the marriage, yet remains hopelessly devoted. Unfortunately, Eric Bana suffers in comparison, only barely achieving adequacy in his role as the time traveler, never quite capturing the spirit and soul of the character in the novel.
Despite Bana's miscasting, the entire cast and crew deserves gold stars for their passionate effort. Director Robert Schwentke (Flightplan) and cinematographer Florian Ballhaus work overtime to give the picture a distinctive texture, subduing colors when appropriate to create a sense of foreboding. Outdoor shots are panoramically gorgeous, emphasized in the 2.40:1 print in 1080p widescreen and VC-1 encode. Black levels and flesh tones are practically perfect, there's a small amount of natural grain present but nothing too distracting, and the visual effects shine through gracefully.
The only audio track offered is in DTS-HD 5.1 MA but it delivers, with equal attention paid to the sound effects and a lovely score by Mychael Danna (Capote). Environmental noise is authentic and uncompromised. Dialogue is clearly heard in the center channel, with English SDH and Spanish subtitles offered for those who need them.
Bonus material is limited to two featurettes, both excellent. "An Unconventional Love Story," runs approximately 26 minutes and combines behind-the-scenes footage with a generous amount of interviews. While Niffenegger is disappointingly absent, we have the Schwentke, Rubin, and others talking about their approach to the project, as well as the casting process. Other speakers include Danna and the producers. Exclusive to the Blu-ray release, "Love Beyond Words," runs 21 minutes and focuses primarily on Rubin's decisions in adapting the novel and how the actors chose to play their roles. A digital copy is also included, though it's only valid for one year.
My one major problem with The Time Traveler's Wife is it never soars as emotionally as it could. The conclusion, in particular, is too pat and predictable to make one reach for the tissues, which is a shame because every inch of the film was made with obvious care and affection. I don't know who is to blame, but it almost seems like someone was afraid to take advantage of the story's tear-jerking potential. I could also complain about several key changes made from the book, but that would be pointless, as the romance and the leads' chemistry are credible enough to overlook such trivialities.
The film version of The Time Traveler's Wife has its faults, but still comes recommended. Kudos to Warner Bros. for a superlative Blu-ray treatment, making this disc a worthwhile investment for fans.
Review content copyright © 2010 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Digital Copy
* Official Site