Warner Bros. // 2009 // 107 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Katie Herrell (Retired) // February 9th, 2010
"I wouldn't change one second of our life together."
I love the book The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and I love the movie -- something I don't see as a contradiction. Because despite the frequent complaint that the movie doesn't hew close enough to the book, the movie is visually stunning with strong acting and a compelling storyline that it is able to stand on its own merits.
Henry (Eric Bana, Munich), due to a genetic mutation, time travels. He doesn't know when and he doesn't know where, but it happens with such frequency and irregularity that his life is a shamble of time and space. That is until he meets Clare (Rachel McAdams, The Notebook), as a child and a woman and a wife, and his fluid life gains meaning, grave importance, and a tremendous, lovable burden.
When The Time Traveler's Wife opens we meet Henry as a little boy. We don't know how or why (a regular theme of the movie) but it soon becomes apparent, through a seamless special effect technique that carries throughout the movie, that Henry disappears into time.
Representing time travel on film is a cinematic calling card for the directors who have done it well. There is the Back to the Future series of time travel and the Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure time travel. Then of course there are the myriad smoke and mirror attempts that blend into one another. This movie's trademark is more about time overtaking a person -- or time calling a person back -- than it is about the physical travel. Henry seeps into the ether, like a giant hidden eraser is fuzzing his visage. Only the gentle "thwump" of his empty clothes hitting the ground, or the sound of a dropped glass or plate hitting the floor, indicates his disappearance. Through this technique the audience, much like Henry, never knows when he will disappear. And by not over embellishing Henry's time travel the movie becomes less science fiction and more love story. While Henry's form of time travel may not be a hook the director (Robert Schwentke, Tattoo, Flightplan) and screenwriters (Jeremy Leven, The Notebook and Bruce Joel Rubin, My Life) can forever hang their hat on, it is effective for this particular film.
The constant flux of Henry is confusing, especially when two different age Henrys appear in the same scene. On the excellent featurette "Love Beyond Words" -- where the main characters, director, and screenwriter candidly discuss the science fiction elements of the movie as well as the challenge of taking a long, popular novel and condensing it for a broad, general audience -- we learn that one of the challenges of this film is the preconceived notions, or "rules," regarding time travel. If you are a rules person this movie, and likely the book, will not be appealing in the least.
But The Time Traveler's Wife does not flaunt the rules of logic just because. Instead this movie focuses on the illogical nature of love and it does that successfully through two excellent main characters who rely as much on looks, and glances, and fleeting touches to convey their care for one another as they do on dialogue and physical interaction. Through a carefully orchestrated wardrobe (red/orange color palette) and little direct lighting Clare seems to constantly be partially glowing and partially hidden. The little girl version of Clare -- who is no less in love with Henry than her older self -- is an over saturated version of reality. Her hair is more perfect and the grass she plays on is greener than reality because she is always a memory to the main story line and the main characters. The movie then cuts to the "present," whatever that really is, by zooming in on the eyes of the character that is having the memory. This technique is subtle in the film and only when the director points it out in the special feature does it become obvious. This technique is in no way a substitute for the complex story telling of the novel (which alternates point of view and time in history with regularity), but it is an effective way to tell one story for multiple perspectives.
Another thing that becomes obvious after watching the special feature is that Eric Bana is not American. His strong Australian accent is extremely well masked in the film, to the point that I was shocked when I heard him talk in the special feature. Less well executed is his constant change of age throughout the film. If not for varying shades of gray in his hair, it is difficult to discern when the old vs. the young Henry has arrived on screen. Partially this is due to the fact that when Henry is not time traveling, he does everything in his power not to stand out and this is reflected in his drab wardrobe and his muted mannerisms and facial expression. In many ways Clare is the hot to Henry's cold and while the two actors don't necessarily seem destined for one another, they are both strong enough performers that they are able to fake love if not chemistry.
While this movie is rich, charged even, with emotion it is the kind of emotion kept behind closed doors or beneath cloudy skies. Only once do I remember seeing the sun in full in the film and then it is in a very symbolic matter. Frequently the couple's interactions are framed by bedroom walls or doors, as if no one on the outside can fully be on the inside. And only on the couple's wedding day, or when older Henry meets younger Clare in a verdant meadow (again mostly memories) are there tangible, living colors...or glowing white. The music caters nicely to this ethos, with strings and orchestral sounds that pulse in the background -- with the exception of the band at their wedding reception. The brashness of this band must have been an audio editing mistake.
For these reasons, The Time Traveler's Wife is one of a handful that actually lends itself to the small screen (television). It is an intimate movie best viewed through a narrow perspective, just like the characters view one another.
If I truly picked apart this movie I could see its flaws. Anyone with an ounce of realism would scoff at this tale of time travel and love. And anyone with a deep love of books would dismiss the very notion of trying to transform a book of this complexity into a mainstream movie. When a book is such a surprising, blockbuster success, its pedestal is almost too high for any movie camera.
Even on the second viewing The Time Traveler's Wife held up, with its cinematic power. And even when the special features dispelled some of the romanticism of the film by showing the wide angle view of making a movie -- all the cameras and tech people surrounding the actors as they made a scene come to life in a shoe box, in essence -- the powerful story and positive feelings still lingered.
Review content copyright © 2010 Katie Herrell; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Official Site