TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE, THE - Blu-ray review

The movie is fraught with inconsistencies.... Far from making me shed a tear, it just made me mad.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

Didn't we just see this movie a few years back? Only then the title was "The Lake House," and it starred Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. Or was it the old Christopher Reeve movie, "Somewhere in Time"? Heck, maybe I'm thinking of Malcolm McDowell in "Time After Time" or Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman in "Kate & Leopold" or Rod Taylor in "The Time Machine," or even Brad Pitt (who co-produced the present film) in "Benjamin Button." Who knows. Writers love to play with time.

The nice thing about 2009's "The Time Traveler's Wife" is that at least the title tells you almost everything you need to know about the film. Directed by Robert Schwentke ("Flightplan") and based on the best-selling novel by Audrey Niffenegger, the movie is a fantasy-romance about a woman whose husband keeps flying off through time. Inconvenient at best, I'd say, and one that not even Blu-ray high definition can resolve.

Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) is the husband involved. He explains that he has a rare genetic disease that causes him spontaneously and unwillingly to disappear and travel around through time. He says he doesn't know where or when he'll end up, except that he's always naked on the other side because he can't take his clothes with him. This necessitates that he steal money and apparel wherever he winds up. And he can't change anything that's already happened. He also seems confused about how to deal with his condition. At one point he's working as a penniless library clerk, living in a hovel; the next minute he's showing Claire how to win a million-dollar lottery, and they're living in a mansion. Sometimes he remembers who and what he is when he time travels; sometimes he doesn't. Conveniently, however, he always seems able to return to exactly where he started, usually anywhere from a few days to a few weeks later.

Claire Abshire (Rachel McAdams) is the wife involved. The film wants us to accept her as a patient, loving, understanding spouse, willing to put up with her husband's erratic comings and goings. The problem is that one minute she's exactly that--patient and loving and understanding--and the next minute she's irrational and unreasonable. She knows what she's getting into when she marries the guy, yet she often gets angry or annoyed when he flies off to some other time zone. This is akin to marrying a person with a known heart disease and then getting angry when the person has a heart attack. How fair is that? Afterwards, Henry explains to Claire that they should not have children because he's afraid of passing on his condition to an offspring, which not only sets her into a tizzy fit but prompts her to trick Henry into having a kid, anyway. So much for patient and loving and forget about understanding.

Maybe the author meant the story as a dark comedy. When Henry's best friend first finds out about Henry's condition and says to Claire, "He just disappeared," Claire responds saying, "Yeah, it's a problem." Wonderful understatement. Later, Claire says time travel is "kinda magical." Kinda?! It's a downright miracle, and she says "kinda"? Still later, we learn that Claire's parents are rich Republicans, the white-haired father an avid hunter. Shades of Dick Cheney and more black comedy, given the circumstances of an ending I won't reveal. I dunno.

Moreover, there's a recurring event where Henry meets Claire as a child in a meadow near her home. It's a little creepy, actually, his talking to this little girl who will grow up to love and marry him. Why does he do it? He tells us he cannot control where he time travels, yet he manages to transport himself to the meadow and the little girl time after time, presumably to get her to fall in love with him. He even tells the child Claire at one point exactly when he's going to return and to be ready with clothing.

So, the movie is fraught with inconsistencies. It's not so much off-putting as it is frustrating. Some further examples: We find characters showing up whom we practically never see again, like Henry's aforementioned best friend, Gomez (Ron Livingston). Henry meets Gomez; Gomez learns of Henry's condition; Gomez disappears until the end of the movie. What's the point? Next, we meet Henry's alcoholic, violinist father (Arliss Howard), and then he, too, disappears for most of the rest of the story. Afterward, we meet Henry's geneticist (Stephen Tobolowsky). When Henry first tells him about his rare disease, the geneticist doesn't believe him, and Henry walks off in disgust. Should the geneticist's reaction have come as such a surprise to Henry? Nothing makes even "what-if" sci-fi/fantasy sense in this movie.

"The Time Traveler's Wife" is basically a contrived, episodic, melodramatic soap opera whose sole purpose (beyond some vague metaphoric messages about cherishing the present and loving who you're with) is to tug at the heartstrings and make us shed a tear by the end. Far from making me shed a tear, it just made me mad. Perhaps the story read better as a book because it surely doesn't translate well to the screen.

The New Line video engineers use a VC-1 codec and single-layer BD25 to reproduce the movie's 2.40:1 ratio picture on Blu-ray disc. The high-definition picture is a decided improvement upon the standard-def image, to be sure, but it still probably isn't as good as it could be. Unless the original print of the film looked dark and oversaturated, with soft detailing in close-ups. In its favor, the picture is very good at reproducing grass, trees, leaves, and flowers in deep, rich colors, with a light, natural film grain giving the image texture. All the same, that doesn't make it entirely realistic.

While I would never complain about any film on disc using a lossless codec like DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, in this case it's somewhat like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The fact is, the soundtrack doesn't display a lot of dynamic range, frequency extremes, or surround activity to show off the capabilities of the advanced audio format. Mostly, we get dialogue and soft background music. There are maybe a couple of times when we hear any deep bass, transient impact, or noises in the rear or side speakers; nevertheless, that's about what one should expect of a romance film, so, as I say, I cannot complain.

The two main bonuses are a pair of featurettes. The first is exclusive to the Blu-ray disc, "An Unconventional Love Story." It's twenty-six minutes long, with behind-the-scenes footage and the cast and crew discussing the making of the film. After that is a second featurette, "The Time Traveler's Wife: Love Beyond Words," twenty-one minutes, more of the same, this time with the emphasis on the screen adaptation of the book.

Things wind down with twenty-five scene selections; a digital copy of the film for iTunes and Windows Media, the offer expiring February 8, 2011; a slipcover for the keep case; English and German the spoken languages (despite what the keep case says); German, Dutch, and Spanish subtitles (again, despite what the keep case says); and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
The Wife-O-Meter thought the film was rather formulaic, yet it kept her attention; she'd give it a 6/10. Maybe it's the difference between a woman's perception of love and romance and a man's. In my case, I, too, thought the movie was formulaic, but it didn't keep my attention. I kept doing what every fantasy should never allow one to do--question it every step of the way. Even when I tried to think of the story as a metaphor or a fable, it didn't help. There were too many contradictions in the narrative to allow it to work its magic on me, and the Blu-ray picture and sound weren't enough to help matters. Oh, well...


Film Value