I kept doing what every fantasy should never allow one to do--question it every step of the way.

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.

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 and 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 reproduce the movie's 2.40:1 ratio picture in anamorphic widescreen. The look of the film is deep and rich but at the same time pretty dark and often oversaturated, with soft, fuzzy detailing in close-ups. In its favor, the picture is very good at showing the colors of grass, trees, leaves, and flowers, and a light, natural film grain does give the image texture. Still, that doesn't make it entirely realistic, since faces show up much too dark, and more shadowy areas of the screen reveal little inner detail.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack doesn't display a lot of dynamic range, frequency range, or surround activity, which is about what one should expect of a romance film, so, understand, I am not complaining. Mostly, we get dialogue and soft background music. There are maybe a couple of times when we hear any serious bass, transient impact, or sounds in the rear or side speakers. Still, the dialogue is fairly clear and clean.

The primary bonus item is a featurette, "The Time Traveler's Wife: Love Beyond Words," twenty-one minutes, with an emphasis on the screen adaptation of the book. Otherwise, it is pretty commonplace. The only other things are a flock of trailers at start-up only; twenty-six scene selections; English as the only spoken language; Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
The Wife-O-Meter thought the film was rather formulaic, but it still 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. Oh, well...


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