The Time Traveler's Wife

(2009) ** 1/2 Pg-13
108 min. New Line Cinema. Director: Robert Schwentke. Cast: Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana, Ron Livingston, Jane McLean, Arliss Howard.

/content/films/3532/1.jpgPerhaps I see too many movies (perhaps?) but every movie from New Line Cinema in the last decade looks like it was directed by the same person. If I had to pick out that individual, I’d guess it was Nick Cassavetes, the man who made New Line’s romantic-drama smash The Notebook. With that film’s female lead (Rachel McAdams) in tow, The Time Traveler’s Wife is like The Notebook with a sci-fi twist, and the mostly generic direction by Robert Schwentke (Flightplan) does nothing to dispel my theory.

The novelty here will draw in those who wouldn’t be caught dead at a film version of a Nicholas Sparks novel, which this isn’t but resembles in tone. Adapted by Bruce Joel Rubin from Audrey Niffenegger’s novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife offers the screenwriter the sort of metaphysical material—often romantic—at which he has excelled in pictures like Ghost, My Life, and Jacob’s Ladder. With her usual aplomb, McAdams plays Clare Abshire, a Chicago artist destined to marry the time-hopping Henry DeTamble (the undervalued Eric Bana, working overtime). Plagued by a genetic anomaly dubbed “chrono-impairment,” Henry unpredictably and against his will jumps in time, making him the ultimate in unreliable romantic partners.

The film can be as frustratingly remote as Henry, especially in its ambivalence toward its own internal logic. Inconsistencies and questions pile up. Though Henry says he can’t change his past, he more than once uses future knowledge to influence events. Time-travel renders Henry naked, suggesting he would constantly lose his wedding ring out on the street. And how exactly does he hold down his job as a research librarian? Never mind. The Time Traveler’s Wife is meant to be poetic, a swoony romance in the tradition of Somewhere in Time and The Lake House.

The unusual circumstances enable quite a bit of humor and mystery, but they also seriously cut down on the film’s relevance. How many can relate to a first date that includes the statement “You’re my best friend. I’ve been in love with you all my life”? The knotty plot allows Henry to compete with himself and Clare to be jealous of herself; there’s also the suggestion of bigamy/infidelity with one’s own spouse and the possibility of emotional statutory rape in Henry’s visits to the childhood Clare (ewwww...). Still, some of the novel’s even weirder ideas (Henry having a sexual experience with himself, for example) are too provocative for this studiously smooth studio movie to handle.

The Time Traveler’s Wife isn’t very deep, but it can be taken as a metaphor for lovingly coping with the inconvenience and emotional whiplash of illness. More to the point, this love story made up of signs and wonders suggests to savor the time you have. One conversation effectively sums up the experience. “Is it too weird?” Henry asks. “No,” Clare replies. “It’s kind of magical.”

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 2/9/2010

Distributor: Warner Home Video

On Blu-ray, The Time Traveler's Wife stuns with vibrant color and ultra-sharp detail. Though the extreme sharpness can sometimes backfire into fleetingly noticeable edge enhancement or ringing, there's little reason to complain: contrast and black level are well calibrated and the color stays true to the filmmakers' intent for a mostly breathtaking visual experience. A subtle but undeniably effective DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix provides the audio equivalent, sharply rendering the theatrical experience for the home with clear dialogue prioritization and pleasingly sensitive ambience.

Special features are limited in breadth (there are only two), but provide substantial depth. Kudos to New Line for including two genuinely interesting making-of featurettes produced by the film's production company. "An Unconventional Love Story" (25:55, HD) covers the filmmakers' approach to the story, conceptualization of time travel, and details of the design work done by various departments, along with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with director Robert Schwentke, producer Nick Wechsler, producer Dede Gardner, Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana, Alex Ferris, Michelle Nolden, production designer Jon Hutman, location manager Don Cornelius, props master Vic Rigler, Ron Livingston, music composer Mychael Danna, and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin.

"The Time Traveler's Wife: Love Beyond Words" (21:06, HD) maintains the same tone while focusing on character, themes and adaptation. Interviewees include interviews with McAdams, Bana, Rubin, Wechsler, Gardner, Schwentke, and Livingston.

Lastly, Warner sees fit to include a Digital Copy for added playback options.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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