"The Time Traveler's Wife" is a romantic, tragic, sci-fi hodgepodge of fate. To deconstruct it with an analytical mind would be a foolish proposition, confronting material that plays with fantasy conceits to create its very own identity, free from the binding straps of realism. It's a film that needs to be granted permission to be magical and mysterious, to take the audience to unfamiliar places of time and heart. It's a lovely picture, but something that's best approached in a relaxed state of mind.
Since he was a young boy, Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) has been able to time travel due to a genetic disorder called "Chrono-Displacement," forcing him to stumble through his fractured existence. Meeting Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams) one afternoon at his library job, Henry finds the soul mate he never knew he had, learning that he visited Clare in the past from the future, building a relationship with the impressionable woman throughout the years. Forging a unique bond, Clare and Henry decide to get married, though life with a man in flux starts to wear on Clare's patience. Henry, eager to slow down his condition, finds help from a geneticist (Stephen Tobolowsky), but soon learns that no matter what he does in the past, present, or future, he can't fight his fate.
There's a gentle breeze to "Wife" that prevented me from standard critical dissection, where the logical mind confronts extreme imagination and goes berserk. "Wife" is a fantastical story of devotion spread across years and dimensions, and it's to director Robert Schwentke's credit that the picture finds a warmly enigmatic tone that wards away all the doubts and the questions. Adapted from the novel by Audrey Niffenegger by "Ghost" scripter Bruce Joel Rubin, "Wife" features a cat's cradle of a plot, examining Henry as he marches back and forth through time, futilely attempting to shape something of a peaceful routine in the process. It's a complex narrative structure meant to disorient the viewer, heightening the tragic aspect of the tale. The filmmakers locate the proper channels of bewilderment early on, and as more romantic entanglements are introduced while Henry and Clare get to know each other, "Wife" boils away the concern to reveal a smooth, glassy surface of moony romanticism.
For a novel-to-screen transition, there are very few hiccups to distract "Wife" from the business at hand. Outside of Clare and her slightly undercooked state of shock (she's well played by McAdams, only lacking exacting individuality in the face of surreal absenteeism), "Wife" stays on target, focusing on Henry's unhinged routine as man who quite literally falls in and out of his own life. Schwentke ("Flightplan") balances the disorientation and acceptance wonderfully, submitting a bundle of emotions captured well in Bana's poignant performance. Henry doesn't drag himself as if cursed, he reveals himself to be more of a strategist, looking to aim his disorder to keep himself in Clare's company for as long as possible, in whatever time frame possible. Again, there's a lot of ground to cover in the story to help make sense of Henry's situation. With very little in the way of adaptation clutter, "Wife" is a steady mystery and gradual tear-jerker, as Henry and Clare begin to sense a disturbing finality to their journey, leaving the couple in a frenzy to circumvent the inevitable.
It's a movie of romantic mystery, with specialized visual cues, and I'm relieved that the VC-1 encoded image (2.40:1 aspect ratio) respects the cinematographic concern. Shadow detail is the only real downside to this BD, as several of the evening interiors come across overtly clouded and contrasted. The rest of the visual experience is generous, with the amped color scheme coming across crisp and distinct, helping to thicken the elements of the unknown. Facial detail is acceptable, with some scenes better than others. The visual effects look magnificent, with all seams properly covered.
The DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix for "Time Traveler's Wife" accentuates the wrinkly pieces of tragedy and mystery, with a healthy focus on the various sound cues that follow Henry's journey through time. The nuances are wonderful, and while the surrounds aren't nearly as engaged as hoped, there's a strong pulse provided by scoring and sound effects, creating a welcome mood. LFE response comes with Henry's more violent jumps (the opening car crash of the film retains memorable force), and dialogue feels suitably balanced with the rest of the musical and atmospheric effort.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are presented.
"An Unconventional Love Story" (25:55) delivers far more than the typical BTS featurette would, delving into the film's production in a grandly satisfying fashion. The mini-doc walks through almost the entire cycle of filmmaking, making brief but informative stops at location hunting, prop making, scoring, scripting, and the creation of visual "echoes" that help connect the film's dramatic intent. Cast and crew interviews are almost existential in their consideration, which enlivens the piece beyond the norm of empty praise. It's beautifully crafted.
"Love Beyond Words" (21:06) focuses on the troubles of adaptation, and how the product felt the need to please fans while enticing newcomers with "shifting perspectives" and a general reworking of Henry's trauma. The featurette is helpful in the manner it provides examples of scripted deviations, with writer Bruce Joel Rubin calmly reflecting on his challenges and hopes for the final product.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
Again, either you buy into this fantasy or you'll be left out in the cold, trying to make sense out of the story's intangible, incomprehensible qualities (not unlike the 1980 cult smash "Somewhere in Time"). "The Time Traveler's Wife" is a mood piece on the concept of free will, smashed into the center of an engrossing, if staccato, love story. It's beautifully crafted and endearingly old-fashioned all the way; an alluring soap opera for those who like to dive into the deep end of the syrup pool.