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Time Traveler's Wife, The (Blu-ray Review)

7 Feb, 2010 By: John Latchem

Street 2/9/10
Sci-Fi Romance
Box Office $63.4 million
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray
Rated 'PG-13' for thematic elements, brief disturbing images, nudity and sexuality.
Stars Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Arliss Howard, Ron Livingston.

You think they would have learned their lesson after The Lake House.


Seriously. You’d think someone in one of these movies would have at least seen “Back to the Future” or something. Nope. Instead, they kind of go about their business as if all of this is unknown territory. It’s as if the writers don’t expect the audience to be familiar with this kind of material, and then dumb it down to the point where it’s stripped down of any sense of wonder and left to stand on it’s own without any subtlety. (And if you are in the audience that has no familiarity with this at all, well lucky for you).

I admit, the concept is intriguing, and I applaud the filmmakers for their effort. But come on.

Here, we have the story of a man (Eric Bana) who can travel through time due to a genetic disorder. He can only jump during the time frame of his own life for some reason, except when the plot needs him to go beyond that. Like some ill-advised hybrid between The Notebook and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, at some point he engages in a creepy relationship with a little girl, who grows up to be his wife (Rachel McAdams), who meets him before he meets the little girl and tells him they will get married. Um, OK. It’s a textbook causality loop, a story that plays out on a self-contained cycle, where everything only exists for the sake of itself.

The gimmicky plot distracts from the love story, which only exists to serve the plot. The movie thinks it’s being clever and it’s just being ridiculous. It’s based on a novel, of course, which I suspect isn’t any less absurd, but on the page probably plays out a bit more credibly. The thing is, its time travel gimmick is inherently more interesting than the love story it seeks to expose.

The only saving grace in the movie is the presence of Ron Livingston, who seems like the only normal person around. His reactions are as genuine as can be expected in this movie, and a smarter film might have fitted him with a rudimentary pop culture knowledge, letting him get in some good quips that fit the situation. See “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” for further examples.

Instead, Time Traveler’s Wife plays like a bad episode of “Star Trek: Voyager” (not that there were many good ones). Contrast Bana here with his other time-traveling role in 2009, that Nero in Star Trek.

The thing about goofy sci-fi concepts like time travel is that they’re meant to be fun, if not in execution then at least in consideration. Time Traveler’s Wife takes itself too seriously, and that’s a pity. What could have been an interesting exploration of both concept and character is instead an exercise in logic and non-linear storytelling.

One needs only watch the featurettes that come with the disc (one is exclusive to the Blu-ray) to get a sense of what went wrong. It's always regrettable to see filmmakers pour themselves into a piece of work that doesn't yield the intended effect. It's clear the cast and crew have such affection for the material, and the writer and director are filled with such wonderful ideas of what they think it means. And in a very narrow interpretation of the film, those ideas of memory and destiny do come across. They're just overwhelmed by the silliness of it all. The story is so caught up in telling itself it doesn't leave room for the characters to manifest themselves in a way that doesn't service the predestined timeline. Then again, maybe that's the point.

I know what you're thinking. "But wait! Movies like It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Destiny deal in alternate realities, and but you wouldn't call them sci-fi." Well no, I would call them fantasy. And I wouldn't saddle them with the chick flick label.

See, Time Traveler's Wife presents an absurd premise — that a man can randomly travel through time — with the explanation that he was born with the genetic ability to do so. That's a scientific explanation (relatively speaking), and it's the same reason the mutants in X-Men have their powers.

And one of the conceits of science-fiction is the way it can use absurd concepts to explore real ideas. In this case, we have a love story in which one of the people experiences the relationship out of order. It meets all the standards of science-fiction, even if it would rather be a chick flick.


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