Thursday, August 27, 2009

26th August 09 - The Time Traveler's Wife

You won’t catch me willingly watching a “romance” film very often. Particularly one whose trailer featured soft lighting and a seemingly pobby plot. But Time Traveler’s Wife (TTW) happens to be a fabulous book. A traditional romance with a sci-fi twist, shades of darkness bold enough to provoke tears even when reading, and characters who are fully developed. It is a genius concept – a man who involuntarily time travels throughout his life, with resulting interactions with his wife throughout hers. An idea too genius to miss in film world. But can Mr film world match the book?

Well, it’s the age old problem – how do you match all the intricacies of a full blown novel with a 120 minute piece of film? The answer is mostly: you can’t. Very few films come close to accomplishing such feats, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create a great film in the process. The film has solid foundations on which to settle, tackling a tricky criss-cross time structure with a smart, simplified, streamlined approach. Anything else would have confused the average cinema pleb.

Eric Bana takes the lead as the time traveller, dashing but quiet, somewhat understated but encapsulating my idea of Henry from the book. Rachel McAdams is “the wife” Claire, suitably sassy and doe-eyed but a tad skeletal for my liking. The crux of the story is there, certainly with enough oomph to build emotions that instil weird leaking eye effects. Not sure what that’s all about. And the pitfalls and complexities of Henry’s time travel add a meaty layer to an otherwise basic love story.

But – and of course there’s a but – the film only served as a reminder of how good the book is. Fleeting scenes spark memories of whole chapters, incidents lightly touched upon remind you of much grander events. The leaky eye effect only triggers with the knowledge of what’s to come. Without such a solid book behind it, is this film really worth much?

The major trouble is, though this is a good adaptation, the book is so deep and complex, anything but feels somewhat lacking. In particular the choice to avoid certain areas – Claire’s entire family backstory, making her another atypical Hollywood woman whose only function is to see how many vertebrae she can show in the obligatory post-sex shot (go on – count them!), and a rather major medical consequence is missed out, which sparked the start of the general feeling of doom that clouds the last part of the book. Without these, the film begins to feel like a diluted version of the book. A diet novel. A novel-zero. Tastes like the real thing, but ultimately is a shitter version.

My non-novel reader informants tell me the film is still enjoyable without the novel background, but my novel-reader comrade concurs that though the film is reasonable, there is still a feeling of disappointment, particularly considering the film avoids the cinematic and beautiful ending.

So, a difficult one to grade. On the one hand, a unique take on the romance genre, dragging it into complex time travel paradoxes and no doubt boggling the minds of the usual audience for romance trite. On the other this is a cop-out adaptation of a dark book, side-stepping any unpleasantries for a smooth-ish ride. Was the enjoyment and emotion purely an echo of memories from reading the novel, rather than the film itself? Not sure. But despite the disappointment, it was already obvious that a film couldn’t match the book and needed to stand on its own. As such, TTW gets a recommendation for being something different for non-readers, and an extra point for grasping some aspect of what made the book so good. But it can’t climb any higher. The novel itself? CF4. The film: CF1

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