Home > Reviews > THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE – Mychael Danna


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The belief that true love can conquer the boundaries of time and space is not a new one in the world of romantic cinema. Films like Somewhere in Time and Ghost have all toyed with the notion that a powerful interpersonal connection can survive beyond the realms of reality, beyond the realms of linear time, reveling in the strong emotions that such stories elicit. The latest such film to tackle the subject is The Time Traveler’s Wife, directed by Robert Schwentke and based on the popular novel by Audrey Niffenegger. Eric Bana stars as Henry DeTamble, a Chicago librarian with one unique feature: he involuntarily travels backwards and forwards in time, which obviously causes great problems for himself and his true love, Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams).

The music for The Time Traveler’s Wife is by Canadian composer Mychael Danna, whose career in film music has been very interesting to say the least. Danna is not known for his romance scores; with the exception of titles like Bounce, Kama Sutra and Lilies – which all have elements of romance and sexuality but are in no way conventionally “romantic” – his career to date has been mainly in the world of serious drama, so it’s nice to see his talents being put to use in a different setting here. Danna is also not known for his straightforward, attractive orchestral writing, because although he has certainly written some beautiful moments in his scores – Ararat, Being Julia, The Nativity Story, Hearts in Atlantic, and so on – his work has generally been typified by unconventional orchestrations and a predilection to take musical inspiration from the Middle East. This is not the case here.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is probably the most conventionally attractive score of Danna’s career to date. As befits the nature of the story, it has a longing, slightly wistful quality, in addition to a great deal of emotional tenderness, underscoring not only the passionate love between the protagonists, but also the sense of loss and loneliness felt by Clare during Henry’s metaphysical absences.

English cellist Andrew Shulman, the principal cellist of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, carries a great deal of the score’s emotional content, bringing his virtuoso instrumental performance to bear on cues such as “Diary”, the gorgeous “I Don’t Feel Alone Anymore”, and the poignant first half of “I Never Had a Choice”, which are wholly lovely. Similarly, Danna uses gentle woodwinds, soft pianos, and searching, light strings to capture the hesitant beginnings of the film’s central love story. Cues like “Meadow”, “How Does It Feel?” and the beautiful “It’s a Girl” have a fragility and innocence which is delightful.

Some of the orchestrations are occasionally somewhat unconventional; Danna uses gongs and Gamelan bowls, tinkling percussion, and sprightly plucked strings in a way which is occasionally reminiscent of Thomas Newman. Cleverly, Danna is able to skew the tone of the performance to suit his needs, giving cues such as “Home” a light, whimsical air, but later making “Testing” seem harsher, even a little threatening. Danna has used a palette similar to this throughout his career, so for those who have heard plenty of his earlier works this will come as no surprise, but it’s certainly unusual for them to be employed so well in this setting.

Counterbalancing the romance is an unusual, slightly harsh-sounding synth effect, which is clearly intended to be a musical marker for the time travel element of the story. The motif bends and turns in on itself, playing backwards and forwards, mirroring Henry’s time-shifting non-linear life, and echoing the way his unpredictable presence insinuates upon on Alice’s life. It appears in many cues, most prominently in “I’m You Henry”, “Meadow”, “How Does It Feel?”, “Married to Me”, and in the significantly darker pair of “Do You Know When” and “I Never Had a Choice”, but in truth the effect hangs over the majority of the score, fleetingly ducking in and out of the orchestral performances for a second here and there, always making its presence felt. Just like Henry’s curse, the synth motif is omnipresent, but never fully realized, hanging tantalizingly on the fringes of the score waiting to spoil the party.

It is in the three finale cues – “New Year’s Eve”, “No Tracks in the Snow” and “See You Again” – that Danna brings his orchestra up to its emotional high point, building from a tender piano solo, moving through a further performance of Shulman’s sonorous cello, until it reaches its beautiful, moving conclusion. I love Danna’s music when he writes like this, when he lets his musical inhibitions go and tugs at the heartstrings. It’s not manipulative, and not melodramatic, but these ten minutes are amongst the loveliest of Danna’s career to date.

Three songs – an operatic version of the old German Christmas hymn “Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen”, Broken Social Scene’s cover of the Joy Division post-punk classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, and the emo rock romance song “Broken” by Lifehouse – add to the album, reminding us that this is a contemporary love story, and with the latter increasing the potential for album sales no end. The motif from Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen also works its way into the warm montage score cue “Five Years” to clever effect.

Anyone who has limited experience of Danna’s music, or who has been unwilling to take the plunge into his filmography due to the perceived “unusual” nature of his work, may find The Time Traveler’s Wife a perfect place to start. It is approachable and thematic enough to give those who have more conservative tastes something to appreciate, while simultaneously allowing some of the more experimental techniques to be introduced. Similarly, it also gives those who already known and appreciate Danna’s work a long-awaited look at his more classically emotional side; it is from this angle that I approach this score, and why I like it so much.

Rating: ****

Buy the Time Traveler’s Wife soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Es Ist Ein Ros (0:51)
  • I’m You Henry (2:30)
  • Meadow (3:19)
  • How Does It Feel? (1:59)
  • Diary (1:21)
  • Train (1:43)
  • I Don’t Feel Alone Anymore (2:22)
  • Love Will Tear Us Apart (written by Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris, performed by Broken Social Scene) (4:44)
  • Married to Me (1:04)
  • Home (1:36)
  • Do You Know When? (2:09)
  • Testing (1:04)
  • Alba (2:33)
  • I Never Had a Choice (2:58)
  • Who Would Want That (2:29)
  • I Left Him Sleeping (1:30)
  • It’s a Girl (2:58)
  • Five Years (2:03)
  • Try to Stay (1:40)
  • New Year’s Eve (1:55)
  • No Tracks in the Snow (1:48)
  • See You Again (5:42)
  • Broken (written by Jason Wade, performed by Lifehouse) (4:47)

Running Time: 55 minutes 05 seconds

New Line Records (2009)

Music composed by Mychael Danna. Conducted and orchestrated by Nicholas Dodd. Featured musical soloist Andrew Shulman. Recorded and mixed by Brad Haehnel. Edited by Richard Ford. Album produced by Mychael Danna.

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