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Why HBO Max’s The Time Traveler’s Wife is Better Than its Movie Adaption

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Kutztown chapter.


This summer, HBO Max reintroduced Audrey Niffenegger’s classic tale, The Time Traveler’s Wife. This story is about a man named Henry DeTamble who has a mysterious condition that makes him uncontrollably time travel to events in his past, present, and future. One of the biggest events that pulled him in involved his future wife, Clare Abshire. These two go through various trials like any other couple with the exception of Henry’s time traveling disability. Through love, patience, and understanding, Henry and Clare discover the importance of what a marriage really is, and that there’s no time like the present. 

This version is a limited six episode miniseries starring Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) and Theo James (Divergent franchise), alongside its supporting cast, which includes Kate Siegel, Desmin Borges, Natasha Lopez, Chelsea Frei. This series was directed by David Nutter, known for his work on Game of Thrones, and alongside him one of the most recognized producer/executive producer, Steven Moffat,  mainly known for his work on Doctor Who. The HBO Max version of the tale received a high audience rating of 82% on Rotten Tomatoes. Many praised the show for its writing, direction, musical score, main acting leads, and, for fans of the novel, the solid accuracy to Niffenegger’s craft.

When it comes to book to media adaptations, book fans (like myself) are eager yet nervous to see how a film, tv show, or miniseries does its book’s original story justice. Time Traveler’s Wife got its first attempt at being adapted on the big screen in 2009, starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams. Unfortunately the film’s version fell very short with book fans. According to MsMojo’s list, Top 10 Movies Based on Books That Need a Do-Over, fans were disappointed that the film had left out major events and characters from its original novel in an attempt to simplify the story in a one hour and forty-eight minute movie. After watching the series I had to watch the movie to have my own opinion on whether that version was as bad as everybody says it was or not. I watched the film… and YES! IT. WAS. BAD!

I could list many reasons as to how that movie paled in comparison to the television show, but I’m just going to detail some of the major parts: one being the car crash scene. Those who’ve read the novel know how Henry’s mother, Annette Lynn Robinson, died. She was driving her son Henry (who was a child at the time) during Christmastime when all the sudden a car crashed at the back of her car forcing it towards a pickup truck. Henry survived the crash because of his disability, but his mother unfortunately didn’t make it as the pickup truck they crashed into had a scrap of metal on the back of its trunk, and slid right off from the trunk to Annette where the metal decapitated her head. The 2009 version began with the infamous crash, but how it was portrayed was completely different. Though it showed kid Henry surviving the accident and his mother’s death, the difference the movie played out was that there was no truck with scrap metal, only a truck crashing behind her and exploding for media watchers, that seems like a small detail, but for book readers it’s a big one eighty. It’s not the crash itself that’s important, but the emotional aftermath that comes with that. The “How” in Henry’s mother’s death forever changed him and the incident that portrayed in the film didn’t have that heartbreakingly emotional impact that readers felt for Henry. Thankfully the show’s version did just that while also including various versions of himself reliving that horrible event. I don’t remember if that was from the book or not, but even if it wasn’t, that added detail helps both book fans and tv show fans understand Henry’s character better and feel for him for the loss of his mother.

Two, the female lead. I have to say, book Clare was absolutely dull. Her character wasn’t nearly as fleshed out as her tv counterpart,  and was solely defined as the future wife waiting for her husband. Rachel McAdams portrayal of the character wasn’t so great either. Now, I have no hate for McAdams, but her portrayal as Clare Abshire in the film’s version didn’t do her justice at all. She came off as too sweet and passive throughout her relationship with Henry and like her book counterpart was not as seen as her own character other than “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” Rose Leslie’s turn as the female lead received great praise from audiences as she gave her character more depth while honoring some of her book counterpart’s traits. For one thing, the book describes Clare as an artist, which neither the book nor film explored that part of her. Rose greatly embodied that part of Clare as she uses it as a tool to express herself both as an independent woman and an independent woman in love. Which brings me to her relationship with Henry. You could say a woman waiting for a man is weak, but that’s not the case for Rose’s Clare. She waited for Henry out of her own free will, for so long she’s been in love with the 30-40 year old version of her future husband who was quite a gentleman. When she meets him again when they’re both in their twenties, he was a complete jerk, and wanted nothing to do with him despite their inevitable union. After taking the time to get to know her present future husband, she slowly lets go of the idea of him and loves him, faults and all. What makes Rose’s portrayal of Clare compelling is the fact that though she willingly waits for her soulmate, she still maintains her independent nature and common sense which many modern women can relate to.

Three, the video diaries. The book’s narrative was intriguing as it presented a two-person point of view narrative told by Henry and Clare, thus giving the reader’s glimpses about both character’s stories. The show wonderfully captures that narrative, as it’s actively told by Henry and Clare of different ages through video diaries. This of course wasn’t in the books, but was a welcome addition as both protagonists navigate the audience through their story of love, time, and Henry’s time travel condition while honoring the book’s source material. The movie’s narrative of the story followed the timeline of the book, but again given its limited two hour pacing, the take was slow and unengaging. 

Finally, the leads’ chemistry. A story is only as good as its leading woman and man, and despite some of their faults, Clare and Henry are that great lead in Nieffenegger’s tale. Book fans fell in love with the couple as they navigate the realities of a relationship to marriage and the trials that come with it such as faithfulness to each other, miscarriages, and the realities of time. Adding Henry’s time travel disability makes the couple’s relationship more compellingly challenging and unique. As talented as Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams are, they failed miserably in the chemistry department. As previously mentioned, McAdams’s Clare was too passive and sweet for the role, which hardly carried Bana’s acting. His portrayal as Henry was stiff, emotionless, and well, let’s put it plainly, WOODEN! The entire relationship was just so bland and non-captivating as their chemistry lacked the passion and emotion their book counterparts did. Seeing them was like watching a bad-acted school play. Now let’s talk about Theo James and Rose Leslie’s take on the main leads! Both actor and actress’s attractiveness aside, their on-screen chemistry was on fire as the show allowed a more in-depth look on both characters as a couple and individuals. I’ve already mentioned Rose’s spectacular performance as Clare, now here’s some insight on Theo James’s Henry. James’s performance as the sexy librarian was so layered as he portrayed various versions of Henry of different ages. As twenty eight year old Henry, he’s reckless and wild living life to the fullest while covering the emotional and sometimes physical pain of time travel. As 30-40 year old Henry, he’s kinder and wiser while saddened by the burdening knowledge of his loved ones fates including his own. His performance wonderfully matched Leslie’s as both characters navigate their relationship that goes far beyond physical and sexual attraction. Throughout the entire series both learn more about each other’s lives that helps connect to each other on a deeper level like Clare wanting to know more about twenty eight year old Henry’s past so that he can become the man he’s meant to be and Henry showing Clare that time is precious and shouldn’t be wasted on longing for the past or worrying for the future. The leads on-screen chemistry was beautifully reflected with their off-screen chemistry as I watched most of their interviews that the bond was out of mutual respect, friendship, and passion for the work, which both gave their all in the show.

Fans of the show were incredibly devastated as news of its cancellation for season two was dropped a couple weeks after the first season ended. Main reasons for its cancellation was HBO Max’s merger with Discovery Plus, and movie critics unjustifiably criticizing for the show’s lack of chemistry, repetitiveness, and distorted view on “grooming.” Since then many have come together in working on a campaign to get the show back in hope for Henry and Clare’s story to continue, and the campaign has so far been gaining support from international fans to some of the show’s supporting cast including Jael Distasi, who was casted as the couple’s daughter, Alba, an essential character whose time was cut short due to the cancellation. Even the author herself, Audrey Niffenegger, is fully supporting the campaign as she approved of the show’s direction of her book. Trust me as a book nerd when I say, THAT’S A BIG DEAL!

Whether the show gets its second season or not, it’s all out in the open for now. If you’ve already read the book, I strongly recommend watching the HBO Max version, as though it only told half the story, it’s still one of 2022’s best book to media adaptations yet, next to Delia Owens’s Where The Crawdads Sing.

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Meaghan Torres

Kutztown '23

My name is Meaghan Xenia Alexandra Torres, I like to be called Alex. I’m a Christian, Autistic, & I’m studying for writing and art in Kutztown. I enjoy movies, books, tv shows, chocolate, swimming, writing, art, and spending time with my family & friends