During my formative years as a child, one of my favorite books was A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle. While it’s true that it was mainly marketed as a children’s fantasy story, its appeal as a book goes far beyond that demographic and into some rather heady territory of high-concept sci-fi, adventure, thrills, and even a bit of horror–this is something that, even as a younger person, I appreciated, and do even more so now that I’ve grown up. So when I heard a movie adaptation was being made, I was at once excited and anxious. On one hand, I think it’s a great story to be taken to the big screen. On the other hand, it was being done by Disney. Would they take the multifaceted story I loved and just boil it down into a feel-good kids’ movie? My takeaway from seeing the film itself–surprisingly, quite positive.
Okay, I’ll admit it: the main reason I went to see this anyway was because Chris Pine (or as I know him, Captain Kirk) was in it. I’m a fan of the guy. Sue me.
A Wrinkle in Time is about the struggles of the Murray family and their heartache after the loss of their father, Dr. Alex Murray, who disappeared four years before the start of the story. His daughter, Meg, is obviously smart and talented in the sciences, just like him, but is also untrusting, suspicious, and hostile due to her grief ruling her life. One night, her precocious child genius brother, Charles Wallace, brings home an oddball stranger: Mrs. Whatsit, who hints that she may know where Dr. Murray is. Recruiting their schoolmate Calvin to join their quest, Meg, Charles Wallace, and three mysterious women (Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Who), embark on a journey across the universe based on the concept of “tessering”: using emotion and thought to travel immense distances in the blink of an eye. This mind-bending adventure leads them to several bizarre and wonderful alien worlds, meeting some quirky and interesting helpers in the process, and then at last to the dark world of Camazotz, where Dr. Murray has been imprisoned by an evil intelligence known only as the IT. Meg and her companions must overcome their fears, doubts, anger, and demons if they are to save the universe from falling into shadow.
I know, I know. It sounds like a lot to take in. And you’re not wrong. There’s a lot about A Wrinkle in Time that made me sure the movie version would be rife with visual spectacle and special effects, and if that’s your thing, it certainly doesn’t disappoint. The alien creatures and worlds depicted in the film, from giant flying leaf-beings to talking flowers and a monstrous, disembodied brain, do serve to dazzle the eyes–even though much of it looks and feels suspiciously Earth-like for some supposedly far-off worlds. I get that the Mrs. Trio and pretty much all the other people Meg and her gang meet on their trip are supposed to be creatures taking the shape of humans so we can better understand them–there were even some comments made to that effect–and maybe there’s a point in that no matter where you go, people are the same. But I couldn’t help but feel that there was a missed opportunity here to explore something utterly alien–completely different from our world–that just didn’t happen. It must have been all the money they spent on the roughly 76 different makeups and outfits for Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey, and Reese Witherspoon that seemed to change in every single scene. Cool, but kind of distracting.
In addition, there were a few jump cuts that annoyed me that smacked of a botched editing process. I’m not usually one to nitpick over such tiny things as this because most people would never even notice–heck, I usually don’t even notice until someone else points it out to me. But there were a couple of scenes (one involving Calvin’s jacket where he’s obviously wearing it differently between one cut and another a second later) that my trained eye spotted instantly, and that bothered me a little. Having recently seen the sci-fi/horror film Annihilation, I was hoping for something more in that vein: the incomprehensible alien, something so strange to us we humans couldn’t hope to understand. I felt like A Wrinkle in Time let me down a little in that respect. That said, I’m sure that most younger people in the audience will be blown away by the awesome scope of the visuals the movie provides, and probably most adults will as well. Overall, it’s majestic and ambitious, but falls short of greatness.
In terms of the script, I thought the adaptation of book to movie was actually quite good. The story was followed almost to a T, despite a few departures, that overall probably didn’t take away anything of major significance. In fact, the film adds to the book in a few ways, mostly by showing some things the book never directly explained: the beginning scenes with Meg being bullied at school and her striking back; Charles Wallace’s sticking up for her against adults to showcase their uniquely close relationship; and especially the part where Dr. Murray initially discovered the secret to tesser travel. His loving smile as he watches his family through the window, which then immediately tears open the fabric of space and he enters without a second thought, was powerful, to the point, and very well done.
Speaking of acting, I have to give credit where credit is due: almost everyone in the cast of A Wrinkle in Time was pretty awesome. The three Mrs. were each good in their own way, depicted as individuals with their own quirks, limits, and faults. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous about Oprah being involved because I was worried her presence would turn the story I loved into a crappy, mushy Lifetime movie of the kind I enjoy mocking mercilessly. But it didn’t. She was just the same warm, calm, and accepting personality we all know and love, and it added a lot of heart to the movie. Meg, played by Storm Reid, was a grounded, realistic feminine heroine who has a lot of baggage, but was very convincingly played as she slowly overcame her trust issues and pessimism and grew as a person. In fact, the diversity and female empowerment themes of A Wrinkle in Time would be pretty hard to miss and were, I think, mostly able to hit home. The very deliberate choices to make the Murrays a mixed-race family, to use two black actresses as the face of the film (not to mention an adopted Asian boy), and the three Mrs. being from diverse backgrounds were overall pretty effective ones.
Although I have to admit, Chris Pine and Deric McCabe (speaking of Charles Wallace) were the ones who really stole the show. Chris Pine brought all the manic, ambitious hope and frustration of a scientist who sees things no one else can to his role as Alex Murray, and delivered a powerful performance as he usually does. But special credit goes to McCabe for making Charles Wallace the adventurous, outspoken (and well-spoken) driving force of the film. Seeing such great acting, charisma, and a general sense of fun from such a young person is rare in my experience, but he really took it to the next level. Plus, the fact that he was obviously the smartest person in the room and basically told everyone else what do to gave me no end of amusement. His turn as an evil pawn of IT as well was pretty terrifying and creepy, just like I remembered it (or IT, rather) from the book. Seriously, I think that gave me nightmares back in the day. The only member of the cast I thought was lacking was Calvin, although it’s not Levi Miller’s fault: blame the writing staff. I instantly liked Calvin and Miller’s cool, collected, and yet spacey sort of take on the kid, but he just didn’t have the depth most of the other characters had. He was an enigma. I was never really sure why he was interested in Meg or why he wanted to go with them on their journey. We only got the briefest glimpse of his own problems (an unhappy home life and troubled relationship with his father) to show what drove him in particular and made him at all interesting. Not enough, if you ask me.
That was my biggest overall problem with A Wrinkle in Time: I felt like the movie flirted on the edge of being great, but in the end allowed it to dance away and settled for just being good family fun. I wish it could have been more. For example, one of the main points of the book (and that the movie sort of-ish hints at) is that the Mrs. Trio are basically using fragile, flawed humans as pawns for their strike on Camazotz, putting them in very real danger. It would have been nice to see a bit more humanity and a hidden agenda coming out of them for a change rather than just being the stereotypical and perfect forces of good. Conversely, I don’t think enough was made of the IT’s true desire: not to destroy light, but to make everything the same. In the sameness depicted on Camazotz, there is no violence, no hatred, and no death, but the price is a complete lack of individuality–the real horror and evil of the IT, as L’Engle was trying to depict. I think the rather valid point the IT makes in this regard could have been played up much more in the movie, rather than IT just being a cliched, pure evil bad guy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a movie really is only as strong as its villain.
In addition, cutting out the Aunt Beast chapter of the book (although the creature did get a shout-out from the Happy Medium!) kind of cut off any meaningful discussion of the tension between Meg, Charles Wallace, and their father, even after their escape from Camazotz. In the book, Meg and Dr. Murray tesser off Camazotz after Charles Wallace turns on them and hide out to regroup, leaving Meg angry and bitter toward her father because he abandoned one child to save another. That’s deep stuff, and it’s the kind of meaty plot developments and character moments this film could have used more of. As it was, Meg went straight to the showdown with Charles Wallace and the IT alone as Dr. Murray and Calvin fled, and it left me thinking, “Really? This is how it’s going to end? That’s it?” There’s a little hint at the idea that Meg and her father might still have some baggage to deal with at the end of the movie, but it’s thrown out pretty quickly. I mean, let’s face it: Dr. Murray did indeed leave his family to travel the universe at the first opportunity, a fact the book reveals is because of his fault of unbridled ambition. He so desires to change the world and to be important in the universe that it blinds him to what is truly important: his own family. On the other hand, even though he’s so young, Charles Wallace suffers from flaws of his own: a deep-seated anger at their father for leaving his beloved sister to grow up alone, and a curiosity and arrogance that allows him to be beguiled and enslaved by the IT. It’s a very real example of how curiosity killed the cat.
Also, there were the plot holes: why did the IT even want Dr. Murray in the first place? Was it his knowledge of tessering? Was it just as bait to get to the real goal of taking control of Charles Wallace and whatever that entails? Just what makes Charles Wallace so special and important, anyway? None of these questions were ever really answered to my satisfaction.
I think if the movie had played up all of these things, we would have had a 10 out of 10 on our hands, people. As it is:
My Rating: 7/10
Yes, A Wrinkle in Time was an enjoyable and engrossing take on a classic book. I certainly never checked my watch, and a lot of what was going on rang true, from the good acting to the good plotlines and the good interpretation overall. But as I mentioned, it was just that: good. Not great. And trust me, if it had wanted to, this movie could have easily gone over the top to greatness by focusing more on the humanity and flaws of its many characters rather than simply being an archetypical and uncomplicated good vs. evil battle. It was a very surface-level portrayal of what could have been a much deeper examination of ourselves.
I’m sure a lot of people will be very happy with what was presented here. I myself had expected and hoped for a little more of the goods that the movie just couldn’t quite seem to deliver.