Adapting a beloved book into a movie is no easy feat as not only will it have to please the general public, but it also should be able to satisfy fans of the book as well. Among the more notable book to film adaptations is Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy, which took years of planning to get everything right. With this in mind, it seemed as if director Ava DuVernay had everything in hand for her adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved classic “A Wrinkle in Time”, with a cast of talented and big name actors, and despite the initial controversy with the casting changes they decided to take. However, despite having all the right ingredients in place, the movie doesn’t quite live up to its potential, both as a movie and as an adaptation of the beloved science fantasy classic.
“A Wrinkle In Time” is a young adult science fantasy novel written by Madeleine L’Engle, and was published in 1962. The book garnered some controversy, but has also been praised as it a novel that allowed young readers to explore themes such as family, love, the struggle between good and evil, truth, individualism vs conformity, and the like. (You can check out my review for the book here.) It was also made into a television movie in 2003 for Disney and ABC, and received negative reviews from both critics and L’Engle alike.
The movie follows the main synopsis of the book, as it tells the story of a brilliant teenage girl named Meg Murry (Storm Reid), who goes on a journey of a lifetime to rescue her missing astrophysicist father, Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine), and along the way, learns how to accept who she is as a person. She was accompanied by her genius and adopted younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe); and classmate Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller). They were also helped by three fantastical beings who called themselves Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey).
Now, with Ava DuVernay at the helm, many hoped that this adaptation of the book was one we had been waiting for; and would be a great science fiction fantasy movie in and of itself.
At first, many were skeptical about the changes that DuVernay made to the main cast, but many, like myself, held out hope for it as there was the hope that the movie would remain true to the essence of the book.
Now, having watched the movie, it can be safely said that the movie didn’t quite reach the potential it was capable off, both as a movie and as an adaptation of the book.
As a movie, it did start out strong and with a lot of promise. However, as soon as Oprah’s gigantic holographic Mrs. Which appeared on screen, things started to go downhill from there. The pacing of the rest of the movie from that part on was uneven, and sometimes jarring. There was a moment in the film that was colorful and visually spectacular but looked Disneyfied; character motivations were all over the place; some scenes and transitions felt too rushed and it felt there was not enough build-up to it; at certain points both Mrs. Who and Calvin were give nothing to do; there was a lack of urgency, tension, and emotional pull; there were moments in which the CGI was not that great; the scope of the entire fight in the grand scheme of things took a huge backseat to the story; and it got too heavy handed at times as it seemed that things were being over explained to the audience.
However, despite all of this, I had no issues with how the cast performed, as I do feel that the issues I had with the movie were not due to their talent, but due to the creative decisions that came in with fleshing these characters to the big screen. I also did like Mrs. Whatsit’s transformed form (even though she wasn’t a beautiful winged centaur), and that scene in which all the children were bouncing their balls at the same time on Camazotz.
As a fan of the book, this movie adaptation was very disappointing. I felt that most of the changes they made with the main characters were untrue to the essence of the characters in the book, which basically informed everything else that happened to them on Camazotz. Showing how big the scope of the battle they are actually waging would have put more urgency to their actions as well, and I felt that a lot of world building potential was lost on Camazotz as well.
And while it is possible to continue the story of Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin with an adaptation of “A Wind in the Door”; they didn’t open up the possibilities to adapting “A Swiftly Tilting Planet” and “Many Waters” as they didn’t really showcase Calvin’s family well and as the Murry twins didn’t exist in the movie.
In the end, the movie was a huge disappointment due to the immense talent that was involved in it as it ended up turning into Disneyfied blockbuster that was over hyped. As a fan of the book, I was disappointed as I felt that it didn’t quite get the true essence of L’Engle’s classic.
You know the drill, from here on out, there will be spoilers!
As mentioned above, there were some things to enjoy about the film, but I honestly had more gripes about it that I couldn’t let go. So what actually follows below is more of an analysis of the movie as compared to the book, and how those changes made the movie suffer.
The first thing that gave me red flags while watching the movie, although I do admit that this was a nitpick of mine as a fan of the book, is the fact that they called the powers of darkness as “The IT”. In the book, evil itself is seen in what was called “The Black Thing”, and IT, which was a disembodied brain that controlled the minds of those on Camazotz was only one thing that promoted the evil of “The Black Thing”. Now, if I wasn’t a fan of the book, I think that I’d be alright with evil just being called IT, but what I couldn’t stand, both as a fan of movies and of the book, was that there wasn’t much build up in showing us how terrifying IT can be, aside from showing off its reality warping powers, and the fact that the entire final showdown that Meg had with IT had truly awful CGI.
In the book, we were shown how terrifying The Black Thing was when we were shown how one star was trying to fight the darkness and Meg being in critical condition after Mr. Murry tessered them after facing IT. I also think that it would have been better to also have shown Aunt Beast (yes, I really wanted to see Aunt Beast), as it provided more scope as to the actual bigger battle that they were fighting.
Camazotz and IT were terrifying and scary not because it could change appearance like in the movie, but because, like any science fiction parable (like in “The Twilight Zone” or “Black Mirror”), the suburbs and cities of Camazotz looked exactly like any old city on Earth. L’Engle, I believe, wanted to show us the dangers of conformity and the price we pay when we want more comfort and security in our lives, by showing us that this could happen anywhere and at anytime. It was something more familiar, hence, it was more terrifying. Also, IT would have never lured anyone in by offering them a better version of themselves, what IT was offering that was so tempting was a world where people would be happy because everyone would all be the same, as they wouldn’t have any free will to choose what to do or feel they want to feel; and not because they would all look like their best selves.
Aside from the awful CGI that was the final showdown between Meg and IT, and the fact that IT apparently can give you magical Force like powers, there was no build up or tension at all leading up to it and finding Mr. Murry. Charles Wallace becoming hypnotized right away by the man with red eyes was too rushed, and we weren’t told why they wanted him in the first place. Also, that transition between Meg jumping around on hypothetical but real stairs and finding her father was too rushed, and didn’t give us that tension, urgency, and that sense of emotional satisfaction when she finally found him. She just jumped, and then she was there, as opposed to the book in which she ran in to him screaming desperately. Also, Calvin’s special gift of diplomacy was never used although mentioned once, and was never really given much to do except compliment Meg on her smarts and her hair.
This leads me to my biggest major gripe about the movie- it didn’t stay true at all the essence of the characters and their story arcs. Yes, I know that this movie’s protagonist is Meg, but even so, the characters of Charles Wallace and Calvin weren’t fleshed out, and to be honest, Calvin wasn’t given ANYTHING to do at all.
Charles Wallace in the movie acted like a precocious, chipper, and talkative little genius. In the book, he doesn’t talk at all to strangers, is very measured and deliberate when he talks, and does have an annoying air of being a know it all. All of this, his knowledge that he’s smarter and more capable than everyone else is precisely what leads him to his downfall in the book, as he believed that he would be able to use his telepathy to find out more about the man with the red eyes while still retaining a large portion of himself. Instead, we ended up having no emotional connection with Charles Wallace, and the dangers of Camazotz to him aren’t shown at all.
In the book, Calvin, although popular at school, felt like an outsider not because he didn’t get good enough grades, but because he was a little bit different from his many siblings. Instead of the grades, I think that this should have been shown more. In the book, it was also shown that he did have a gift in communication as he was the one who was able to almost knock Charles Wallace out of the clutches of it, and was better at communicating with the creatures on Ixchel than Mr. Murry. His relationship with Meg was also conveyed better in the book, with the way he was protective over Meg.
I have a lot of issues with Witherspoon’s Mrs. Whatsit because Mrs. Whatsit would have never dismissed Meg despite all of her faults, let alone kick her, even though it was a soft kick.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw is an amazing actress, but I also had issues with her character as the Mrs. Murry in the book would have never made Meg apologize to the principal or the kid she fought.
Reid did a great job with Meg, it was just the interpretation I had issues with. In the book, you could really see that Meg was different. I think that Meg was gifted, and in particular, with math and science, but her advanced knowledge in them, and her particular concentration in them were also hindrances to her as she couldn’t do math the way the school wanted her to, and she didn’t care about anything else that wasn’t math or science. The book also showed that she had no problem in holding back her temper, as the book even goes on to say that she also “rough housed a little to make her feel better”. Also, I felt that the book did better in pushing Meg to come into her own after she realized that she was the only one who could go back and save Charles Wallace.
Also, I preferred that I didn’t know exactly how tessering was done as saying that in order to tesser you have to find the frequency of love was a little bit too on the nose for me.
In the end, given that the talent involved was amazing, and the fact that a seemingly impossible book to movie adaptation had already been done with “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy, this book to movie adaptation fails on all points both as a movie and as a good adaptation. Instead, it became a Disneyfied blockbuster that put more premium on its special effects and that fact that it had a diverse cast and a female director.
Have you seen “A Wrinkle in Time”? What did you think of it? What did you like or not like about it? Let me know what you think in the comments below!