Madeleine L’Engle’s novel A Wrinkle in Time is an odd mix of fantasy, science-fiction, and Christian self-improvement pitched at young readers and published in 1952. Some aspects of the story lend themselves well to cinematic depiction, but unfortunately the climax is hard to dramatize. That didn’t stop Disney from trying. Although it’s not a great movie (it was made for television, not theaters), I’m glad it exists. I’ve now watched it twice. Yes, that’s a VHS tape.
See below for more thoughts on this adaptation. Beware SPOILERS.
A Wrinkle in Time is Meg’s story. A “troubled teen”, she misses her father, a scientist who disappeared mysteriously. She tries to protect her precocious little brother from teasing at school. She abruptly makes friends with Calvin, a non-loser from a loser family.
The plot kicks off when a strange black lady who resembles but is not Whoopi Goldberg shows up and takes Meg and Calvin and her brother across the universe to look for their father. After some additional exposition about the ongoing battle between good and evil, they go to Camazotz, a planet where evil has won and conformity reigns. Meg rescues her father, but her brother falls under the influence of evil mostly because he is a little boy who is easily entertained and easily flattered.
After Meg and Calvin and Meg’s father and the strange black lady and her friends regroup on another planet, Meg returns and rescues her brother using—what else?—the power of love.
The “Just be yourself! You are special!” theme is a bit overwhelming. I like that message, I guess, but it’s not very subtle. I like the message of family togetherness, which is more subtle.
I applaud the choices the characters describe as virtuous, but I do not necessarily agree with their analysis; sacrifice is not good because it’s sacrifice, it’s good if and only if it’s the best choice you’ve got.
I thought Mrs. Which’s speech about the fragile power of humans was obnoxious. I’m tired of movies that try to step outside the human perspective and assess humans as insignificant, then backpedal and say humans are not really insignificant, they’re actually rather endearing, and capable of great things, especially because—wait for it—they have the capacity for love and sacrifice. Yawn.
The idea of humans as fragile-yet-triumphant-through-loving-sacrifice goes hand in hand with the idea that on Earth there’s much pointless, avoidable conflict, whereas other advanced civilizations are totally peaceful and joyful. Supposedly, however, our human flaws are somehow also our strength.
Any abstract evil threat to Earth is a lazy fictional construct. Evil is not a thing. Realistically, evil is large collections of small bad choices.
I like the actress they picked for Meg. To me she seemed very real, very human, very familiar. I like the character of Calvin, though not the bicycle helmet they made him wear. I like the parent characters and the twins, though their roles are smaller. I didn’t really like Mrs. Whatsit; she seemed comical but not genuine. In contrast, I liked Mrs. Who a lot. I didn’t like Mrs. Which, but we’re not really supposed to.
I like the actor they picked for Meg’s brother Charles Wallace. He looks appropriately cute and geeky at the beginning of the movie, and really creepy in the scenes where he’s under the influence of the bad guys. Normally I don’t like creepy things at all, but the creepy little brother characterization was totally appropriate and not overdone.
Book to Movie
I haven’t read the book recently, though watching the movie made me want to. There’s one major change I can point out without even bothering: they gave the evil brain on Camazotz a human spokesman. Meg’s brother’s battle with evil, in the book, is a mental affair. That would never do for the movie; they needed to put a face on the evil suggestions he was experiencing. I think it works reasonably well. Yes, there’s a man with red eyes, but I think his role in the book is different from his role in the movie. The appearance of the brain is also a bit different; in the book, it’s on a raised dais in a special room, but in the movie, it’s pulsing under the floor in two of the scenes (?!?).
Many of the slang expressions and depictions of family and school life don’t fit with culture in Singapore (where I live now). Even in conformist Camazotz, families live in single-family homes that each have two stories, a driveway, lawn, and garage, presumably with car. Still seems pretty individualistic, even if all the houses are the same. Camazotz could have been covered with HDBs! The roads could have had buses or trams or moving sidewalks instead of private cars.
There’s a 2013 movie in development now. One assumes it will be better than the 2003 TV version, at least in terms of CGI. The CGI in the 2003 movie was used primarily for appearances, disappearances, and travel. The CG creature and landscapes were not particularly impressive, and the tesseract sequences mostly consisted of blurry fireworks rather than vivid detail.
The 2013 remake will undoubtedly feel more epic. The credits for the 2003 movie listed only about a dozen actors and a small staff. The low budget is apparent.