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Thumbs Down for A Wrinkle In Time, the movie

March 27th, 2018 (06:52 pm)

I saw A Wrinkle in Time a few days ago, and I agree with most of a review I read by John Ehrett. First, here is an excerpt from his review, which really touches on one of the most basic problems with the film:

This version of Wrinkle doesn’t ignore L’Engle’s motifs, nor does it simply mangle them. Instead, it inverts them entirely, transforming a story of cosmic good and evil into a banal empowerment parable.... What the film adaptation lacks, however, is something far more important than any particular story moment: namely, a sense of cosmic purpose.... L’Engle’s universe is a landscape of primordial conflict between absolute good and absolute evil.... None of this is meaningfully reflected onscreen. Instead, virtually every event in DuVernay’s film is filtered through the prism of Meg’s individual empowerment. Over and over again, cosmic beings urge Meg to find herself, accept herself, be at peace with herself, and so on. By the third time this happens, we’ve crossed from “irritatingly saccharine” into “positively obnoxious”.... Worse, this all means that Meg’s story isn’t one of change or growth, but merely one of self-acceptance.... In one of the novel’s most pivotal scenes, Meg confronts The IT after the dark power has enslaved Charles Wallace’s soul. As L’Engle tells it, in this instant Meg realizes that her weapon against evil is her capacity for love.... “Now she was even able to look at him, at this animated thing that was not her own Charles Wallace at all. She was able to look and love. …‘I love you!’ she cried. ‘I love you, Charles! I love you!’” But when this same moment arrives in the movie version, DuVernay’s Meg leads off with something quite different: “You love me! You love me because I deserve to be loved!” (Yes, that’s actually in the screenplay.) Evidently, Meg no longer must learn to give love, but to demand it.... It would be hard to imagine a more aberrational take on L’Engle’s philosophy.

He's absolutely right. There are no universal themes in this film; it's about Meg learning that she's OK just the way she is. In addition, it's poorly paced and just not very interesting. It was bad enough to make me consider walking out halfway through, though I did stick it out.

I'm amazed that some reviewers think it follows the book closely. It does not. And so much of what's been added doesn't even make sense. Camazotz is not a once-normal planet that has been taken over by dark forces. It's a sort-of-virtual world that is the center of evil. An example of the bizarre choices made by the filmmakers: Meg and Calvin are in a forest there (which does not exist in the book) and see a wall in the distance that they have decided, for some reason, they have to get over. They're pursued by what looks like a big dust storm (also not in the book, and never explained) that's uprooting trees and tossing them around. And Meg decides the two of them need to crawl into a hollow tree, which is then hurled a long distance over the wall. When Calvin asked how she knew that would get them over the wall, she mumbles something about mathematical calculations. Right. No mention of how she knew they wouldn't be killed when it crashed to the ground on the other side.

And what's with weird scene on the beach????

I didn't mind the race-switching, but a lot of the director's casting and costume decisions left me confused (or rolling my eyes).

As is usual in movieland, a beautiful teenage actress plays the lead, but the director puts her in thick glasses, and that's supposed to make us and the other characters think she's unattractive. Mrs. Who, Whatsit, and Which are gloriously described in the book as looking like grandmotherly homeless women, wearing layers of old, patched clothes. Instead, they're much younger-looking than described, and are decked out in fanciful sequiny things, or like refugees from a high-budget science fiction convention, and with glitter makeup. (Sparkly silver lips are a very bad look for Oprah, and make it hard to look anywhere but her mouth when she's onscreen. Except possibly at her sparkly jeweled eyebrows.) And instead of turning into a beautiful winged horse for the kids to ride, Mrs. Whatsit transforms into a large flying green plant. WTF?

Another change: Charles Wallace is adopted, which screws up the theme of heredity that runs through all the books. He's older than he is in the book, as well. And unlike in the book -- where he barely speaks when he's around anyone but his family, so most people in town believe he's not very bright -- he talks like a dictionary, and everyone thinks he's brilliant but weird. The filmmakers also did away with Meg and CW's twin brothers Sandy and Denys. They just don't exist, so there is no contrast between misfits Meg and Charles Wallace and the brothers who have figured out how to fit in.

And what's the sense of moving the Murray's home from the Northeastern U.S. to a suburb of Los Angeles? This was one of the changes that disappointed me the most. I grew up wanting to live in Meg's historic old farmhouse four miles outside a New England village, with its drafty attic and her mom's stone-floored lab, and the star-watching rock nearby. Forget that. These Murrays live in a standard suburban California tract house, close enough to the neighbors so the Mean Girl next door can look out her window and into Meg's backyard. (Oh, and, by the way, the Mean Girl, we learn in one quick scene that has little to do with anything else, is anorexic and desperately unhappy.)

I really tried to forget about the book and accept the film on its own terms, but it's hard to accept most of this on any terms at all. So I'm disappointed, but not really surprised. Once again, Hollywood gets it wrong.