In Franco’s Camazotz
Below is a review of the A Wrinkle in Time movie adaptation. My review of the book can be found here.
REPEAT OFFENDER: A Wrinkle in Time (2003)
THE REVIEW: This made for TV movie took on the ambitious project of adapting an interplanetary speculative adventure with a half-century old fandom. Given that this would be a massive undertaking under the best of circumstances, I give the movie a tip of my hat for ambition. However, execution is another story.
I’ll start with the positive though. For starters, this film has some good casting. Alfre Woodard and Alison Elliot shine as Mrs Whatsit and Mrs Who, roles that easily could have been cliché or overdone. The Happy Medium is over the top, but that’s exactly how the Happy Medium should be.
What is perhaps most notable about the casting is its realism. The Murrys look and act like a normal, average family. Dr. Murry, described as “gorgeous” in the book, is attractive, but in a normal attractive person sort of way rather than an unrealistically glamorous one.
And Calvin calls her Dr. Murry! Finally! Speaking of gender roles, in Meg’s brainwashed ideal of her family, Dr. Murry is much more traditional and domestic. I found this to be an interesting choice and was not sure what it was trying to say. (Off topic, but can I just say that the fact that Dr. Murry can look up top-secret, classified projects on the internet without white vans showing up is troubling.)
Calvin, a popular jock at school, has a wholesome, almost 90s vibe here. This makes him a believable middle school crush without falling into any of the pitfalls of more recent teen speculative/paranormal films. In fact, this is a teen speculative adventure with a female lead that manages to have a romantic subplot that is age appropriate and healthy in its relationship dynamics. In addition, the romance isn’t the focus of the movie and does not detract from the story or the characters.
Other writers and directors take note of this achievement. Calvin even saves Meg without her losing any agency and she saves Calvin without him getting his masculinity in a bunch. While much of this is in the book, I am pleasantly impressed that the movie remained faithful to this aspect at least.
Unfortunately, the stilted dialogue doesn’t give the well-chosen cast all that much to work with. This was also in the book, but solid writing was able to keep it from being a problem in the novel. This is something the film adaptation lacks.
This is most obvious in the confrontation with IT. One of the points of the book was that evil can be charismatic and make a valid, persuasive argument. This IT is far too overtly malevolent and bogged down by weak dialogue to seem at all convincing. This makes Charles Wallace’s turn to the Dark Side more ridiculous than meaningful (Also, Evil Charles is one creepy looking child.) By the time Calvin and Dr. Murry are shouting their repetitive, generic lines about fighting it and not listening, I was cringing.
Speaking of IT, could he be any more of a clichéd villain? I was just waiting for him to tie Meg to a train track. The overt totalitarian 1984 vibe of Camazotz is one thing, but is anyone really fooled by the dude with the red eyes and the giant snake decor. Even Cobra Commander is like, “Dude, take it down a notch.”
For an orderly, fascist society bent on sameness, Camazotz has some terrible city planning. Fascist regimes are usually a bit better at investing in infrastructure. The fact that all it took to deprogram generations of indoctrination was a basketball and a Katara-esque speech from a couple of kids is almost as distressing as Camazotz being left with a huge power vaccum and no economy to speak of.
These flaws are heightened by the choice to make the movie pretty much all Camazotz. If you like Orwellian commentaries and don’t mind them heavyhanded with a side of melodrama, this is a good thing. If you were more enamored with the book’s fantastic elements and world-building, prepare to be disappointed. Aunt Beast, the Mrs Ws, and other characters/places remain, but they are diminished. Not to mention the fact that the sub-par effects do them no favors. If you can’t afford to do CGI well, stick to old school effects.
To be honest, the whole thing reads like a bad episode of Doctor Who (complete with hypnotic beats and a giant, psychic brain). This makes sense as the two time-traveling franchises bear more than a passing resemblance. They also came out a year apart, with A Wrinkle in Time celebrating its 50th anniversary last year and Doctor Who gearing up for its 50th anniversary special this fall.
(In my own personal cannon the young, quirky, bespectacled Mrs Who who enjoys quoting famous works of Western literature is a previous regeneration of the Doctor, and is referred to as Mrs Who for the same reason Dr. Murry is still Mrs. Murry in the book.)
This adaptation had its achievements and its faults. I give it two out of five stars, which is kinder than what Madeleine L’Engle had to say of it. When asked in an interview if the movie lived up to her expectations she replied, “Oh, yes. I expected it to be bad, and it is.” In the interview, L’Engle also talks about the reasons some Christians took issue with her book and even discusses Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code, so I recommend taking a look at it.
In related news, Disney is working on a new, big-budget adaptation of A Wrinkle in TIme. Given that in recent years Disney has put out movie adaptations of Bridge to Terabithia, Narnia (only the first two; the third movie was Fox), Percy Jackson, and has an Artemis Fowl adaptation in the works, they seem hell-bent on dominating the YA Fantasy market. Whether this is awesome news or terrible news is up for debate, but with a 35 million dollar budget they should at least be able to afford a decent centaur.
THE CONTROVERSY: Those concerned about A Wrinkle in Time need not worry about the movie, as many of the controversial elements have been downplayed or eliminated entirely. The more overt Christian references were removed. However, I disagree with those who thought that this was the reason the film adaptation fell short of the novel.
The book’s distrust of authority and adults who allegedly know better was also softened by the addition of an understanding principal who does try to level with Meg. He makes a note of her preferred nickname after mistakenly calling her Maggie and explains that just because some adults let you down does not mean you can project your anger and disappointment onto others. This makes the incompetent teacher just one lousy person instead of an indictment of adult incompetence and the failures of the educational system.
The Happy Medium’s genderless status, a female protagonist, Mrs Which, and other fantastic elements remain, but half a century later, one might hope these are no longer so objectionable.