Book vs. Film: A Wrinkle in Time (SPOILERS!)

Posted May 31, 2019 by Amber in Bookish Things / 3 Comments

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This movie was such a hot mess for me.  The plot was so messy and conformed to YA Contemporary standards where this is a classic YA fantasy novel… it just made me so sad in so many ways.  I’m going to go through the story now, and this is super ranty because I was typing as I watched… so be prepared!

If you go back and read my review of A Wrinkle in Time, you’ll see I said one of my favorite parts of the book – of any book ever actually – was the first chapter.  Meg’s unsettled feelings in that empty attic, very alone and frightened and feeling foolish. I love it because it says a lot about Meg.  In the film, straight off, there’s what is supposed to be a touching scene between Meg and her father, emphasizing their relationship. Then we go to the bedroom, where Meg is comforted by a momento on a rainy night.  There’s nothing small about her, and in that, she’s not given nearly as much room to grow.

I’m also bothered because that moment between Meg and her father. While a loving father/daughter relationship is perfectly fine, we lose the importance of the Murray sibling relationship and Meg’s own internal struggles. In fact, in the book, Meg’s father isn’t all that important in the grand scheme other than he is missed. Already, in the first few minutes, the science and individual is being downplayed in a stereotypical Disney style to focus on family.

Also, can we talk for a sec about how Charles Wallace is adopted in the film?

He’s a genius, like his father. But again, we’re reducing the conversation about science down to the bare minimum.  More complicated bits about physics are dropped. A Wrinkle in Time is a fantastic novel in theoretical science, especially since it’s intended for children.  There are built-in weaknesses within this family, but the family is instead altered to make it diverse in different ways and the mother’s “forgetfulness” is completely disregarded to make her into a picturesque single mother. Please don’t sugarcoat this broken, beautiful family. Also, where are the twins? If this had been a hit for a Disney, cutting out Sandy and Dennys messed up the opportunity for a sequel.

I’m sorry y’all, I’m getting cynical here.

I love the ladies who play the Mrs. Ws, but I do not like the Mrs. Ws as they’re presented here.  Everything about this film feels very dumbed down. Reese Witherspoon immediately strikes as cheesy, Mindy Kaling as voiceless (I know this is part of her character, but it doesn’t feel well done).  Then of course the character is completely broken and WHY I don’t know.  Oprah is very stiff.  The scenes with the Murray parents don’t impress me, either.  Again, A Wrinkle in Time is supposed to be Meg’s journey. A little bit Charles Wallace and Calvin. But mostly Meg. And the only way she is pushed forward is by the Mrs. Ws doubting her. To her face. Um, what now.

There’s so many things so quickly that are tumbling out of control. Meg’s one bully. The budding relationship between Meg and Calvin. There REALLY doesn’t have to be a love story in every book, every movie.  Bringing A Wrinkle in Time to the big screen was always going to be challenging – there’s a lot of abstraction to the story, and a decent amount of theology and philosophy, again, for a children’s book.

The visuals are beautiful and colorful, so I do have to give some points for the absolute gorgeousness of the setting.  I missed the two dimensional world, but I got the impression early on the a lot of the shocking and bad stuff was gonna get cut from this one.  But from the book-filled house on Earth to the striking beauty of Uriel, I’ve gotta give some major props for setting and animation here.  It’s stunning.

Now, it’s been a year and change since I read A Wrinkle in Time, so I may be off here, but I don’t remember the Darkness ever being called “Camazotz”. I believe Camazotz was just the planet that their father was on, a planet already overtaken by the Darkness and IT. While the children and the Mrs. Ws originally set off to rescue their father, this book is a pretty straightforward good vs. evil story.

The whole bit with the Seer is just odd.  I think magic was more effective than yoga and meditation, and it’s not nearly as interesting and… I dunno. It just didn’t seem to work.  I understand that Aunt Beast may have required a stretch of the imagination for some.  The montage of human hurt and corruption is relevant and important to address, but that whole scene felt out of place. The montage could have happened in a different way and the whole thing with Aunt Beast/Zach Galifianakis could have been cut.  Meg’s growth and message was THRUST at the audience and because of that, it didn’t resonate.  This is a problem that comes alongside the latest generation of Disney’s live action family films and it makes me worry for things I’m dying to see on screen, like Artemis Fowl.

Oh, and the smol cameo of Aunt Beast in the “finding dad” montage does not satiate, by the way. Throwing bones at book fans like that is more infuriating than pleasing.  For that, see my review of the Dark Tower film.

Guys weren’t not even to Camazotz yet and I’ve lost all faith.

So you ready for the SECOND HALF of the film?

In the book, when the Mrs. Ws give the children their gifts, a gift is clearly given to each of the children. In the film, the gifts are given to Meg.  This once again downplays the roles of the other two while forcing growth on Meg instead of letting her rise to the occasion.  Basically, Charles Wallace is there to be kidnapped and force the others into action, and Calvin is there to be a love interest. I’m never down with character existing only for a love story – it makes the relationship awkward and is a bit demeaning to the character themselves. We fight against girls being there to be just a pretty face – I’m not okay with boys being just a pretty face either.

For as much as Meg believes in the calculating power of science, there’s a scene where she decides it safer to climb into a rotting log and be thrown over a wall… and both she and Calvin come out the other side perfectly fine.  I don’t think she calculated that at all.  It’s like the film couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be scientific or impossible. I’d take it if it was Alice in Wonderland, but A Wrinkle in Time is so carefully written to feel plausible (if improbable) that I found this back and forth really frustrating.

Charles Wallace’s attitude is not impressive, either. His warm intelligence gone cold is enough of a shock without having a little kid yelling. I just couldn’t take him seriously. Again, it just wasn’t an effective choice for the storyline, or for the depth of character. One of the best things about Meg’s relationship with Charles Wallace is that he is very much taking care of her and their mother… the character hasn’t been given any time in this film for us to fall in love with him, and so his character shift is just, frankly, annoying.

It’s little things all over the place, really.  Things like Dr. Murray not needing his glasses, and therefore the glasses being used to break into the prison and get him instead of getting out, and IT barely resists Meg.  Plus, Meg’s temper is completely absent, which I don’t like. Mrs. Whatsit gave Meg her faults, but Disney more or less took them away.

And, seriously? This whole time poor Calvin has just been along for the ride. I can’t imagine WHY this choice was made (seriously, you may as well cut him altogether). Was it perhaps that Disney didn’t want to be accused of having a boy swoop in and save the girl? Am I overthinking it? If they were worried about the masses complaining about damaging tropes, how about making the bully a minority? Or Meg hating the way she looks and Calvin constantly reassuring her by saying he likes her hair? Why.

I’ve got to be honest – not only does this stray from the book in a lot of characterization, but as a film? I’m not crazy about it.  It’s not as wholly …horrible… as Tomorrowland was, but it’s still not great. It’s over the top in a lot of places, loses the incredible science and philosophy, strips Meg down to the simplest form of her character, and strips away most of the personality of the rest of the characters. Even the Mrs. Ws.

Things I did like? The OVERALL message of darkness and light in our every day life was super cheesy, but sadly necessary. And the young lady who played Meg, Storm Reid? I thought she was fantastic. Whatever was lost to her character was lost to outside elements, rather than actual acting.  And as I said earlier, the animation used was absolutely beautiful. I give this one a strong C- in the adaptation department, but it’s not all bad.

And, luckily for us, when a film seems to fall short, we still have the book.

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Have you seen A Wrinkle in Time?

What book to film adaptations have let you down?

Do you think this book is untranslatable?
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3 responses to “Book vs. Film: A Wrinkle in Time (SPOILERS!)

  1. Don’t get me started! 5 times to fn get this movie right and 5 times they haven’t. I’m. Just beginning to think it is one of those movies you can’t adapt to a movie.

    • Amber

      I agree with you – I feel like a lot of what makes A Wrinkle in Time so special is too abstract for film. Some books are just meant to be books. 🙂