A Wrinkle in Time is one of my all time favorite books. I’ll never forget the first time I read it. I kept telling myself this is boring, but I couldn’t put it down. Nothing seemed to be happening. There was no action. No adventure. Almost no humor. Long sections devoted to relativity theory. And worst of all it seemed like a girl’s book. Call my ten year old self a sexist all you want but it is mostly about a girl and three spirit women. Yet all these obstacles could not dissuade me. I just kept reading. I was compelled. That probably doesn’t seem like a big deal. It is a rather short book intended for children. But for me it was and remains a big deal.
I had a lot of trouble learning to read. I was classified learning disabled. Told “something was wrong with my brain” and that’s why I had to go to special classes. I had to redo 1st grade. At some point that all changed. I went from being a functional illiterate to reading at a HS level in 3rd grade. And L’Engle’s little sci fi novel is the first book I remember finishing. Sometimes I think it fixed whatever was wrong with me.
To this day it’s like medicine for my soul. I’ve read it multiple times over the years and each time my life grinds to a halt. I’m still a slow reader and once I start this book anew I don’t do much else until it’s finished again. I even preordered the beautiful 50th anniversary edition hardback. Since getting a kindle fire I just don’t see the point in physical books anymore, but I’ll always keep that one.
There’s just something very special about this book. It’s pure magic. And I’ve never wanted it to be adapted. I didn’t watch the tv version because it looked terrible. When I found out Oprah was attached to the new project I knew I would probably have to watch it. I mean if you knew where a train wreck would be in advance wouldn’t you go watch? But I was not looking forward to the viewing, as I’m sure only a sadist would be excited over the prospect of a train derailment.
It’s probably unadaptable
But my fears over adapting it are very practical. I think this story does not lend itself well to film. Because film is visual and objective. Whereas books like Wrinkle are really about internal emotional states. There is a sparse minimalism to L’Engle’s prose that invites the reader into the story very intimately. Like an illusionist she makes you see and feel things that aren’t actually there. Because I believe she trusted the image of god in us so much that when given a unique opportunity for imagination our better “angels” would take over and lead us to other worlds. Put more simply I think the point of the book is actually to tend to the reader’s soul more than it is to spin a good yarn. That’s almost impossible to do with film. I truly think this book is unadaptable.
But one of my biggest pet peeves is when people are overly precious about literary fiction. Especially when they say the book was better than the film. That’s like comparing apples to orangutans. A film is a completely different sort of thing from a novel. They aren’t competing with each other. When people say that what they’re really saying is the filmmakers’ collective imagination wasn’t as good as mine. Well…duh. The human mind creates much more powerful Phantasms than photography ever could.
That being said there are numerous examples of excellent adaptations that are superior to the source material. The Godfather and V for Vendetta are my two favorites. But it often seems like people are afraid a bad adaptation hurts the original in some way. That is completely ridiculous. As soon as I got home from my viewing of DuVernay’s disastrous film I found my copy of Wrinkle and opened it just to make sure Mrs. Which hadn’t been replaced by Ms. Winfrey. And she hadn’t. The real Mrs. Which was still there. Just like the real Aslan is still contained within Lewis’ prose. We don’t need to protect these stories. They’re so good that they protect themselves. As long as we let them out to play occasionally. So I support people trying to adapt anything that they want to. If the originals are truly worthy then they are invincible from the follies of film.
But…this was a very bad film
All that to say this adaptation was very bad. Almost all the basic elements from L’Engle were there and the changes for the most part weren’t awful but they also did nothing to improve or highlight any of the powerful moments or themes from the book. But in the end this film didn’t fail primarily as an adaptation. It failed as a film. This was quite simply a very bad film.
I don’t know who or what is ultimately at fault but my current theory is whoever had actual final say on the script is to blame. Most people don’t realize the credited screen writers are not always the people really responsible for the actual script. The first Dick Donner Superman is one of the most notorious examples of this. Mario Puzo is credited with the story and script. But there seems to be a quiet consensus that it was actually legendary script doctor Tom Mankiewicz that really shaped the final product. So whoever that person or persons were on this film, my finger is compassionately pointed at them. I say compassionately because adapting the unadaptable is an unenviable task by any measure.
I think DuVernay did her best for the most part with a bad script. But what can be laid almost entirely at her feet was the poor acting direction. There are some very bad performances in this film. The most egregious offenders being Galifianakis and Levi Miller. And some of that could just be poor casting (especially where Galifianakis is concerned) but much of it is a lack of understanding for how to craft a scene and pull better performances out of actors. Miller looks and sounds like he’s on Benzedrine (or whatever the youths do now) through the whole film. His eyes are always wide and his voice full of bizarre inhuman wonder. His adoration for Meg was especially bad. He’s like a clone of Riley’s imaginary boyfriend from Inside Out. Which highlights one of the only good things about this swamp of a movie: Storm Reid.
Her part was very badly written but she still felt like Meg to me. Especially in her scenes with Chris Pine. They were a real light in this darkness. I can’t say it was a great performance but it was good and almost made this film watchable. That’s saying a lot.
The MWs were the worst part
(the MWs are what I call the Missess Ws, ya know Mrs. Whatsit etc)
Unfortunately that’s about all the nice I have to say. The MWs were by far the worst part. But this was already obvious from the promotional materials. L’Engle’s descriptions are sparse but my imagination was always very captivated by the Dillon cover. In fact that cover is probably why it caught my eye in the weekly stack of books my mother checked out for me. Just like the MWs she never gave up trying to help me get over that mental reading hurdle, and I know it bothered her that I barely touched any of them. But she undauntedly produced another stack every week for years. Thankfully the Dillon art drew me in because it made them look cosmic, like guardian norns. There’s a bit of the original Star Wars poster in that cover.
But the art and casting direction for this film decided that was the wrong approach. In this film the MWs look like Xanadu rejects. I could almost hear Madeleine’s bones rattling out of irritation with every new ridiculous costume change. There is not a single moment when they capture the mystic wonder the book exudes. These women are former suns who went supernova on purpose to prevent the spread of darkness through the galaxy. To me they’ve always been like a female counterpart to Aslan; good but never safe. They need to feel dangerous, welcoming, and wise all at the same time. Like grandmotherly Valkyries, not the cutesy fairies from Sleeping beauty.
The casting especially feels very ageist for a film desperately grasping at wokeness. Despite my strong opinions about how overrated Streep is I would have cast her instead of Witherspoon, C.H. Pounder over Oprah, and Shohreh Aghdasloo over Mindy Kaling. Then I would have fired whatever moron suggested using a bedazzler on Oprah’s face. And finally I would have dressed them all like witches. Those changes alone would have probably won me over.
This was a bad film but it may be an opportunity to redirect people to a classic piece of fiction. And in so doing help show a few more struggling boys (and girls) that reading and imagination will never have any serious competition.
I rate this…bad. I’m not giving it a ratio.