What I learned from movies made of beloved classic books?
There was a likelihood that I would be disappointed.
I wanted to like this movie. I wanted to like it SO BAD. But, when I walked out of the theatre I was a little confused. Later I was disappointed.
Why did it go to see this movie? Because, I loved the original source material and I wanted to see a big screen adaptation. Note: I reviewed the TV movie adaptation here. I read A Wrinkle in Time in 7th or maybe 8th grade (I can't rightly remember now) and fell in love with the story. It is a powerful story of growth and learning to face your fears and accept your faults.
I wanted to love the movie, I even wanted to like it.
There are a few points I would like to make first. Yes, I have read the book, at least a half a dozen or more times, so I am familiar with this story. Also, I can read or watch a story and know if it can stand alone from its source material. I have watched a number of movie adaptations to know when a story stands up to adaptation. Some movie adaptations are so good that you don’t need to have read the book, or seen the previous incarnation.
But, sometimes an adaptation just doesn’t work.
A Wrinkle in Time doesn’t work for me.
It is not because I am really close to the source material. That might well be true, but while I was watching this version, I found myself confused by the whole of the story. There were basic mistakes that were made in the storytelling. Movie (and TV) adaptations of books, short stories, and plays are prone to more intense scrutiny by fans of the original source material, and movie buffs will happily tear apart a movie.
The prime example is of storytelling faux pas is “Show, Don’t Tell”, when there is more explanation than action.
A Wrinkle in Time suffers from this and other grievous sins.
Pet Peeves of (Movie) Adaptations:
1.Show, don’t Tell; a lack of explanation or moving the plot forward too quickly. This means that characters go from place to place, have interactions with other characters, and there is little to no explanation for why they do this (Going from X to Y, and then to Z);
2. Changing a character’s motivation or personality;
3. Omitting crucial details.
In my opinion, if you do any of these things, then you have committed a sins against storytelling. If your audience doesn’t understand why your characters are doing what they are doing, then the audience will lost. Having your audience lost is never a good thing, because they will tell other people about their confusion. You risk losing your audience.
Let’s begin. First, why do Meg, Calvin, Charles Wallace, and the Mrs’s go to Uriel? In this movie there is no explanation for why the Mrs’s chose Uriel, at least nothing that an audience member can explain. In the book the reason for going to the planet Uriel is because it has the thinnest atmosphere of any planet and when standing on the tallest mountains you can see The Black Thing (Camazotz). Also, you need a flower to breath this thin atmosphere. Bet you didn’t know that fact? This is never explained and it feels clunky to the viewer.
Second, why go to the Orion’s belt to visit the Happy Medium? The Happy Medium can show them a closer look at Camazotz, and also we also get a closer look at the main characters. Note: the Happy Medium is an old woman in the book, Zach Galifianakis is an entertaining Happy Medium though.
Third, why go to Camazotz? Because that is where Mr. Murry is. It is also where the force behind Camazotz originates. Again the movie doesn’t explain this.
These are things that need to be established or your audience will feel lost within your story. You don’t need to have read the book to know these details if you present these details clearly.
Characters and why they are there.
Why is Calvin there? Is he a forced love interest? A warrior of the light? Why does he connected with Meg and her family? All that the movie gives you is that Calvin doesn’t like his home life and his is good at diplomacy and communication. He tells Meg that he had a compulsion to being there to meet her and Charles Wallace.
What are the Mrs’s? The movie never explains what they are. In the book you are given clues to what the Mrs’s are, hell, even Calvin figures it out in the book. Although I suspect that for the movie the aspects of faith were removed that is why the Mrs’s aren’t not explained to be Angels (or in the case of Mrs. Whatsit a former star).
Who is Red, Michael Pena's character in the movie? What is his purpose? The book has two chapters to explain who the Man with the Red Eyes is, (is he the Prime Coordinator) or what the IT is. We are never really told about IT in the movie, you are just shown the place where it ‘lives’. And this brings up a good point that the movie does not do...What is going on on Camazotz? You don’t get a reason for why it succumbed to the darkness, or even what the darkness is. You are just told it is a dark world. Madeline L’Engle reveals that the IT is a brain and that IT controls all of the life on Camazotz. Why? In a effort make life better (or just control everything)? Punishing those who step out of line, and stopping all disease and suffering for the good of the people. The books explains it far clearer, but in reality IT has caused more pain by training those who step outside the norm to behave properly. It is a VERY scary premise, and one that the screenwriter and director likely felt compelled to tone down for the movie. It loses something in the telling.
Onto motivation and character representation.
Why does Mrs. Whatsit do what she does? Why does she look like a flying lettuce leaf? Mrs. Whatsit is a favourite character, as she is the one closest to Meg in the book. She is the one to tell Meg that she loves her and not judge Meg for her faults. That is an important point to the conclusion of the story. Also, they changed Mrs. Whatsit’s form. She is NOT a flying lettuce leaf. She is this and the book explains what is she and why the battle against Camazotz is important to her. The other two Mrs’s also are never really explained either. As for her motivation, well, Mrs. Whatsit’s motivation to help Meg and Charles Wallace, but the movie makes her into a slightly self-absorbed celestial entity who likes to complain, even though Mrs. Which says that is because Mrs. Whatsit is so much younger then Mrs. Who or Mrs. Which.
If I had to pick a favourite Mrs. from the movie it would be Mrs. Who. She is the most truly represented in the movie as in the book. Mindy Kaling is a precious Mrs. Who too.There wasn’t much for her to work with either. While Mrs. Whatsit is my favourite from the book.
Where is Aunt Beast? There is a whole scene and a half that features Aunt Beast and Meg’s recovery from her father tessering to safety and her returning to Camazotz for her brother. It is not in the movie. Charles Wallace is currently under the control of IT. It comes across in the movie as forced when you see that Mr. Murry Tessering away from Camazotz and Meg stops the tesser. When in the book they escape, leaving Charles Wallace behind, and Meg is near death. Not only is that why Aunt Beast is there, to nurse Meg back to health, but also to explain why Meg has to return to Camazotz to rescue Charles Wallace. She also comes to terms with her father and herself, because it is HER story. The book explains this quite clearly that she needs to take responsibility for Charles Wallace (who up to that point was always taking care of her), and not preemptively stop her father from tessering away to safety, which is what the movie does. The movie forgets that Meg is the protagonist at times.
A Wrinkle in Time is guilty is also guilty of weaken storytelling with:
1. Poor character development;
2. Changing details [sometimes it is easier to omit non-crucial characters if you have a limited time frame to tell the story].
Back the problem of Calvin. He seems to be dropped into Meg’s world, which is actually correct for both the book and movie. “Why are you here?”, “Ever just have a compulsion?”, except that Calvin is not given a chance to explain why he is there, or have any back story about his family and why he prefers the Murry clan to his own. There is a brief scene with the Happy Medium. Here we get a glimpse of Calvin’s overbearing father yelling at him about his grades. He feels stunted as a character with little to nothing to do, except almost save Charles Wallace once. It is a disservice to his character presented in the book.
Mrs. Whatsit also suffers from a severe lack of development, and some changes in character. The brash and fearless Mrs. Whatsit is presented in the movie and slightly mean spirited. Mrs. Whatsit is brash and strong willed, but she is very concerned with Meg (in the book), although you wouldn’t know that in the movie. That part about Mrs. Whatsit and love is omitted and just left for the audience to come to there own reasonings about Meg and Mrs. Whatsit relationship.
Now, points to the movie:
1. Meg and Charles Wallace’s characters;
2. Including Fortinbras, the dog, although he is never named in the movie;
3. The depiction of Mr. Murry.
It wasn’t all bad. The movie got the characters of Meg and Charles Wallace pretty close to spot on; Meg being an angry, scared teenager and Charles Wallace, a super intelligent, maybe too smart for his own good child. Storm Reid and Deric McCabe were well cast and directed.
There were changes from the book that include the bully that Meg beats up into a girl (was a boy in the book), and Charles Wallace was already in school and actually talked to people outside of the family (when he was only 4 in the book and not school age yet). I don’t think they weaken the story. Although having a gang of girls to harass Meg, is more in the vein of Mean Girls and not A Wrinkle in Time.
A note here and I want to get nit picky. Where are Sandy and Dennys, the twins? In the book Meg has twin brothers. No word or reference to them at all. A small additional note-for the curious-they get there own adventure in the book, Many Waters. Since there are only in a bit of the beginning of the book, I can forgive the director and screenwriter for deciding to omit them from the movie.
I enjoyed Chris Pine as Mr. Murry, his performance was strong and quite compelling. There were details that were changed or omitted, like how he couldn’t see while imprisoned and needed Mrs. Who’s glasses to be able to see in his prison (called the Transparent Column in the book). His chemistry with Storm Reid was very believable.and drives the story along.
A Wrinkle in Time (2018) gets a 5 out of 10, because while it was a beautifully shot, and there were some strong acting featured, I just couldn’t get behind the movie’s version of the story. It was too confusing and rushed at points. Maybe there were too many changes for me, but the storytelling was far too weak for me. I don’t think that it is an unfilmable story, it just needs someone to do it right by the source material and make it relevant to a modern audience.