By: Christian Harding (Four Beers) –
Uhmm… yeah. So… well, uhh…. That was certainly, uhmm… something……
*deep breath* Hoooookay, here goes nothing. Over the years, our modern pop culture landscape hasn’t at all been starved for filmed adaptations of Madeline L’Engle’s landmark children’s novel A Wrinkle in Time. Heck, this isn’t even the first time that the Walt Disney corporation has tried their hand at bringing it to life onscreen. There was a Disney Channel Original Movie adaptation made back in 2003, but it was largely met with mixed to negative receptions, not least of which came from the author herself, who was even able to comment on its inadequacy shortly before her passing. Now a full decade and a half later, the mouse is ready to take another stab at the source material, but this time the company has opted to give it the big screen treatment, as well as placing it in the hands of a firmly established and talented director (Ava DuVernay, best known for the criminally underrated Selma) and gracing the proceedings with a healthy mix of seasoned actors and starry-eyed newcomers. So how did they do? Uhh….. well… at least they tried…
“You get an adaptation; you get an adaptation; and YOU get an adaptation!”
The general plot outline matches that of the original novel fairly close, but for those who have never read it: A Wrinkle in Time focuses on young Meg Murry, a science wiz that’s still reeling from the sudden disappearance of her father just four years prior. But through a series of rather unconventional, convoluted events, she finds herself thrust into an adventure across the galaxy – along with her adopted brother Charles Wallace and an acquaintance from school (does he even have a name?) – to locate her father and along the way, also save the galaxy from an all-consuming force of evil. At least, I think that’s what was going on.
Right off the top, it bears mentioning that on a purely visual and aesthetic level, A Wrinkle in Time delivers. Even the most passively observant film viewers should have noticed by now that a dim, blue-grey sort of color palette has been infesting the contemporary blockbuster landscape for the last decade or so, and a decent amount of recent live action Disney films have fallen prey to this trend as well. But fortunately, this film is bursting with color and liveliness throughout most of it, and the sheer creativity of the spectacle on display here demands respect. Also worthy of mention is newcomer Storm Reid in the leading role as Meg, who convincingly displays a wide range of emotions throughout the film and carries a lot of the proceedings, even through some of the… erm, “lesser” sections of the film. A handful of the supporting players also fare well, with industry vets like Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon, Zack Galifianakis, and of course Oprah Winfrey offering their unique talents to a number of largely underwritten parts. It would indeed appear that lot of the elements were in place for this to become something truly unique and special…
…but it’s all completely undermined by an utterly incoherent, moronic storyline. To be perfectly frank and honest, even as someone that has read the book before, the sequence of events as presented in this adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time is so jumbled and randomized that it hardly ever comes across as sensible or logical. Mythical characters just pop up out of nowhere (sometimes even when they’re fifty feet tall) and our cast of human characters who have never encountered anything remotely fantastical in their lives just go along with it all in such agreeable, unnatural fashion that nothing about it registers as the least bit believable or attached to any sort of identifiable reality.
While on principle, the near-total removal from the book of any spiritual elements that could be interpreted as being Christian is certainly commendable and opens this film up to a wider viewing audience, it just leaves a big hole in the mythos that was so inherent to the success and coherence of the original novel that isn’t really replaced by anything more meaningful than “just be nice and love each other” – a message that Trump’s America certainly needs reminding of, but also a far cry from the more dynamic, complex meaning of the original story. One could really go on for ages with just how cluttered and unfocused this film was, not just in terms of the way it was adapted from the source material, but how it does (or doesn’t) function as a standalone film. But unfortunately, a nonsensical plot isn’t the only hindrance that A Wrinkle in Time has in store for us.
While I mentioned before that a number of the veteran actors in A Wrinkle in Time manage to hold their own, despite being given nothing interesting or meaningful to do, this unfortunately isn’t true for everyone. True, there’s a revolving door of talented older performers providing credibility to underwritten roles and Storm Reid guides the ship well in the lead role, but the other two in the central trio of galaxy-hopping kiddos aren’t even close to matching her level. First up is Aussie actor Levi Miller who, to be completely fair, is saddled with the most useless and uninteresting love interest (I think?) this side of Natalie Portman in Thor.
Miller has been pretty solid in other recent films, most notably last year’s overlooked holiday-horror vehicle Better Watch Out, but not even the most talented child actor alive today could’ve made his character stand out when hobbled by such a terribly written role. And little Deric McCabe as Meg’s adapted brother Charles Wallace doesn’t fare much better. Again, the script isn’t doing him any favors, but when this character is called upon to take up a much more important role in the third act and he takes a much broader turn, McCabe performance just isn’t up to the task, and what I suppose is meant to have been menacing and intense comes across as frankly quite laughable. Heck, I’m not convinced that the acting from the *actual* Disney Channel version of this story could’ve been any worse either.
So, terrible storyline? Check. Wasted ensemble of talented actors? Check. Do we want to go three for three with some inconsistent visual effects work? Yeah, that’d be another big check. Much like the last big budget Disney tentpole Black Panther, what we’re saddled with here is another series of effects and designs that range from fairly strong to some of the most distracting, unfinished-looking blue screen work I’ve seen featured in a big budget film in quite some time; I think I even saw an incomplete blue halo outline behind Storm Reid’s head at one point? Again, I have to assume that Disney is saving all their big bucks and more reliable effects companies for Avengers: Infinity War, which at this point better have the most realistic, dazzling effects ever committed to film. Because if that isn’t the case, and this is just the norm for Disney’s more large scaled live action productions, then hoo boy are we in trouble. While the actual designs and colorization of these worlds are indeed impressive and well done, the animation behind them is often quite rubbery and unprofessional-looking at times.
Wow, Chris Pratt-Evans-Worth was so good in this film, you guys.
Made with lots of care and no doubt the best of intentions behind it, there really isn’t anything that ultimately could have saved this particular adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time from being a total incoherent mess, when it was hobbled by such an utterly baffling, incoherent screenplay. Yes, the visual effects crew and most of the cast deserve a ton of credit, but none of their efforts erase the fact that this might very well be the worst live action Disney adventure since Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. All the pieces were in place for this film not to go horribly wrong, but something got completely lost and muddled in the adaptation from page to screen, and the result is something that just doesn’t come together as a satisfying finished product. Yes, diversity and representation absolutely matter, but without a solid foundation to support those elements, it’s all just in service of a fractured whole.
A Wrinkle in Time (2018) Drinking Game
Do a Shot: whenever something actually makes sense.
Do another Shot: each time someone calls out for Charles Wallace.
Shotgun a Beer: when “Shut up, Meg!” happens. (A possible Family Guy reference?)
Really, just Take all of the Drinks: because holy shit, you’re going to need them.