“The only thing faster than light is the darkness.”
The sci-fi/fantasy adventure A Wrinkle in Time adapts Madeleine L’Engle’s Newberry Award winning 1962 young adult novel. Jennifer Lee (Frozen) and Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terabithia) wrote the screenplay while Ava DuVernay (Selma) becomes the first black woman to direct a live-action film with a budget of over $100 million.
The film seems to contain ideology and intention different from the original author’s perspective, and reflects a philosophy of the present time with modern-day quotes and references. It retains the core “Light” versus “Dark” with the “no options, no problems” mantra where most people willingly submit to the “norm,” which is especially evident in a beach sequence.
This one hour and 49-minute adaptation has the advantage of a big budget, special effects technology, and a high-caliber cast and crew. (The previous A Wrinkle in Time adaptation was the poorly received 2003 TV movie starring Katie Stuart and Alfre Woodard, which L’Engle disapproved of. L’Engle passed away in 2007.)
Storm Reid (12 Years a Slave) portrays Meg Murry, the main protagonist, who’s anxious to find her beloved missing astrophysicist dad Dr. Alex Murry, portrayed by Chris Pine (Wonder Woman, Star Trek), who seems to have discovered instantaneous travel through space.
Meg’s anger, impatience, suspicion (lack of trust), and lack of self-confidence with added elements of self-image problems permeate the plot, but aren’t fully developed. The other characters must explain these points where the film misses the obvious advantage of showing them visually.
Pine’s role and the related circumstances are noticeably different than in the book, and the same is true of his wife, Dr. Kate Murry, who is portrayed by Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beauty and the Beast, Belle).
Meg’s brother, Charles Wallace Murry (Deric McCabe), is a prodigy genius who fills out the young trio with Calvin O’Keefe, played by Levi Miller (Pan), Meg’s classmate who has been recently impressed with her stand at school against a very mean girl named Veronica, played by Rowan Blanchard (TV’s Girl Meets World).
A trio of powerful and transformative beings led by Mrs. Which, played by Oprah Winfrey, guide the young trio to find Dr. Murry as well as teach the ways of the Light in order to defeat the Darkness they encounter along the way.
Mindy Kaling (Inside Out, TV’s The Office, The Mindy Project) portrays Mrs. Who and Reese Witherspoon (Sweet Home Alabama, Legally Blonde) portrays Mrs. Whatsit.
Winfrey has adequate screen presence and gravitas to deliver the key dialogue. Kaling’s character draws upon famous quotes for most of her dialogue and emits general feelings of love and kindness well.
Witherspoon’s energetic screen persona charms as usual while functioning as the catalyst to get the young trio and Mrs. Murry engaged into the fantasy elements of the plot. The previously initiated Charles Wallace is already on board, which is stated and not shown on screen to keep the plot moving.
The visual effects help with the characters’ “tessering” travels, but the film still tells too much through dialogue, perhaps to keep the rating at PG. For example, Mrs. Which talks about how the Darkness can elevate evil to the point of war and violence, instead of the film showing any war or violence.
The filmmakers also dampen the overall scares with other clever techniques like switching to a nearby character’s reaction when an evil voice embodies a main character during a memorable sequence in a dark hallway where characters are being moved against their will.
Audiences do see sequences with mean acts and victims who are mostly bystanders, except one man, portrayed by Conrad Roberts (The Mask of Zorro) who had appeared in an early sequence.
The impressive visual effects also provide predictable, fun, “roller coaster” action sequences mainly involving Mrs. Whatsit on the planet Uriel and the Darkness’ source that lives on Camazotz and is described as “many faces with one terrible mind” – the IT.
Zach Galifianakis (The LEGO Batman Movie, The Muppets Movie) is The Happy Medium, a clairvoyant who lives in a precarious cave environment where visiting characters must figuratively and literally balance themselves.
His impressive compassion and emotional guidance ring true, especially as he helps Meg work through her vulnerabilities and fears. Some extended point-of-view shots from the other characters, especially Meg, would have enhanced the balancing challenges and action.
Michael Peña (Ant-Man) plays a key character the young trio encounters on their journey to find Dr. Murry, and André Holland is school Principal Jenkins with Yvette Cason and Will McCormack portraying teachers.
David Oyelowo even reteams with DuVernay as the voice of a key character reimagined from L’Engle’s book as a vast stringed array.
Sequences with low voice volumes (especially during a rescue involving flowers and another climactic sequence on Camazotz) require close listening to catch the dialogue, which is very difficult today in a theater full of people (subtitles on the future home video version will be much better).
Daniel MacPherson has a short but memorable role as Calvin’s father while other notable roles include Bellamy Young (TV’s Scandal) as a female character on Camazotz.
The musical score by composer Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones) enhances the film fine, but the showcase songs from Sia (“Magic”), Demi Lovato (“I Believe”), and Sade (“Flower of the Universe”) make a much bigger impression as their lyrics explain concepts at key moments in the plot (again, audiences must be attentive listeners).
The costume design from Paco Delgado, cinematography from Tobias A. Schliessler, and production design led by Naomi Shohan all impress.
Predictably the original book covers more than this film, but, of course, there is plenty of potential for possible sequels since there were five books in the original series.
Filmed in New Zealand and California, this family fantasy comes recommended with reservations (**1/2 out of four stars) and is rated PG for thematic elements and some peril.
This Walt Disney Pictures film has good intentions with young characters challenged to “be a warrior” for the Light (“the Universe”, the greater good), but is notably underdeveloped, with less overall effect than the original material.
It’s also showing in Disney Digital 3-D, RealD 3D and IMAX 3D theaters. Be sure to check out co-producer Catherine Hand’s half-century quest to make the film at NPR.