10 April, 2018

[Review] Book to Movie Comparison: A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L'Engle

Series: A Time Quintet
Release Date: 1 January, 1962/9 March, 2018
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Disney Movie Studios
Genre: Young Adult Fiction/Science Fiction & Fantasy/Time Travel
ISBN: 9780312367541 (book only)
Edition: Audiobook/Movie
Rating: ★★★★☆ (book)/★★☆☆☆ (movie)
Review Written: 24 March, 2018
Summary: It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

"Wild nights are my glory," the unearthly stranger told them. "I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I'll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract."

A tesseract (in case the reader doesn't know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L'Engle's unusual book. A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O'Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg's father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.

A Wrinkle in Time is the winner of the 1963 Newbery Medal.

I’ll admit I’ve not found too many book to movie deals that have ever pleased me. Things are always changed beyond belief and many of the best parts, the deepest parts, are lost to the cutting room floor. A great example of that is my love of the Harry Potter books but distaste for the movies and overall extended world; now I’m afraid that A Wrinkle in Time will have to join a long line of poor translations from book to movies that I have mixed feelings about. In preparation for seeing the movie, I decided to listen to the novel via audiobook. I’d never read any of Mrs. L’Engle’s written before, and it intrigued me. Eagerly, I soaked in the book, finding things that were very much relatable despite no longer being a young teenager.

In the opening of the book, we are introduced to Margaret Murry (Meg) who is the eldest of the four Murry children. As the oldest, she tends to be the one who hears gossip about her father’s disappearance and younger brother’s supposed stupidity as he chooses not to talk in the presence of strangers. Charles Wallace, the baby of the family, has a strange intuition where he seems to know when Meg is upset and routinely checks up on her when she’s at home. Given their home in a quiet village, there’s not ample opportunities for anyone who is different to really blend in. The movie opens almost the same way, introducing us to Meg and her father, Alex Murry. Here however, Meg is an only child until they adopt Charles Wallace. I was very puzzled by the lack of Sandy and Dennys, while they had a smaller part in the book it’s true, they lack of them all together was a bit troubling. They were the most adaptive of the Murry children and the most well liked.

From here, things stay about the same with a few differences. In the book, Mr. Murry has been gone for a year while the movie makes it 4 years. In the book, the family lives in a large house that’s implied to be in a village somewhere around one of the Great Lakes. The movie shows the family living in a moderately sized house in the suburbs of LA or another city in California. Fortinbras, the family dog, is seen twice in the movie where in the book he is a constant companion of Charles Wallace. Charles Wallace has also been aged up slightly for the movie as he is already in school where in the book he had yet to start. Still, Charles Wallace is the one who befriends Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which though he spends more time admonishing Mrs. Whatsit for stealing sheets from around the village, as well as other things.

The book shows Meg with a deeper connection with her mother. After Mrs. Whatsit’s initial visit, the pair have a conversation the next morning about their curious guest in the night. She also is shown having a deeper relationship with Charles Wallace than with the twins, though she still loves them as well. The initial meeting with Calvin in the movie is a strained affair with Charles Wallace telling him openly that he was called because he’s a good negotiator, though he fails to have any sort of role in negotiating. For the most part, he seemed to be there for nothing other than holding Meg’s hand. In the book, the initial meeting is also strained, though its with more suspicion and distrust than anything else. Calvin in the book is the third eldest of eleven siblings, not the most common of family structures, however he seems to genuinely love his family despite never having enough to eat, clothes that fit properly, or the like. He’s very good with words, often helping Meg with her homework while she helps him with his Math. He’s also two grades ahead of Meg in the book, being a Junior in the first book and a Senior in book 2.

The movie begins deviating from the book at the arrival of Mrs. Which. Mrs. Which, while magnificently played by Oprah, has too much control over her vocalization skills in the movie. In the book it’s explained that Mrs. Whatsit was picked because she was so adept at vocalization since Who and Which were much older and to use words wore them down more quickly. Soon enough the children are whisked off to a new planet, Uriel, where Mrs. Whatsit transformer. In the book, the creature described sounded more like a centaur/pegasus crossover. Though the leafy plant creature that Mrs. Whatsit took the form of was lovely, it felt lackluster and a bit forced. The children were supposed to be taken to see “The Dark Thing” in the sky on a mountain top, however they’re simply swept along on Whatsit’s back until distracted by the “evil in the sky” (described as Camazotz despite the fact that Camazotz is only a single planet in the book).

From here the entire movie fell away from the book plot except for a few loosely similar things. The “Happy Medium” from the book is gone, replaced with a yoga and balance reclusive male who had some kind of history with Whatsit? That was weird as the original medium was a woman who preferred the happy things over looking towards the darkness. The Mrses. also decide that returning to Earth is perhaps the better option than simply attempting to push themselves through the darkness to deposit the children on Camazotz. It’s explained in the movie that Meg’s will slingshotted them back to Camazotz instead of to Earth. This happens again when Alex Murry is found and he attempts to Tesser himself, Meg, and Calvin off the planet to save them before IT can incorporate them into their folds.

Camazotz was perhaps the most disappoint aspect for me. In the book, Camazotz could have been a twin to Earth if the people on it had had their free will. Upon arriving on Camazotz, the Mrses. inform the children that they cannot stay since Camazotz is controlled by the darkness. They instead present gifts to the children to help them on their journey to be reunited with Mr. Murry. Mrs. Whatsit blesses Meg with her faults, Calvin with his gift of communication, and Charles Wallace with the resilience of his childhood. Meg receives a pair of glasses from Mrs. Who to help her in times of dire need, and Charles Wallace is reminded that he doesn’t know everything by her. Finally Mrs. Which gives them the command to “Go down into the town. Go together. Do not let them separate you. Be strong. (L’Engle, 94)”. Then the three immortals depart, leaving the children alone to face the dangers on Camazotz.

From there, Camazotz gets more and more uncomfortable as everything and everyone are “the same” and in sync with one another. No one is allowed to deviate from the norm. One child is shown in the book as having broken the rhythm and is later seen in a torturous moment of “reeducation” to prevent him from deviating again. This theme runs through again when the children finally find Mr. Murry after Charles Wallace is possessed by IT. Meg ends up using Mrs. Who’s gift to help break into Mr. Murry’s prison and letting him have them to free himself. He does come back for her and the pair are reunited.

In the movie, they arrive on Camazotz in a field (like the book), and they are given their gifts. However only Meg and Calvin receive the gifts of Mrs. Whatsit and only Meg receives Mrs. Who’s gift. All three do receive Mrs. Which’s gift, however they are nowhere near a city for them to proceed down into. Instead, immediately after the Mrses. leave in order to survive, the trio are throw into a forest where they are immediately separated. That is to say Charles Wallace is cut off from Meg and Calvin and they’re forced to race against an oncoming storm. The pair eventually end up crawling into a hollowed out tree-trunk to help get themselves flung up over a “wall” to safety. While visually intriguing the scene did little to enhance the storyline at all.

Despite being gifted with the gift of communication, Calvin has very few to no opportunities to execute this skill. Every opportunity is given to Meg to stand up for herself and to hold dear however the movie misses the point of the book. While Love conquers Evil is the main theme of both, the book showcases how much we need others and to be connected for that love to truly reach its full potential. During their time on Camazotz, the children are barely challenged, Meg’s stubbornness is celebrated as a point of pride. The movie completely eliminates the planet of Aunt Beast and what truly made the book special. In the book, Meg chooses to return to Camazotz alone to retrieve her younger brother. In the movie, she proverbially digs her heels in to remain behind when Mr. Murry tessers himself and Calvin away.

Overall, I loved the book, the richness of the text and the ability to connect with Meg and her situation despite the age gap were fantastic. The fanciful elements, backstory on characters is a rich situation that holds itself up with no need for thrills or whistles. The movie, while imaginative and well casted, simply reached  too far and became a creature of its own. If you are able to look at the two as separate things, I applaud you and encourage you to enjoy the book and the movie for their own separate victories. My ratings however shall be 4 stars for the book and 2 for the movie in its inability to live up to what was promised in the previews and ultimately becoming something completely different than what it was supposed to be based on.

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