At the Movies with Alan Gekko: A Wrinkle in Time “2018”

MPAA Rating: PG/ Genre: Sci-Fi Fantasy Adventure/ Stars: Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Storm Reid, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Peña, David Oyelowo, Andre Holland, Rowan Blanchard, Daniel MacPherson/ Runtime: 109 minutes

I feel it must be said that here lately the powerhouse of the entertainment world that is Disney has been showcasing an uptick in boldness with regard to the narratives that they have been choosing to bring to life for their global audiences. The reason I bring this up is because a few years ago, Disney chose to narrow in on adapting one of the most unique yet iconic young adult novels ever brought to life: A Wrinkle in Time (even though to be fair Disney, courtesy of ABC, has a prior history with this work thanks to a TV adaptation in 2004). Yet even with the act of having the director of the wonderful civil rights movie Selma at the helm and a game cast, this film may have updated the novel’s plot in order to feel “fresh and relevant” for the sake of today’s young audiences, and it may look shiny on the surface, but unfortunately the parts that make the machine run still needed to quite a bit of oiling and tuning and it shows.

The plot is as follows: this adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time makes the choice to possess a narrative that, except in a few key areas, is virtually similar to the original story. With that being said the film tells the story of a young girl named Meg Murry. Meg, it is worth noting, is a brainy, extremely impulsive, and tragically misconstrued young girl living in California who, when not trying to forge her own path through that unique and mysterious thing called life, is also saddled with taking care of both her child prodigy brother Charles as well as her mom in the aftermath of her father eerily vanishing during a science experiment gone awry. Yet, unlike seemingly everyone else around her, Meg has never been willing to give up on her father; a part of her that soon leads her on an incredible odyssey following Charles introduces her to a trio of women named Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which respectively. It seems that these three women are, in actuality, a trio of powerful entities from the cosmos who have come to Earth to help in the quest to locate the kids’ father and bring him home. Thus our young heroes, alongside new friend/ally Calvin, embark on a out-of-this-world expedition to unravel the mysteries of the universe both known and unknown, combat a darkness that is threatening everything, and ultimately bring their once-inseparable family back together again.

Now the moment that it decides to set forth on this epic quest is also the moment that this movie begins to fall apart. That’s because this is a film which honestly has immense difficulty in being in one location for a period of time that would help an audience, and the characters for that matter, actually build a bond with a locale that they visit. To be fair I understand that this is a story which requires a lot of moving around, but nevertheless this is still a film which honestly needed an extra 20 minutes at least added to the final runtime if for no other reason than so our cast of eclectic characters could actually form connections that were significantly more meaningful. Indeed there may be some wonderful spots scattered within, but these are all left feeling wasted and severely underutilized by this film’s fast-paced desire to get from one location to the next.

Surprisingly I feel that a lot of this film’s primary dilemmas come from the fact that it actually is quite faithful to the original source material. Indeed while the design of pretty much everything has been altered, the layout of the story is still in place and some chunks of the dialogue are actually lifted verbatim from the book itself. Indeed while there will be some people out there who will find it within themselves to treasure just how faithful this is to the iconic novel, there is a drawback. That drawback is not only the fact that the composition of the novel really has never been one to exactly be the kind that the stereotypical movie format could really work with, but also that while there are long yet significant scenes from the book included in this movie, they both feel forced and are never given any kind of explanation that really makes the movie feel more enhanced as a result.

Now a key aspect from the original novel that I definitely felt is not successful in the conversion to the big screen is the creation of the primary struggle as well as just what lies in the balance in this particular story. Indeed this is because although the source material makes the choice to deal in extremely metaphysical ideas of a horrific wickedness flowing throughout the cosmos and that manages to eradicate the emotion of love with its vile ways, the conversion of such an antagonist (known only as The IT) into something that an audience can see really doesn’t quite work in this transition. Indeed it is common knowledge that a story is only as great as its antagonist, but when you have an antagonist that looks like the one from that god-awful Green Lantern movie…..suffice it to say that’s not exactly the best place in the world to start off on.

Now a single arena in which I feel this film is actually able to succeed in a significant way is in just how much creativity and novelty is invested into some of the worlds that this film visits. Yes I will be the first admit to that there are moments where the CGI on display is downright awful, but by the same token there are also a few sequences that take ideas from the source material and then elaborate on these ideas in some absolutely astounding and creative ways with the moment involving Meg using Mrs. Who’s glasses to see inside the evil entity’s headquarters being one such moment and the retooling of the character known simply as Red into a puppet-esque robot being another.

Now when it comes to this film’s cast, I definitely think it is safe to point out that how good their performances tend to be really does vary significantly on the scale so to speak. This is because while Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, and Mindy Kaling are all clearly having an absolute blast when it comes to bringing their distinctly quirky characters to life, only Oprah’s character is really given the ability to connect to our main heroine on a narratively intriguing level, a feat that is all the more astonishing I might add given that it does not involve giving anything away like on her show. As for the kid members of this cast I definitely feel that they too are a mixed bag; this is because while Storm Reid as Meg is able to truly brighten the screen and show off her wonderful acting abilities, Levi Miller, as Calvin, sadly isn’t given much of an arc in order to really make a mark on the audience while, as child prodigy Charles Wallace, Deric McCabe manages to achieve quite a distinction. That distinction would be that this young man’s portrayal has got to be one of the most, absolutely, positively, drive-you-up-the-wall and check out the yellow wallpaper irritating young film roles as of late. Even more irritating then that that however, is the fact that I am never quite sure how in the world Meg puts up with him, and it seems the filmmakers didn’t either. This is because, like quite a few other items of significance from the novel, this film chooses to operate off of the concept that an audience will automatically understand just why all the relationships in this film are as important as they are instead of doing what a smart film would do and actually use time in the movie to showcase just what it is about these relationships among the various characters are important to the overall narrative.

Yet out of the entire cast, I feel that it is safe to say that Chris Pine manages to give what is easily the best performance in the entire film. Indeed he manages to showcase a significant amount of magnetism, gravitas, as well as a genuine sense of the kind of love that only a devoted father can bring to the point that he really manages to heat up this otherwise icy shell of a film. Indeed it should come as no surprise then that the screen time that he has in this film really do prove to be this film’s better moments, and I’m honestly left to ponder the idea that maybe this film would’ve fared better had it chosen to focus on the journey that his character embarks on rather than that of his daughter’s.

All in all despite some arresting work in the visual effects department as well as some unique and engaging ideas to stop and think about, this adaptation is ultimately sunk by a narrative to nowhere that absolutely falls flat in its attempts to showcase the joy and wonder of the original source material. Indeed although fans of this classic piece of young adult literature have been waiting for a long time for this book to get an adaptation on the level of Holes, it sadly and unfortunately looks like their wait just got extended even further. On a scale of 1-5 I give A Wrinkle in Time “2018” a 2.5 out of 5.