Should you go see the new adaptation of the classic book? Maybe…
Here is my Goodreads review (follow me on Goodreads), or scroll down for what I thought of the film.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Why ask me? This book is a classic that goes beyond all internet reviews. School librarians and teachers will forever be recommending this book, and with good reason. If you’re going to read it as an adult, don’t expect too much, but kids will remember it forever. I just read it to my children and we went to see the movie. It’s a cerebral, magical, wonder-filled book that is great for children from 8-12. I highly recommend it for reading aloud or reading solo. The kids loved it. It’s imaginative and adventurous, with plenty of laughs and cries. The thing I liked most about it was reading a children’s book that quotes Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, and Cervantes in their original languages. That’s the kind of book I want to read to my kids.
If it’s so great, then why only three stars? Honestly it’s a little hard to read. This book was notoriously rejected over sixty times by publishers who thought it was too hard for kids to read, and I might agree with them. I read it aloud, and I often had to stop and re-read awkward sentences. Also there’s the structure of the story itself: the movie is getting a lot of heat for this but trust me, the problems are there in the book. The story is just not that strong, but honestly the story doesn’t seem to be the point. The point seems to be the relationships between the family members, the cool worlds they visit and Meg’s arc, which is good despite the weaknesses of the plot as a whole. Meg still grows up quite a bit over the course of the story and solves the final problem, but I’m too much of a bitter adult to really get it.
On the other hand, the kids loved it, so why not read it to them?
I also saw the film yesterday, March 11. I am adding this note because I have written a lot about film and TV adaptations and I think this one is relevant to my overall thesis, which has been that what makes a good book doesn’t necessarily make a good movie, i.e. there are certain stories that are best told in books, others that are best told as plays, others best as TV shows, and so on. The Wheel of Time is obviously best as a book.
Despite the early negative reviews of the film, starting with a Facebook friend who was disappointed, I thought it was not a poorly-executed adaptation of the book. My kids and my wife liked it, and it was not a bad movie, but once again the tone of the movie is completely different. The movie was painfully emotional, with an emphasis on pain, whereas the book had a sense-of-wonder tone. The tone of the book is basically “here’s this quirky, nerdy family, and Zow! The universe is a quirky, nerdy place! Boing!” Something’s in the water, as film adaptations these days seem to be far more dour than the tone of the books, with a few exceptions.
Yes, in the book Meg doesn’t fit in, but she’s not going around moping all the time, thoroughly alienated and distraught. She’s pissed, she doesn’t like her braces or her hair or her glasses, but she has her family and she likes them and they like her. The movie totally overdoes the alienation. As another example, the three visitors are weird old ladies in the book, and they act like real-life weird old ladies (and don’t tell me such don’t exist).
The part where Dr. Murry tells everyone that he can travel the universe with his mind is just not believable. The book perpetrates the Scientist-as-John-the-Baptist fallacy, but not as hard as the movie does. People don’t have labs like that in their houses. Those things cost millions of dollars, and you share them. At a university. The pacing is off, but that’s often forgivable in kid’s movies. We barely know Meg and weird stuff just starts happening.
A few crucial details were changed. I can imagine people didn’t think they were crucial, but I would argue they totally changed the nature of the story:
- Everyone is portrayed as a victim, even Meg’s father. In the book, Dr. Murry is part of a secret government program at Cape Canaveral, and he is sent on a mission. In the movie, he is a ridiculed scientist who is ostracized for his wild ideas. The school bully is portrayed as a victim. The Happy Medium is portrayed a victim. Calvin is portrayed as a victim.
- Which brings me to: Charles Wallace is adopted. This may seem like a tiny detail, but the point of Charles Wallace is that he has some things in common with his parents, and some that he does not, i.e. he is a psychic mutant. If he’s adopted, then there’s no prediction of his personality, or his commonalities with Meg or his parents. I can see several reasons why they made this change, but I think it misses a pretty huge point from the book.
- Mrs. Who quotes things in the book for fun, and she does it in the native language of the original author. This is one of the things I liked about reading this book: I always like an excuse to quote Shakespeare, and if I knew any Cervantes, I would quote that. But Mrs. Who in the movie is dramatic and overwrought and, for some strange reason, quotes everything in English, and then gives the nationality of the speaker. For a movie that goes out of its way to be thoroughly multicultural, it was a little weird to take out the Italian, Spanish, Greek, and Chinese that’s in the book.
- The writers seemed to conflate a few concepts from the book: The Black Thing is a mysterious force that transforms Camazotz and allows a force called IT to have power on Camazotz. In the movie The Black Thing is Camazotz, and they call the deadly “The IT.” I just thought it was awkward.
- Just in pure film-making terms, quite often I couldn’t understand the dialogue from Charles Wallace, but that’s nit-picking, isn’t it.
But overall, it’s an okay kids movie. Seeing it in the theater was a worthwhile family outing, worth the money. I probably won’t watch it again, but if the kids want to see it again, we could. This is another case of something that has to be done as a book: it’s a bookish story, about bookish people quoting other books. Bookedy book book. Josiah Bancroft already said it best a few weeks ago on Twitter:
I’m rereading A Wrinkle in Time by L’Engle In preparation for a panel. It’s every bit as wonderful as I remember: intimate and eerie, full of humanity and existential awe. I can’t help but wonder if it’s a story better suited to the theater of the imagination than Disney studios.
— Josiah (@TheBooksofBabel) February 22, 2018