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Buena Vista Home Video presents
"How can evil prevail when there is such good in the world?"
DVD ReviewMadeleine L'Engle's celebrated 1963 children's novel A Wrinkle in Time is such an intelligent, imaginative story, I can't believe it wasn't turned into a movie before the turn of the century. A blend of sci-fi and fantasy, with a trio of strong-willed children as the heroes... Sounds like perfect material for the studio that made Escape to Witch Mountain. Indeed, Disney finally filmed it in 2001, albeit it as a miniseries for ABC. Though originally intended to air that year, the studio then sat on the property, which began life as a four-hour, two-night mini-series (minus commercials), for two years before airing it in mid-2004 as a one-night, three-hour "event" and minus a full quarter of its narrative. Even at just over two hours without commercials, though, it's still awkwardly paced and packed with filler, and I don't think another hour or more would have made it any better, just longer.
The film follows the novel fairly well, but it has been modernized and peppered with pop-culture references and lame humor to the point that it already seems dated. Meg (Katie Stuart) is having trouble fitting in at school, largely because she is upset over the mysterious disappearance of her father (Chris Potter), a scientist who was studying the physical properties of space. Meg's brother Charles Wallace (David Dorfman, the creepy kid from The Ring, still creepy) isn't any more popular—he refuses to talk to anyone outside his family and believes he's psychic. One night, the pair is visited by a strange, shape-shifting woman named Mrs. Whatsit (Alfrie Woodard), who tells them their father stumbled across a phenomenon known as the "tesseract" that allows you to travel across the galaxy using only your mind (spaceships are for primitive people, she says), and that he is being held hostage by the forces of a terrible darkness known as IT that is threatening to take over the galaxy. Oh, and Charles Wallace is key to its destruction, though his sister will have to find her own hidden strengths to help him, yadda yadda yadda, believe in yourself. Along for the ride is hunky neighbor Calvin (Everwood's Gregory Smith), to provide the awkward teen romance side story.
While the narrative arc is pretty familiar these days, L'Engle's version includes a lot of fascinating touches. IT, for example, is interested in creating a society of Orwellian conformity (in one of the film's only effective sequences, children on the planet Camazotz "play" by bouncing basketballs in unison, lest they be carted away for showing some individuality). Mrs. Whatsit is joined by fellow intergalactic oddballs Mrs. Who (Allison Elliot), who speaks only in Bartlett's Famous Quotes, and Mrs. Which (Kate Nelligan), who, in this film anyway, looks exactly like Faye Dunaway. But for the most part, the film strips any imagination from the proceedings in favor of bad CGI effects (including an awful sequence on a winged centaur creature that looks absolutely terrible, which is probably why they replaced it with a real horse—well, one with wings—on the DVD cover) and a hastily constructed, confusing narrative that pushes an inconsequential henchman of IT (Kyle Secor) to the forefront. About the only thing I thought really worked was the physical representation of tessering, but even that becomes annoying when the film uses it as an excuse to burn up about 10 minutes of screentime.
I hadn't read the book before, but after seeing the film I was so unimpressed I decided to, and that was definitely the better way to spend two hours. The adaptation is clumsy and dull, and though it retains the "believe in yourself" message of the book, it is communicated in a fashion both condescending and juvenile. Performances from the young cast are uneven, thanks largely, it seems, to director John Kent Harrison, who seems to have directed them to speak in a soft monotone for any scene requiring an emotional display less pronounced than fierce anger. Pacing kills momentum before the story has even begun—the first half-hour, intended to establish the characters, will likely put many young viewers to sleep. The ending, while technically faithful to the book, is also so smarmy that it will turn off anyone over the age of reason, and the action sequences leading up to it are rushed and often confusing.
So will children enjoy it? Maybe. It's a little long, but youngsters probably won't find the cloying characters or continuity gaps as distracting. But why allow them to experience such a great story in such a truncated, disappointing fashion? Better to spend the $20 and pick up a the book in a boxed set of A Wrinkle in Time and its celebrated sequels, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Your kids' brains will thank you.
The full-frame image included here isn't bad, but I have trouble believing the feature wasn't filmed in widescreen—the fact that the deleted scenes are presented as such is a big indicator, anyway. So points off for catering to the "kids prefer full frame" mentality, but otherwise, this isn't too bad. Colors are strong but sometimes suffer from some breakup in effects shots. Detail is strong throughout and a slight graininess doesn't distract much from otherwise strong blacks. The DD 5.1 mix is pretty impressive for this type of production, with a strong, directional front soundstage and frequent surround use, particularly during the tesseract sequences. Scenes on X thrum with the pulse of the villain IT, and feature effective LFE. Demerits for the overcooked musical score, which threatens to drown out the action at every turn.
Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Sacred Planet, Eloise at Christmastime, Boy Meets World, The Young Black Stallion, Where the Red Fern Grows
5 Deleted Scenes
Extras Review: I wasn't expecting much from this release in terms of extras, so that fact that there are some halfway decent inclusions comes as a welcome surprise. Five deleted scenes, with a total running time of around 18 minutes, hint at what the film may have been like if it hadn't been edited down to air on one night instead of two. Three of the scenes occur before the start of the film as it now exists, as we see Jack, Meg, and Charles Wallace's father, actually discover the tesseract and get caught up in its wake. Truthfully, they don't add much that can't be inferred from later exposition, and they include some odd footage of government teams sweeping into action that feels out of character with the otherwise fantastic nature of the story (though they do offer some nice Wizard of Oz-style parallels with events that occur later on Camazotz). The other two cut scenes involve the trio of heroes. Both are quite lengthy and pretty dull, unless you are a teenage girl interested in seeing Gregory Smith with his shirt off (I, sadly, am neither of those things).
In what the packaging calls a "rare interview," A Wrinkle in Time author Madeleine L'Engle talks for 10 minutes about creating the story, which she wrote in her free time while raising her children. She explains that the book was birthed out of her interest in science, and she repeats the phrase "particle physics" at least a dozen times ("As Meg discovers herself, she also discovers the world of particle physics!"). It's sort of a meandering piece, but interesting, even if the editors try to cut in footage from the miniseries to make it look like the book hasn't been totally stripped of its original charms.
There is an 11-minute standard "making-of" piece, filled mostly with chatter from the actors and producers about the casting process (David Dorfman "was" Charles Wallace, Katie Stuart is amazing, Alfrie Woodard will do anything if you pay her enough, etc.). All involved seem enthused about the film, but then, this was before ABC shelved it for two years and then cut it to ribbons.
Also included are trailers for Sacred Planet, Eloise at Christmastime, Boy Meets World Season Two, The Young Black Stallion, Where the Red Fern Grows
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsAs is typically the case when beloved children's stories are turned into films (the Harry Potter series notwithstanding), Disney's version of the Newberry Award-winning classic A Wrinkle in Time has a few wrinkles, nay, creases, of its own. Cut down drastically from its original three-hour length, its still a rather interminable at two hours plus, time that would be better spent re-reading the book (go ahead, it's not very long, and refreshingly free of crappy CGI effects).
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