Following the disappearance of her scientist father (Chris Pine), Meg (Storm Reid) alongside her brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and friend Calvin (Levi Miller) embark on an otherworldly adventure to locate his whereabouts. From there, they meet three celestial beings including Mrs Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling).
56 years. That is the length it took to turn Madeleine L’Engle’s award-winning 1962 novel of the same name into a big screen adaptation. It’s not that the book never translated from pages to screen before. In 2003, there was once a made-for-television movie produced under the Walt Disney banner. However, it was largely greeted with lukewarm responses.
Now, with the first-ever big screen version of A Wrinkle in Time, this should be a few causes for celebration. It made history as the first big-budget movie (US$103 million, to be exact) directed by an African-American woman (Ava DuVernay). The movie also features a diverse cast of different generations including the up-and-coming Storm Reid and Deric McCabe along with familiar faces consisting of Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine. Disney even promoted this movie heavily and although I was feeling doubtful after watching the trailer, I figure Ava DuVernay might surprise me otherwise. After all, her previous directorial effort in Selma was an impressive piece of work, the acclaimed true-story civil rights drama centres on the late Dr Martin Luther King.
Unfortunately, A Wrinkle in Time turns out to be a huge disappointment. This is particularly surprising, given the calibre of Ava DuVernay’s reputation as a promising female director. So, what went wrong?
First, the plot is haphazardly put together by Jennifer Lee (Frozen). If there is one important rule about making a successful fantasy-adventure movie, it has to be able to suspend our disbelief and immerse us in the fantasy world itself. But the introductions of the “Mrs” (Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling) are sadly perfunctory. Instead of fleshing them out as a character, all I see the most is their fancy costume along with their distracting hairstyle and makeup. It’s like as if they are willing to show up for an easy paycheck dressing in Halloween costumes. Don’t get me wrong, actresses like Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon have done some great movies in the past. It’s just too bad they are underutilised here.
Themes like the battle between the light and darkness and the universal motif of love conquer all are overly simplified to the point they feel hollow. Even if this movie wanted to aim for younger audiences, does it need to be dumbed down in such a way? Then, there’s the major storyline involving Meg’s quest to find her missing father. Despite all the fantastical world and various obstacles she has to go through, the stakes feel low. It makes the overall journey more mundane than supposedly given us a sense of wow factor.
The special effects, such as the floral planet of Uriel, Mrs Whatsit’s transformation from a human form to a flying creature and the giant tornado scene, are fairly spectacular on the big screen. But they are all visually empty since it’s hard to invest in them, given the fact how the story is told in the first place.
The acting is equally uneven. While Storm Reid and Deric McCabe manage to make quite an impression with their respective performances, the rest of the supporting actors are polar opposites altogether.
As for Ava DuVernay, her transition from the indie filmmaking to a big-studio blockbuster is largely a letdown. It’s even hard to believe the result of her choppy direction is a far cry from what she used to prove otherwise in Selma. Sure, they are two different genres. Perhaps she is clearly out of her league directing a fantasy adventure or a scope this big. This makes me wonder what if she ends up directing Black Panther in the first place before Ryan Coogler took over instead? If there is a consolation worth mentioning here, it’s nice to see Sade making their comeback with a brand new song called “Flower of the Universe”. Although minimal in its overall musical composition, the song is suitably dreamy and enchanting at the same time. Now, if only the movie itself is just as good as the song.