Wrinkle In Time: The Movie

I love this book. Love it so much. I started reading it when I was a tiny little Izzy–my mom assigned it to her students, and I remember being terrified of the red-eyed guy on the cover, so of course I had to see what was inside. Weird science! Stars! Creepy planets controlled by disembodied brains! Great female characters! Also, some damn fine writing: L’Engle had a great way of showing rather than telling, as the admonition goes, and also knowing how much to tell and not to tell. So awesome.

There was a movie? Yay! The movie’s on Netflix? Double yay! Why did I never hear about this?

Oh, because the movie, to use a technical term, sucks. Seriously. I got halfway through and then decided I would need about a gallon of Everclear to keep going.

I’m not a purist about my adaptations. I grew up on Disney, I took Arwen’s expanded LOtR role in stride (well, until “expanded role” became “lying around whining” in the third movie, ugh), and I’ve read enough comics to be comfortable with thirty-seven different versions of canon coexisting. I don’t mind most changes.

I sure as hell, however, mind changes that make things worse. And this movie has a lot of them.

So, first of all, the stuff I like, or don’t mind that much. It’ll be shorter:

1. The credits are cool looking. The graphics are neat in general, with a few exceptions–the creatures on Uriel look like some guy named “SnowTiger71” might have posted them to an Internet gallery. In 1995.

2. Okay, they’ve ditched the braces and glasses for Meg. I’m not crazy about this, but it works a little better in the modern world–orthodontics and glasses have both advanced to the place where neither’s an automatic “OMG HIDEOUS”–and they *didn’t* make her pretty. She’s not ugly, either–she looks like an average thirteen-year-old with baggy clothes and no makeup–but I always got the impression that Book!Meg’s ugliness was internal perception, as is very typical of adolescents.

3. Mrs. Which is all grouchy and brings the standard These Humans Will Be of No Use, because…apparently it’s mandatory for any sufficiently powerful non-human group to have at least one member do that. (Oh, movie!Elrond…) For some reason. Still, she comes around fairly quickly, so I’ll let this pass.

4. Likewise the fact that pretty much none of the introductions, except Mrs. Whatsit’s, sort of, happen as they do in the book. And Charles is randomly in school. And Whatsit & Co. are associated with random crows, for…some reason. I can live with this. I don’t know why it happened, but I can live with this.

And now, the rest:

The Actively Offensive:

1. Meg. Meg Meg Meg. Book!Meg was awesome. Book!Meg was insecure and snarly and hated everything, which made sense because her father had disappeared For The Government and nobody would believe it and she was living in Harper Valley, as far as I could tell. Book!Meg beat the crap out of bigger boys who made fun of her little brother and took her black eyes and did not care. Book!Meg, when informed that her father was imprisoned behind the Dark Thing, said “Let’s go! Let’s do something!”, because Book!Meg was made of solid orthodontically-impaired kickass.

Movie!Meg…tries to beat up boys who hassle Charles. Only she can’t. Because Calvin has to show up and rescue her. Because boys have to rescue girls, because that’s how it works, APPARENTLY. Movie!Meg responds to the news about Dad and the Dark Thing by whining about how she doesn’t know what they can doooo, because they’re juuuuust kiiiids. So they have to go to see the Happy Medium.

2. Who…is a Comic Drag Queen.

This is the point where it became clear that I could either keep watching this movie or have a functioning liver.

I could absolutely see playing with issues of presentation and androgyny with the HM–that would be a change from the original book, but a cool one–but the way it comes off is the worst possible sort of mince-y comic stereotype. While I *like* “The Birdcage”…there’s a difference between playing with stereotypes in a comedy, where the gay guys are main and fully human characters, and making the stereotypical drag queen the wacky comic relief minor character in an otherwise dramatic movie.

3. Likewise…okay. I am a generic white girl, and speak with no authority whatsoever. But: casting a person of color as a major character is cool. Casting a person of character as the wackiest of the wacky nonhuman trio is iffier. Making that casting decision and expanding the wackiness to include things like sniffing the air and licking food…does not sit well, let us say.

4. Mrs. Murray. Again, in the book, she rocks: she’s troubled but serene, easily accepts things she doesn’t understand, and is both sympathetic and abstracted. In the movie, she’s the standard overprotective suburban mom who happens to read science magazines, as far as I can tell. And who has to look up “tesseract” on Google. Really? *Really*?

The Simply Dumb:

I was seriously considering putting “the writing” here and leaving it at that. Because…if you’re going to go to all the trouble to get the license to adapt a book, because the book’s popular, why not, and here’s a crazy idea, actually adapt the book?

Yeah, there are scenes that don’t work as well visually, and there are things that need explanation, and there are adjustments for time. But Wrinkle was a fairly short book, it does work on a visual level, and the explanations are there in the text. What the movie does is:

1. Move giant chunks of exposition to Whatsit & Co, instead of having the kids figure it out themselves. So now we have giant chunks of exposition and the kids look dumber. Y…aay?
2. Create giant exposition chunks where the necessary information could be inferred just fine before. The book explanation that Mr. Murray was on Camazotz and that Camazotz was a Bad Place came in two different bits–“on a planet that has given in” on Uriel, and the actual name and mention of “shadowed planet” with the Happy Medium–and everyone clued in. In the movie, we get three sentences with all the subtlety and grace of background text in a bad D&D module.
3. Assume we will not get or believe situations unless they’re set up in the most obvious way possible. Calvin can’t come find Mrs. Who out of his own compulsion–even though psychic wooginess is BLATANTLY CANON–and run into Meg there, so we have to have the ludicrous “girls can’t fight” plot. (Although, if you did want to dispense with the psychic stuff, you could just have Calvin come by to apologize to Meg about his brother: all the explanation, none of the sexism!) Whatsit & Co. can’t just decide to stop by the Happy Medium for a morale boost before the big fight, for some reason, so we have Yet Again, The Hero Doubts Her Abilities.

Sigh.

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IT and Comparative Nostalgia

Just finished reading Stephen King’s IT, as I do every few years, and got all sniffly at the end, as I also do every few years. The Dark Tower series is a more ambitious and sweeping work, and certainly does more with world-building, and I love a lot of it, but for my money IT is King’s best: a really compelling look at childhood and friendship, at the power of belief, and at some extremely creepy forms of horror.*

Nostalgia–even nostalgia for times that could be scary beyond all reason–is another major theme here, and it’s the one that caught my attention most on this read-through. The book’s timeline is split: roughly half of it happens in 1958, when the main characters (then eleven) meet the titular Eldritch Horror/Creepy Clown, and half happens in 1985, when they’re called back to finish the battle. I read the novel this time in 2011: roughly as far from 1985 as that year is from 1958.

The thing is, the 1958 scenes read very clearly as “past”; the 1985 scenes, for the most part, feel modern. There are a few off notes to a 2011 reader–characters looking for pay phones, the generosity of tipping a cabbie five dollars–and a couple attitudes toward gender and sexuality, q.v. asterisk below. (And to my mind, Richie being uber-famous as a DJ seems odd, but then, I haven’t listened to radio since high school, really.) Otherwise, though, there’s nothing that really throws me out or makes the 1985 setting seem dated.

Is the difference that there haven’t been as many changes between 1985 and now as there were between ’58 and ’85? The Sixties were pretty world-altering…but so were the nineties and the early twenty-first century, in a lot of ways. Is nostalgia a function of the characters’ ages? Childhood, I think, is pretty innately nostalgic for adult writers, but at the same time, there are references and foreshadowing bits in the 1958 sections of IT that aren’t there–can’t be there–in the ’85 section. Maybe the key’s in those–or in a combination.

I’d like to try setting a novel in the alternate-eighties or early nineties sometime, to see if I could do the nostalgia/retro thing closer to modern times, and with adult characters–the late-twentieth equivalent of steampunk, perhaps. And if Alternate Victorian is steampunk, and alternate fifties is dieselpunk, what *would* alternate eighties be? Punkpunk? Moneypunk? Cokepunk?

Something to think about during meetings, anyhow.

*It also has some issues, for the record: there’s one scene at the end that most people will find all kinds of squicky, the attitudes toward race and homosexuality are well-meaning but problematic at times, and there’s a trope that bugs me that I’ll talk about next post. For the record.