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A Wrinkle in Time DVD Review

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Movie & DVD Details

Director: John Kent Harrison / Writers: Susan Shilliday (teleplay), Madeleine L'Engle (novel)

Cast: Katie Stuart (Meg Murry), Gregory Smith (Calvin O'Keefe), David Dorfman (Charles Wallace Murry), Chris Potter (Dr. Jack Murry), Kyle Secor (Prime Coordinator), Sean Cullen (Happy Medium), Sarah-Jane Redmond (Dana Murry), Kate Nelligan (Mrs. Which), Alison Elliott (Mrs. Who), Alfre Woodard (Mrs. Whatsit)

Original Air Date: May 10, 2004

Running Time: 128 Minutes / Rating: TV-PG
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Standard Broadcast Ratio)
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned

Release Date: November 16, 2004
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 (Reduced from $24.99)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9); White Keepcase

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Since it was first published in 1962, Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time has dazzled generations of readers with its imaginative and thrilling journey through space and time. But the journey for L'Engle to get Wrinkle released took several years, as publishers rejected the novel for being unconventional or "too hard" to market for children.

The process to adapt L'Engle's book to film took over forty years but for reasons quite different. The author was reluctant to see her work unsatisfactorily portrayed on film, until earlier this decade when she apparently gave her blessing to a treatment that was pitched through the Walt Disney Company.
Disney began production on their adaptation in the spring of 2001, with the initial intention that ABC would air the two-part miniseries during the February sweeps the following year. Indeed, the earliest promo for this made-for-TV production turned up on the Spy Kids DVD in September of 2001.

But the February 2002 sweeps came and went, as did November's. ABC rescheduled Wrinkle for February 2003, but it was again delayed with reasons citing the network was hoping to find a more appropriate airdate. The airdate that was eventually settled upon was a Monday night in May of 2004, where the film would run in one 3-hour block. Critics took Disney to task for burying the film, airing it on a school night and ending at 11:00. Most children missed it, as did adults, and when the Nielsen ratings were in, Wrinkle finished fifth among the networks for its time slot, and wound up in a lowly 60th place for the week.

In light of the ineptness with which it was scheduled and marketed, one would think Disney was trying to downplay Wrinkle for being some kind of a disaster of epic proportions. But on the contrary, their modestly-budgeted TV adaptation is quite successful, which may frankly have you scratching your head as to why the movie was shelved for years and given a timeslot when few would see it.

Gathered around the fire, and no one's singing 'Kumbaya'? Mrs. Whatsit (Alfre Woodard) pops in on the Murrys.

In the film, as in the story, Meg Murry (Katie Stuart) is a bright but shy young teenaged girl who is not having a very good time in or out of school. She's not very popular with her classmates or with her teachers, and when she's not dealing with people labelling her younger brother a freak, she's coping with the sudden disappearance of her father.

Meg's scientist father (Chris Potter) left his scientist wife (Sarah Jane-Redmond) and four kids without explanation or forewarning, and no one really knows what to think. Meg's younger brother, Charles Wallace (a name he is called in full about a hundred times throughout the movie) has developed a bad rap for not talking to anyone outside the house. But while he's mute in school and in the Murrys' neighborhood, Charles Wallace is quite the listener. He's also special in an unclear way; perhaps he's a genius. He's in tune with foreign voices he hears and is able to know a variety of things that will happen (or perhaps he just says that he does).

Meg's journey to find her father is set forth by the mysterious arrival of a mystical woman who goes by the name of Mrs. Whatsit (Alfre Woodard). Meg, Charles Wallace, and kind neighborhood boy Calvin O' Keefe (Gregory Smith), with some guidance from Mrs. Whatsit and her two fellow unearthly companions, Mrs. Who (Alison Elliott), and Mrs. Which (Kate Nelligan), proceed on a quest through time and space to distant planets.

In their journeys through the universe, Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin see some stuff that will turn you white! Numbers pop up as the Prime Coordinator tests Charles Wallace.

This trio of youngsters are up against a dark force which has turned one society into routine-following. This same darkness, which feeds individuals false happiness by tapping into their dreams and interests, is holding Dr. Murry prisoner somewhere in a Central Intelligence building on this nightmarish planet Camamotz. "It", as the force is called, challenges Meg and company through The Man With The Red Eyes (Kyle Secor) and poses seemingly insurmountable tests to restore the order Meg seeks in her life.

A Wrinkle in Time ambitiously adapts a book that is odd, stimulating, and rewarding, and it does so with mostly satisfactory results. What may disappoint ardent fans of L'Engle's book is that the movie departs from its source in a number of ways. The forty-year-old text has undergone a fair amount of revisions. Thematically it still calls back to simpler times, but stylistically it has a modern look and sensibility.

For one thing, it's obviously quite condensed, which does not appear to be the way it started out. (As stated earlier, initial plans called for a two-part 4-hour miniseries, and this final product ran in a 3-hour timeslot. There's a hearty amount of deleted scenes provided elsewhere on the DVD, too.) While editing patches things together fairly smoothly, there is some choppiness to the narrative as constructed here.

Calvin (Gregory Smith) isn't sure that Meg's (Katie Stuart) got her dentist's license. Happy Medium (Sean Cullen) apparently gets the CW on his high-definition crystal ball, if by CW we mean Charles Wallace..

The rich subject matter which makes for such a good page-turner doesn't always translate so well to the screen. L'Engle's writings truly spark one's imagination, and to have these theoretical and puzzling adventures realized in one particular way does rob the story of some of its delights. Some of the scenarios simply play out better on page than on screen. In the film, the character of Happy Medium is reduced to weak comic relief and the "romance" between Meg and Calvin seems a little simplified and not very convincing. But this established adaptation wins you over in a way all its own, evoking similar pleasures in an epic journey through the infinite that's also quite intimate.

Now, arriving on DVD five months after its long-delayed television debut, A Wrinkle in Time has a new opportunity to be found and appreciated by audiences, including those familiar with the Newbery Medal-winning book.
This may be the first that some people are hearing of this adaptation, which is unfortunate. But it's somewhat understandable how such a noteworthy production could get lost in the shuffle amidst the modern television atmosphere, in which network and cable channels offer no shortage of fantasy miniseries. (It's apparently still not easy to market; as this DVD cover offers a flying horse and castles though the film features neither.)

Such a project, whether you like it or hate it, does deserve more attention. Much went into pulling a film from L'Engle's novel, and with the apparent intentions of doing it justice rather than using its reputation to get ratings. A Wrinkle in Time may be too intense or "out there" for younger viewers, but older children and viewers on up, especially those familiar with the book, should enjoy.

VIDEO and AUDIO

A Wrinkle in Time offers a wide array of visuals, from lush fantastic exteriors to nightmarish color-drained doldrums. This 1.33:1 fullscreen transfer (matching the standard, not high definition broadcast ratio) handles the variety of extremes quite well. The video is clean and free from any visible flaw. The picture isn't razor-sharp, but it's generally and consistently vibrant and pleasing. There's a great amount of detail and depth present in the video.

One minor drawback is that the transfer seems excessively dark as some live action films (often in the lower-budget made-for-TV domain) do. While darkness is mostly an intentional dramatic decision, I think it errs a little bit on the side of too dark, but of course adjustments can be made to achieve settings that satisfy individual preferences.

Is that Aunt Beast or one of Chewie's friends? Mrs. Who (Allison Elliott) is a big fan of the thick goggles, frizzy hair look.

It's disappointing that we get just the fullscreen version of the film, when this was clearly framed for (and broadcast in) both 4x3 and 16x9 aspect ratios. The deleted scenes are even presented in anamorphic widescreen. While there's value to both aspect ratios and compositions don't suffer in the 1.33:1 format, 16x9 television sets are the future (and for many, the present), so a fullscreen-only DVD seems like backwards thinking. Like Eloise at Christmastime (which is released exclusively in 1.33:1 the same day), Disney's decision to not present this in widescreen disheartens.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio presentation doesn't feel go much beyond a potent Dolby Surround track, but it succeeds in catering its impressionistic environments. The sound mix is pretty solid, especially for a television movie. There's a good amount of bass, and well-used sound effects. Jeff Danna's score is well-realized and supports the film's drama. Dialogue is sometimes a little bit overpowered by the rest of the sound, but it is usually crisp and discernible.

Madeleine L'Engle discusses her novel. Precocious child actor David Dorfman (of "The Ring" movies) reflects on being cast in "The Actors: Working the Wrinkle." Deleted Scene: Meg Visits Dad (Chris Potter) at Work.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

"A Conversation with Madeleine L'Engle" (10:15) allows the octogenarian author to wax philosophical on the story she has told. L'Engle sheds some insight on her inspiration (studying particle physics), characters, and life philosophies, but she avoids the topic of the movie altogether. That's a shame, because while her discussion of the book is most interesting, I'd love to hear her thoughts on the adaptation (clips of which are spersed throughout).
For years, L'Engle wouldn't agree to adapt her books, and she hasn't said much on Disney's telemovie, merely commenting in a Newsweek interview that she "expected it to be bad, and it is." I suppose that's why we don't hear her thoughts on the subject here.

"The Actors: Working the Wrinkle" is an 11-minute making-of featurette with a specific emphasis on casting. The leading actors and actresses discuss their parts, and the director and producers comment on what they looked for and how they found it in the performers. It occassionally makes use of split-screen techniques to show its mixture of talking-head interview clips and on-set footage (which confirms that the film was framed for both 4x3 and 16x9 ratios in the production proccess). For such an elaborate production, this is somewhat short-sighted, but it is a good piece and it's nice to see more behind-the-scenes bonus features turning up on made-for-TV movies.

If it's true that A Wrinkle in Time was planned as a 4-hour miniseries and trimmed to 3-hour (with commercials) feature film length, then we'd be looking at about 40 minutes of deleted scenes. The footage offered here as five deleted scenes runs nearly 18 minutes altogether and is presented in glorious 16x9 widescreen (why these, but not the feature?!) and Dolby Surround.

Deleted Scene: "The Children are Tested" A Wrinkle in Time's Main Menu

These excised scenes show the Murrys' father at work in a lab (where Calvin O'Keefe is his intern) making major technical discoveries that don't really make sense. At the very least, these sequences serve to illustrate Dr. Murry's work and we also see his dramatic disappearance occur. Another substantial sequence has Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace being posed brain teasers from Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who, pondering mazes and falling rocks. While the final one has Meg confronting Calvin as he frolicks with basketball in an icy spa.

These deleted scenes, fully produced and edited, are a delight to see. They're not necessarily needed for the film to work, but they clearly took a good amount of time and expenses, and they do feel as if they belong in the longer miniseries this was intended to be, complete with contemporary references to "Star Trek" and The Matrix. The anamorphic video quality actually seems better than the feature transfer itself, too.

The menus too are in 16x9. These offer score selections and nice animated introductions and transitions. Inside the case, there is an insert listing the other three works in Madeleine L'Engle's "Time Quartet" - the back promotes "Boy Meets World": The Complete First Season.

Before the menu, previews play for Sacred Planet, The Young Black Stallion, Where the Red Fern Grows, and Eloise at Christmastime. The Sneak Peeks Menu adds a cool trailer for "Boy Meets World" The Complete Second Season on DVD.

Come along and ride on a fantastic voyage! When good Charles Wallaces go bad.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

After delays and one poorly-scheduled US airing, the Wonderful World of Disney's A Wrinkle in Time arrives on DVD in search of an audience. Fans of its source (Madeleine L'Engle's popular book) may be divided on the merits of this adaptation and its departure from the text. In its transition from page to screen, this ambitious production may not satisfactorily "bring to life" everything from L'Engle's novel.
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But viewed on its own, I think Wrinkle works rather well as a movie, evoking similar feelings and wrapping you up in its mind-bending adventure through the infinite.

With a stellar audio/video presentation (aside from the irksome aspect ratio decision) and an enjoyable collection of bonus features, Disney's DVD release won't disappoint those who approve of this television movie.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / The Book by Madeleine L'Engle

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Reviewed November 8, 2004.