First of all, I know I mentioned this in the title of the post, but I want to reiterate it here. This post is going to contain spoilers for both the movie and the book. So, don’t keep reading unless you’ve read/seen A Wrinkle in Time (or don’t mind being spoiled)!
My kids, my mom and I went to go see A Wrinkle in Time last week, and we spent the entire drive home debating the merits of the book versus the movie. Only two of us had actually read the book (my daughter Danielle and I read it in the language arts class I teach at our homeschool co-op), so it was interesting to compare notes.
What Did We Think?
We pretty much all agreed that the movie had fantastic special effects, but it was sort of meh as far as the plot went. Not bad, but not spectacular either. But I kept asking myself, was that the fault of the book or the movie? The book definitely wasn’t perfect, in my opinion, and I thought a few of the changes in the movie were actually for the better (the ending!), but it was also missing some of the major themes of the book, and I missed those.
I’d say the movie matched the book by about 25%. The overall story thread was very similar, but most of the details were changed.
I thought I’d do a point-by-point comparison and give my opinions on which was better for each point: book or movie.
- Meg: Meg is the least changed character from the book to the movie, which is good since she’s the central character. In both book and movie she’s a bit hot-headed and focused on her own faults. The winner? Tie
- Charles Wallace: In the movie version, we lose a lot of what makes Charles Wallace interesting. The movie hints at the fact that Charles Wallace is intelligent (not quite the genius he is in the book) and we maybe get the teensiest hint that he’s special in other ways, but that’s about it. Charles Wallace doesn’t have any sort of psychic ability like he does in the book, and there’s no special connection between him and Meg. He mostly seems like a normal little kid who people sometimes say is really smart. The winner? Book
- Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Which: I’d say that these three characters were pretty similar to their book counterparts, except maybe a little bit modernized and slightly less angelic. We lose the whole explanation of the fact that Mrs. Which was a star that died fighting the Darkness. Of course, a lot of the lost characterization is simply due to the fact that not as much fits in a movie as in a book. Oh, and instead of being a flying horse/angel creature, Mrs. Whatsit turns into a flying plant/sting ray-looking thing. Kind of cool, but … ???? The winner? Book (though this is much closer than with Charles Wallace)
- Calvin: Like Charles Wallace, Calvin loses his “special abilities.” He’s just a normal teenage boy of average intelligence. His main purpose in the movie is to make Meg feel better about herself, which he does pretty well. His family background is a bit less dramatic than it is in the book, though he still has family issues. I actually may have liked his supporting role slightly more in the movie than in the book, but that’s just me. The winner? Movie
- IT: The movie possibly combined the Darkness with IT and made them the same thing (sort of?). Instead of being a brain, IT was a ginormous black thing. My daughter didn’t like that they changed it, but I didn’t think a weird brain would go over well in the movie version. The winner? Tie
- Other random characters: Meg’s twin brothers don’t exist in the movies. I didn’t miss them (they barely did anything in the book. There was a specific “mean girl” in the movie that didn’t exist in the book, and I thought that her addition worked well. Meg’s mom and dad weren’t much different in the movie than in the book (though I thought her mom seemed way too young!)
- Religion: The movie removed pretty much all references to religion. L’Engle infused the book with Christian references and ideologies, but the only part of this theme that remained was the basic idea of good versus evil. The winner? Book (At least for me. I liked the religious undertones in the book, but I’m not at all surprised they were removed for the movie.)
- Conformity and free will: The movie took almost all the emphasis off of this theme. In the book, IT’s main goal was to take away free will and force everyone to act as mindless robots. We do get the scene with the kids bouncing their balls in unison (an iconic scene from the book), but in the movie that’s almost immediately counteracted by a hectic beach scene that would make no sense whatsoever in the book. In the movie, IT was just sort of mindless evil and it overtook Charles Wallace easily and never really even tried to pull Meg in. We lose the whole struggle where Meg tries to keep herself from succumbing to IT’s mind control so that she’ll conform like everyone else. This theme was a big part of the book, and I definitely missed it. The winner? Book
- Loving yourself and others: Just like in the book, Meg defeats IT with her love of Charles Wallace. She also comes to love and accept herself. I would say that this theme is stressed a lot more in the movie than it was in the book, becoming perhaps the central theme of the movie. I liked how, at the end of the movie, it’s Meg’s love for herself that wins out and gives her true freedom. The winner? Movie
- Beginning: The beginning of the movie mirrors the book decently well plot-wise, with some minor changes to make it seem more modern and to make it all fit in two hours. The winner? Tie
- The Happy Medium scene: This scene was almost completely different than it was in the book. They made the setting much more interesting and gave the medium a funny new-age vibe. I liked it but didn’t love it. The winner? Jury’s out
- Camazotz: Camazotz was very different in the movie. First off, they made it much more exciting by adding in weirdly dangerous suddenly growing trees and a twister (of IT? That wasn’t clear?) that threw them over a wall. All of those additions were … interesting. The moviemakers definitely needed to add something to Camazotz to make it more movie-worthy, so I guess that was all fine. But then they also added that strange beach scene that I just didn’t get at all. I think they could have made it all take place in an office building and they still could have made that interesting if they’d played up the conformity aspect (which is what happens in the book). There was no scene where Meg fights IT for control of her brain (though that’s hinted at in the final showdown). The winner? Book
- Finding their father: The scene where Meg finds her father was changed so that the glasses made Meg see a blueprint of sorts and climb stairs that weren’t there. I actually thought that was pretty cool, but Danielle insists the book is better. My oldest (who didn’t read the book) pointed out that the movie made it seem like Meg went and found her father and then they just walked out—so why didn’t he just leave earlier? Hmmm … good point. In the book, it was stressed a lot more that he’d been stuck there, fighting against IT’s influence. The winner? Book
- Aunt Beast’s planet: This whole part of the book is missing, and I can understand why they did it for time reasons, but we all sorely missed it. Plus, you didn’t get Meg being affected by the Darkness. The winner? Book
- The climax: This is the one part of the book that was sorely lacking. In the book, Meg goes back to Camazotz, realizes she can defeat IT and save Charles Wallace with love, and then … does it. It all feels really easy in the end, after building IT up so much. Quite anticlimactic. (My whole class was very disappointed with the end of the book, so it wasn’t just my adult sensibilities—though maybe it might be that a modern reading audience is used to a bit more of a climax?) Anyway, the climax in the movie felt like much more of a true clash, and it’s the one area where I felt like the movie improved on the book substantially. The winner? Movie
The book is definitely better than the movie, though the movie is probably a bit more exciting. The fact that the screenwriters completely sucked out the themes relating to conformity and the loss of free will and all elements of Christianity (which were present in the book without making it seem like a blatantly Christian book) really hurt it, in my opinion, because they took out the heart and soul of the book. What we were left with was sort of a glossy underpinning.
Is it still worth watching? Probably, but I’ll leave that up to you…
Did you see the movie? What did you think? Have you read the book too? Which did you like better? I want to know!