Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. USA, 2018. Walt Disney Pictures, Whitaker Entertainment. Screenplay by Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell, based on the novel by Madeleine L’Engle. Cinematography by Tobias A. Schliessler. Produced by Catherine Hand, Jim Whitaker. Music by Ramin Djawadi. Production Design by Naomi Shohan. Costume Design by Paco Delgado. Film Editing by Spencer Averick.
The disappearance of a brilliant physicist (Chris Pine) whose theories of intergalactic travel have made him the laughing stock of his community leaves more than just academic embarrassment behind him. At home, his wife and scientific partner (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) tries to keep hope alive but his having been missing for four years has turned her intelligent daughter Meg (Storm Reid) from a Straight-A student to a problem child, while her younger son Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) seems to have a tenuous hold on reality. Into this tense situation filled with sorrow and dysfunction comes a strangely dressed, otherworldly sage who calls herself Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and shows up in the family’s living room to announce that she can take the children to their father on another planet. He has been imprisoned by a dark universal force called the IT in a place called Camazotz, and it isn’t long before the two children and Meg’s school friend Calvin (Levi Miller) are hopping planets, running through brightly colourful fields (which look like Fantasia crossed with What Dreams May Come) or fighting bad energy in a nebulous dark cloud world (which looks like leftover effects from Guardians Of the Galaxy), with Mrs. Whatsit’s fellow sages Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) doling out advice and talismans at regular turns. This adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s cultishly popular book, the first in a series of science-fiction adventures, is a gorgeously shot, hopelessly dry experience that is weighed down by heavy technical jargon in the dialogue and an overwhelming emphasis on characters contemplating ideas while rarely acting on them. L’Engle’s book is possibly too philosophical for film adaptation, investigating familiar themes of light and dark, good and evil in blatantly allegorical ways that, when literalized on film, make her writing seem trite. Director Ava DuVernay does her best to get some energy out of the whole thing, but between the bad screenplay and a host of amateurish performances by the adults (Witherspoon, Kaling and Zach Galifianakis look extremely confused, Winfrey seems bored) it’s a difficult film to get through. The children are all excellent, especially Reid, whose sympathetic protagonist is constantly trapped between rage and sorrow and whose character’s frustration is made so watchable by her smooth and subtle performance.