So I’m going to spork a movie I saw two weeks ago and a book I read over twelve years ago. I’m also going to be drawing some comparisons to the much more faithful, but much lower budget 2003 movie that I saw over ten years ago too, but rewatched the same day I saw the current movie for comparison. So if I get anything wrong or mixed up, please forgive me.
The film opens with our protagonist Meg Murry as a young child playing with her father as he teaches her science. This isn’t in the book, but it’s pretty good. It establishes a relationship between the two of them, establishes that the father’s a scientist and that Meg is going to grow to be a smart kid, because she has an interest in such things at a very young age. My first warning bells start ringing when they mention adoption however. Meg’s parents are about to adopt another kid. This second kid, Charles Wallace is a really big part of the book, but he aint adopted in it, and I don't really see much reason to make him so. Furthermore, Meg also has two more siblings, a set of twins that have been adapted out completely. It’s kind of understandable why they’re adapted out since they’re unimportant to the story, but I still kind of liked that they exist. Everyone in the Murry family is special in some way or another except these twins who are super ordinary. Even if they never contribute to the plot, they still ground the story by placing it in a world where not everyone is a super scientist with magic powers (more on that later). It wouldn’t have costed that much time at all to have a casual reference and a pair of extras in the background, yet I think it would have improved the story.
After that scene we find out Meg’s dad has disappeared, as parents tend to do in fiction. We jump forward six years to anniversary of his disappearance (it was only one year in the 2003 film, can’t remember what it is in the book). Meg is kind of a moody loner now because her father outright vanishing has kind of screwed up the family and everyone’s perception of them in the neighbourhood (this story was written in the 50s, that becomes relevant later, even though it feels like a very timeless read). In the film we see some of this in the school which is nice, I think it’s all just revealed by Meg’s internal monologue in the book. However, we hit a second warning bell when Meg’s little brother hears a pair of teachers basically saying Meg will amount to nothing if she doesn’t get out of her funk. Reacting to this, Charles Wallace proceeds to shout across the school yard to Meg about how she has more potential than anyone else and no one understands her, understandably embarrassing her in front of everyone. The major problem here is that Charles Wallace has selective mutism in the book. He doesn’t talk to anyone outside of the family. It’s the thing that shows us he’s a really odd boy, while the film just tells us here’s a really odd boy. Furthermore, in the book, he’s a telepath, able to read the minds of his family members. This is an open secret amongst the family, but not like X-Men, just like, "man it’s weird he seems to always know what we’re thinking". Almost all traces of this is removed in the film with him just being an overly intelligent child that everyone says is really special, rather than an outright psychic who refuses to even interact with the world outside of his family bubble.
So after all this establishing stuff happens, Mrs. Whatsit shows up. They go for a pretty racially diverse casting in this film, Meg’s actor is black, Oprah’s in it spouting lines like “Is there such thing as the wrong size?” (yes, yes there is). It’s all very PC, and as I mentioned in another recent thread, I aint a PC person. I believe the best actor for the job should get the job, regardless of their race and even the race of the character in the original story. Which is why I find it almost funny that I think the whitest actor of the bunch, Reese Witherspoon, is horribly miscast. She looks far too pretty to be Mrs. Whatsit. She’s wearing a dress and running around the place in a really excited manner. In the original story, Mrs. Whatsit is a baglady. A dirty, looking tramp in an assortment of mismatched clothes that make her stand out. She’s a cross between an alien, an angel and a star who’s trying to blend in with human society. Resse Witherspoon’s character certainly isn’t blending in, but only because she looks more like a Disney Princess too perfect for this world. They play up the angel part completely and basically ignore the other aspects (I don’t think they even explain that she used to be a star). Another thing about her movie portrayal is that she’s really condescending towards Meg. Always putting her down and saying she’s not good enough. If this was in the book I don’t remember it at all. One of the statements in the climax of the book is that Mrs. Whatsit loves Meg and she understands that fact. I remember her being an extremely gentle figure.
To get back on the plot and stop complaining of miscasting, Mrs. Whatsit shows up and she’s all odd and quirky and talks about flying as if she’s physically doing it. Charles Wallace already seems to know her and this has Meg’s mother seriously worried (imagine how much more worried she’d be if Mrs. Whatsit barged into their house looking like a crazy homeless person, that’s what happens in the book, but Mrs. Whatsit is so cosy and grandmother like she manages to not get the police called on her). She vanishes as soon as she arrives and the next day Meg and Charles Wallace go out for a walk. They meet a boy in Meg’s class (or at least in her school) called Calvin. He’s the cool jock type kid and along with Charles Wallace and Meg, he’s one of the protagonists. He’s actually pretty complex, like Charles Wallace, he’s slightly psychic, though not to the same degree. He’s actually really intelligent, but dumbs himself down in school in order to be popular more and fit in. He’s like a foil to Meg, sort of like everything she’s not, despite possessing the same traits as her and her brother. But while he’s all cool in school, he actually comes from a pretty broken home where he’s ignored at the best of times and abused at the worst, as opposed to Meg, who comes from a very loving home despite the disappeared dad that everyone shames them for. Meg also thinks his eyes are really cool (that’s not really related to anything, but the description in the book was good enough that I remember it all this time later). A lot of these traits are retained in the film, but I feel they’re underplayed and Calvin essentially becomes a pointless tag along character who does nothing. One major thing that’s missing is that Charles Wallace talks in front of Calvin, the first person outside of the family (besides the obviously strange Mrs. Whatsit) that he’s deigned to speak in front of. This immediately tells Meg and the reader that Calvin is important. Given that this version of Charles Wallace isn’t mute, the affect is obviously lost. The three of them continue to hang out together and they stumble upon Mrs. Who, who is obviously related to Mrs. Whatsit and equally as quirky (her thing is quoting a lot of people), but she’s not actually that important to the plot.
Around this point we get a flashback to Meg’s parents. Her father gives a big speech about his research into teleportation. There’s a really good diagram in the background explaining the concept of the fourth dimension, but unfortunately, the focus isn’t on explaining this concept at all, it’s all about how the scientific community treated Meg’s father like a joke because his theory relied on the power of love. It’s a shame, the 2003 movie has a very good visible demonstration about how they teleport in the book. I don’t believe Meg’s father is a laughing stock in the book. I know that he at least wasn’t researching alone with only his wife as he’s portrayed as doing in the film. I remember because he drew straws with his coworkers to see which of them would test the Instant Transmission technique. He drew the second shortest straw, the guy who drew the shortest never came back (which is frankly terrifying if you think about it). Meg’s father also proceeded to vanish without a trace. Presumably the coworkers stopped throwing themselves into oblivion after that. In the movie he just stumbles into a wormhole in his garage one day while thinking about teleportation and how much he loves his family.
After they meet Mrs. Who, they meet the final Mrs, Mrs Which. She’s the leader of these Alien-Star-Angels. They then whisk the kids off to the other side of the galaxy using teleportation, henceforth called Wrinkling (because you fold space like a wrinkle). It has a pretty cool special effect in the film I must admit. They find themselves on this really nice and peaceful planet. A large chunk of both the book and film is explaining the situation while resting in this place. Basically there’s been a battle waging since the start of time between good and evil, a little clichéd, but don’t worry, it’s more a metaphorical battle. There is a big entity called the Darkness, but it works by manipulating and corrupting, rather than sending armies of orcs. You can fight it by loving people and valuing knowledge over ignorance. Earth is on the brink of falling into the Darkness because everyone is so cynical and depressed (not a view of humanity I often like depicted I must admit, I think we’re all amazing), but there’s still hope for it. Meg’s father through misfortune and not knowing what he was doing, managed to teleport to a planet that is utterly consumed by the Darkness. It’s the kids’ job to go there and rescue him. I’m abridging things quite a lot here, there’s quite a bit of character bonding between the kids and the Mrs.es and they’re brought to this other character called the Happy Medium (who in the book is sort of an androgynous being who proclaims themselves above such silly thing like gender, sort of disappointed that he’s just some dude with a beard in the movie, even if I still enjoyed his appearance) who teaches them to find balance and accept themselves and all that stuff. Since this spork is more of a rant than an appraisal of the book, I’m mostly skipping over a lot of the character stuff, but that becomes important now as they start changing things in the third act, so I’ll briefly go over things to catch up.
Meg suffers from anxiety. She’s intelligent, but she’s messed up due to thinking her father abandoned her and suffers from a lot of self-loathing. Nobody likes her and she thinks she’s not good enough for anything, not helped when your brother is a psychic wonder boy and even your love interest has mild psychic powers. Her character is mostly kept intact as the film focuses on it the most (as it should do) but cutting some other stuff does lead to her being a bit more stupid and irrational in the film. And a lot less brave.
Charles Wallace, as I’ve mentioned, is like a child prodigy super human who every one dotes on and praises. You might think this makes him sound like an annoying character, but he really manages to pull it off in the book as he’s a massively cocky and over confident. Not in an assholish way, but in a way that really shows off the fact that he’s still really young and not as big a deal as he thinks he is (despite everyone telling him he is). Unfortunately they mostly remove this overconfidence from him in the film, along with the low level psychic powers, leaving him as a pretty standard younger brother character with not a lot to offer. He manages to not be annoying despite keeping the in ordinarily intelligent aspect, but he also doesn’t offer much (the young child actor is also mostly fine throughout the film, but clearly falters at the more dramatic parts of the ending).
Calvin manages to suffer the worst in adaptation, despite having all the major traits retained. I gave a brief overview of his character above so I won’t rethread ground again. The big difference between movie and book comes down to the writing plain and simple. In the book, he’s constantly there, bouncing off Charles Wallace and Meg and eliciting conversations and reactions. In the movie, he sort of just hangs around. It’s the difference between not contributing, and not even trying to contribute.
Alright, this spork has hit five thousand words in total, which I think is a little overwhelming for one post, so I’m going to split it here. I have the entire thing written, but I’ll probably wait a day or two before posting the second half. That second half will probably be better edited than this post, because it took me like two hours to write the entire thing and I'm far too lazy to reread it and check for spelling mistakes right now.