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» Tuesday, August 27, 2002
The movie A Ring of Endless Light premiered on the Disney Channel recently.
You must understand I have been a fan of Madeleine L’Engle’s since Judy Martini recommended A Wrinkle in Time to me in seventh grade. (I will thank Judy for this till the day I die.) I have as many of L’Engle’s books as I can collect, and I’ve even slogged through Ilsa, borrowed from the library, a book which L’Engle admits badly needed an editor. My favorites of her fiction are A House Like a Lotus and A Wrinkle in Time, but I love her nonfiction. When I am mentally or spiritually troubled, it’s L’Engle’s nonfiction I turn to, especially the Crosswicks books or the Genesis Trilogy.
So you can see why I’d be interested–and afraid–when The Disney Channel announced they were doing two L’Engle projects, Ring of Endless Light and a miniseries version of A Wrinkle in Time (set to air in November; there’s a preview of it on the Spy Kids DVD).
I’d wondered how one earth they were going to do Ring as a movie anyway, since most of it is introspection from Vicky Austin about herself, her life, the two young men in her life, Zachary Gray and Adam Eddington, and the dolphins Adam is researching. I also wondered about the climax, as I couldn’t see Disney doing the sequence where the little girl, Binnie, dies of a seizure (she is epileptic and her religious zealot father keeps throwing her medication in the toilet). Predictably, too, Zachary’s suicide attempt was left out, so there’s no Commander Rodney to die as in the book's opening. (The harbormaster is actually someone named Dan in what looked like a token black role.)
In total it was predictably superficial, and I wonder what Madeleine L’Engle thought of it since it’s been so heavily promoted on her granddaughter Charlotte Jones’ website. Let me get out of the way what I did like:
Suzy Austin. Suzy was almost perfect. (Little brother Rob was okay. They turned him into your typical little boy tormenting his sister, though, with a bug collection, and in one scene he says a very un-Rob line about girls being gross. But at the end he still asks the thought-provoking question about death perhaps being like people without eyes on an alien planet getting to go to a planet with sight when they die.) Suzy indeed had a great line in the movie: Zach drives up as they are bicycling to the research center and she mutters, “Look, here’s Mr. Thinks-He's-Wonderful” with the appropriate disgusted attitude.
Use of some of the Henry Vaughan poetry (including the end) that figures in much of the novel, including lending the book its title.
Grandfather actually mentioned as being a minister (Disney usually avoids mention of religion like the proverbial plague).
Zach saying that he admires the Austins because they love one another and have dinner together and go to church and say Grace.
God being mentioned in a Disney movie (the only other mention I can remember is in Pollyanna).
Grandfather giving Vicky all her poems in a bound book, and his final gift to her being another bound book for future poems.
James Whitmore as Grandfather. Not how I pictured him, but I liked him.
Material I was ambivalent about:
Absence of Leo Rodney, another boy interested in Vicky.
Mr. Rochester the Great Dane as Grandfather’s dog, not the Austins.
The climax of the movie as rescuing Ynid [one of the dolphins] from a drift net. Looks like the scriptwriters took something Adam said about dolphins getting caught in fishermen’s nets and ran with it. As I said, this is a thoughtful novel. How would you bring it to the screen? I can’t see Disney doing the original climax: death of a little girl in an emergency room and Vicky’s resultant depression, with the dolphins—and Adam—to bring her out of it. Too esoteric.
Stuff that really bothered me:
Grandfather hiding the fact of his leukemia from the family. Quite at odds with the character. His illness is one of the troubling things Vicky must work through during the summer, and it contributes to the climax of the book. It also reeks of filmmaker manipulation.
Vicky is played by this tall, scrawny actress who looks like a model instead of a real girl. She’s not too bad acting-wise, but she doesn’t look anything like anyone imagines Vicky, who describes herself as plain. She always seems to be irritated instead of troubled.
Zach isn’t dark enough. I always think of Zach as James Dean. This Zach is merely annoying rather than obnoxious.
The kid who played Adam, Ryan Merriman, was cute, but he seemed terribly childish and excessively emotional for the role. The novel Adam was quieter and more mature—and he sure wouldn’t have been rude enough to be confrontative when Vicky introduces Zach to him at lunch.
Zach’s dad as a one-dimensional eco-oppositionist. Ugh.
The scene where Vicky rushes into the tank where Ynid is giving birth. In the book the dolphin researchers are very close to the dolphins and know what they need. In the movie Vicky must tell them (I guess as the all-knowing psychic dolphin guru) not to give Ynid a sedative (good God, what dolphin researcher would sedate a dolphin unless it was an emergency anyway????) and that Basil has to be there to help her with her baby, like Dr. Zand and Adam are the dumbest clots on earth.
The final rescue scene where Vicky can “sense” Ynid in trouble from miles away. Urgh. It smacks of Lassie.
The thing I completely hated:
The reason Vicky is so snappish for much of the movie is that her parents are forcing, forcing, mind you, her to apply for a new high school at the university where they teach (they are not a doctor and a retired singer in this version, evidently), although she feels she would not be comfortable there. Wallace and Victoria Austin would never, never ever ask any of their kids to apply to a school that made them uncomfortable. They might encourage Vicky to apply there because they believed it would be good for her. If she did apply, they would help her with her studies and tell her to do the best she could. They would not force her into doing so. Mrs. Austin would also not just shrug off Vicky’s poetry with an “oh, they’re okay.”
They do this in every damn freaking movie these days, even if the source material doesn’t call for it: the kids always, always must be at odds with their parents about something, and the parents must be clueless and unyielding (occasionally stupid as well). Apparently understanding parents are verboten in kids’ movieland these days. They did it with Sarah Plain and Tall, and with the Laura Ingalls Wilder movie mess on CBS, and even with the 1980s remake of Jonny Quest. I expect that when the Wrinkle in Time miniseries comes out, Meg is going to be rude to her mother and have “issues” with her father and all sorts of modern adolescent rot. They wouldn’t take a book that was about a troubled teenager and gloss over the bad parts, so why must they take stories with positive adults and make them into objects of annoyance?