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A WRINKLE IN TIME – Ramin Djawadi

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A Wrinkle in Time is a fantasy adventure film for children, adapted from an apparently immensely popular and influential 1962 novel by Madeleine L’Engle. It follows the adventures of a young girl named Meg, whose astrophysicist father went missing several years previously. One day, Meg and her friends are visited by three ‘astral travelers’ – Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who – who reveal that Meg’s father is still alive, and that together they are able to save him from the clutches of ‘the darkness’ that is taking over the universe. So begins a fantastical journey, as Meg is whisked across the galaxy using a mysterious object known as a tesseract to face her darkest fears – and, hopefully, reunite her family. The film stars Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, and Storm Reid in the main role as Meg, and is directed by Ava DuVernay, the woman behind the critically acclaimed Selma.

The reason I say it was ‘apparently immensely popular and influential’ is because I had never even heard of the book before the publicity for this film started coming out – although it was clearly available in the UK when I was growing up, as far as I’m aware it never entered mainstream public consciousness there the way it did in the United States. Unfortunately, this film adaptation is unlikely to change things because the critics have not been kind: it has been variously described as “an interminable bomb that instantly joins the ranks of Hollywood’s most prominent misfires,” “a disjointed and miscalculated project, rather than a visual and contemplative journey,” “a smug piece of salad,” and “a messy imitation of family fare.” It’s a shame, because the film’s heart is in the right place, it tackles pertinent issues regarding female empowerment and racial diversity, and it is the first film by a black female director with a budget of over $100 million in the history of cinema.

The score for A Wrinkle in Time is by composer Ramin Djawadi, whose talents director Ava DuVernay sought out to replace original composer Jonny Greenwood after she fell in love with his music for Game of Thrones. It’s interesting that DuVernay says she was such a fan of the show’s music because, on the whole, A Wrinkle in Time doesn’t sound like Game of Thrones in the slightest. Instead it’s a modern, thematic, sometimes quite ethereal-sounding fantasy score which, in terms of Djawadi’s own filmography, has much more in common with his scores for animated children’s films like House of Magic and Fly Me to the Moon than any of his more famous fantasy crowd-pleasers like Pacific Rim, Warcraft, or Dracula Untold. There’s a lot of orchestra, a lot of choir, some subtle and intelligently applied electronics, and a pleasant main theme which occasionally rises to lovely heights of power and grandeur.

To Djawadi’s credit, the main theme is malleable enough to appear in several guises throughout the score. It first appears at 0:30 of the opening cue, “A Wrinkle in Time,” sung by a children’s choir, and accompanied by a bed of oddly mesmerizing processed electronic vocal sounds. The whole thing is light, lively, and a little whimsical, and has an overall sound that reminds me of something Thomas Newman might write, right down to the way Djawadi uses little metallic zings, light percussion, and gentle strings.

The second cue, ‘Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which,” introduces what I am calling the Astral Travelers motif – an array of magical synth textures, lightly dancing orchestral ideas, and ooh-aah vocal stylings which give an other-worldly but approachable feel to the three ‘astral travelers’ who guide Meg on her journey. The pretty string and choral sounds in the second half of the cue have a sense of spaciousness and wonderment, and the noble brass performance of the main theme at 1:23 is delightful, while the slightly distorted vocals and oddly warped electric guitar chords in the cue’s conclusion contribute more to the sense of mystical wonderment that surround these women.

The performance of the main theme in “Happy Medium” is interesting, as Djawadi transposes the melody to a dreamy-sounding pan flute, and surrounds it with a host of mystical, faintly exotic Middle Eastern and Asian textures including gongs, bowls, Mongolian throat singing, and what sounds like whistling birds. Later, in “Uriel,” Djawadi goes more traditional, showcasing the main theme for a magical choir that opens up to embrace a lovely statement for strings, accompanied by arrangements that remind me very much of James Horner’s Avatar.

To counter the main theme, Djawadi also introduces a ‘Darkness Theme’ to musically represent the abstract danger threatening the universe. The theme is more of a motif really, as opposed to anything melodic, but it’s identifiable across several cues. It first appears in “Darkness Across the Universe,” in which an ominous, unusual ‘wing flap’ sound similar to the one Hans Zimmer used in Batman Begins is accompanied by metallic percussion and an intimidating 3-note brass fanfare. It returns later in “Camazotz,” where it musically illustrates the planet that the Darkness has taken over, and where Meg’s father is imprisoned. The music here is dissonant and aggressive, with harsh string tones, abrasive electronics, throaty brass clusters, and chanting vocals. The second half of the cue is very reminiscent of the music Hans Zimmer was writing circa 2010, with bubbling pulsating electronic ideas offset by an orchestral power anthem, making it the one cue that fans of Djawadi’s Warcraft/Pacific Rim writing will gravitate to the most.

These ideas culminate in “Be a Warrior,” another action cue where the flapping Darkness motif is accompanied by growling cellos, and becomes gradually bolder and more orchestral, featuring especially fulsome brass writing and cooing voices which add a touch of tragedy. Unfortunately this action music is a little underwhelming; despite a few occasional explosions of grand scale orchestral theatrics, much of it tends to noodle along inoffensively, and most notably there is a disappointing lack of thematic conflict – Djawadi could have easily found a way to pit Meg’s main theme against the Darkness motif to illustrate and help guide the young target audiences, for some reason he chose not to do so.

This slight sense of ‘underwhelmingness’ continues on through several of the other mid album cues. Tracks like “Touch the Stars,” “Home,” “Is This a Dream,” and “Forgive Me” have a pretty overall sound, and occasionally feature some especially nice writing for the chorus, solo cello, and strings and piano in duet, but for the most part they tend to drift past in an inoffensive sheen of vaguely pretty orchestral tones coupled with ambient, abstract electronica.

Things do pick up a little in the finale. “Tap Into Your Mind” brings back both the main theme, heard on softly welcoming strings and piano, with the Astral Traveler motif and its peculiar vocal stylings and electric guitar ideas. “Tesseract” is slow and dream-like, with high string textures playing what sounds like a deconstructed version of the main theme. “Sorry I’m Late” is the longest cue of the score, and contains some notably heightened emotional content, including warm and sentimental piano and string tones, and tender, slightly contemporary-sounding humming female vocals. However, considering that this cue is supposed to be the musical culmination of the epic journey to be reunited with your lost parent, it feels a little wishy-washy and restrained, as though DuVernay kept holding Djawadi back from fully expressing what should be an enormous sense of relief and joy. The cue closes with oohs and aahs and a light pop electronic percussion beat which leads into a sweeping statement of the main theme, but it all feels a little perfunctory. Thankfully the conclusive “The Universe Is Within All of Us” redresses the balance, as it features several gorgeous statements of the main theme, and builds to a big finish for bold, lush strings and fanfare-like brass.

Also worth mentioning on the album are a handful of songs, the most notable of which is “Flower of the Universe,” by the British pop-soul legend Sade. It’s the first new song from Sade in almost seven years, and may very well be the highest profile piece of new music she’s released since her late-1980s/early 1990s heyday, when she enjoyed hit singles like “Smooth Operator,” “The Sweetest Taboo,” and “No Ordinary Love.” The song features Sade’s familiar silky, luscious vocals, and a haunting guitar motif; for me, it’s one of the best original movie songs I’ve heard in quite some time.

While I’m very happy to see Ramin Djawadi returning to a more lyrical, emotional, orchestral palette, I can’t help feel frustrated at the fact that there isn’t a little more meat on the score’s bones. There are some terrific ideas here, the main theme is elegant and memorable, and the overall sound is lovely, but the whole thing seems to be too restrained, constantly holding back, constantly struggling to contain the emotional content that clearly wants to emerge. I also can’t help but wonder whether the score will sort of miss its target audience a little: Game of Thrones fans will be disappointed that it doesn’t contain a similar thematic strength or instrumental delicacy, fans of his action scores like Pacific Rim and Dracula Untold will bemoan the lack of kick-ass orchestral power, and fans of things like Iron Man… well, I don’t know what they would want. Those guys are weird. In the end, A Wrinkle in Time will probably end up being little more than a briefly pleasant diversion, and that is very frustrating, because it clearly could have been much, much more.

Buy the Wrinkle in Time soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Flower of the Universe – No I.D. Remix (written by Helen Folasade Adu, Andrew Hale, and Ben Travers, performed by Sade) (4:07)
  • I Believe (written by Khaled Mohamed Khaled, Demi Lovato, Denisia Andrews, and Brittany Coney, performed by DJ Khaled feat. Demi Lovato) (3:45)
  • Magic (written by Sia Furler and Jesse Shatkin, performed by Sia) (3:30)
  • Let Me Live (written by Denisia Andrews, Brittany Coney, Ali Payami, and Kehlani Parrish, performed by Kehlani) (3:17)
  • Warrior (written by Chloe Bailey and Halle Bailey, performed by Chloe x Halle) (3:40)
  • Park Bench People (written by Matthew Griffith, Osagyefu Kennedy, Darryl Moore, Kevin Alan O’Neal, and Mike Lafayette Troy, performed by Freestyle Fellowship) (5:15)
  • Flower of the Universe (written by Helen Folasade Adu, Andrew Hale, and Ben Travers, performed by Sade) (3:49)
  • A Wrinkle in Time (2:09)
  • Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which (3:35)
  • Darkness Across the Universe (2:33)
  • Touch the Stars (1:44)
  • Happy Medium (2:05)
  • Camazotz (3:50)
  • Home (1:38)
  • Uriel (2:19)
  • Is This a Dream? (2:14)
  • Forgive Me (3:11)
  • Be a Warrior (5:00)
  • Tap Into Your Mind (3:01)
  • Tesseract (3:23)
  • Sorry I’m Late (6:09)
  • The Universe Is Within All of Us (2:10)

Running Time: 72 minutes 24 seconds

Walt Disney Records (2018)

Music composed and conducted by Ramin Djawadi. Orchestrations by Stephen Coleman, John Neufeld, Conrad Pope, Raymond Fabi, Eddie Karam and Andrew Kinney. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy and Dennis Sands. Edited by Kenneth Karman. Album produced by Ramin Djawadi.

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