A Wrinkle in Time in Dolby Vision HDR and Atmos Sound

a wrinkle in time

I read Madeleine L’Engle’s classic YA (young adult) novel A Wrinkle in Time when I was in middle school, and it completely captivated me. I had already begun to think about higher dimensions thanks to my Uncle Fritz, who was deeply involved in an obscure but fascinating school of thought called Theosophy. In fact, he introduced me to the concept of a tesseract, which is a 4-dimensional cube, aka hypercube. But A Wrinkle in Time was my first exposure to the idea of “folding” space to travel vast distances instantaneously—a theoretical concept that is widely accepted among physicists today.

When I first saw the trailer for Disney’s movie adaptation of the novel, I was thrilled; I remember thinking, “It’s about time!” Granted, Disney already made a TV movie based on the book in 2003, but it was pretty bad, and it was not entirely true to the original story. The trailer for the new version looked amazing—and, as a modern Disney movie, it would surely be graded in Dolby Vision high dynamic range and mixed in Atmos immersive sound.

There’s only one problem: It’s not playing in the Dolby Cinema locations nearest to me! Those venues are keeping Black Panther in their Dolby Cinema and presenting A Wrinkle in Time in their standard rooms and, in some cases, their IMAX auditorium. (Other locations are playing A Wrinkle in Time in their Dolby Cinema; it’s up to each venue to decide what to play in which room.) So, I bought a ticket to see it at Disney’s El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, CA, which is not an official Dolby Cinema, but it is showing the movie in Dolby Vision and Atmos.

Meg Murray (Storm Reid) is a bright but troubled teenager whose scientist father Dr. Alex Murray (Chris Pine) went missing several years ago during experiments in multi-dimensional travel via “tessering.” Meg’s family also includes her scientist mother Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her preternaturally brilliant, adopted little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). One night, the mysterious Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) appears at their door. She is an otherworldly being who confirms that tesseracts are real.

A bit later, Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s friend Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller) meet Mrs. Whatsit’s celestial companions, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). They reveal that Dr. Murray is alive and trapped by The It (voiced by David Oyelowo), an evil darkness that threatens to engulf the entire universe. They recruit the trio of youngsters to join them in an interplanetary quest to rescue Dr. Murray and defeat the darkness. Along the way, they are assisted by the Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis).

Overall, I really enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time—any movie that involves higher dimensions, quantum physics, and a Chladni plate (look it up) is fine by me! The visuals are absolutely stunning, with tons of CGI. Some reviews complain that much of it is obviously computer generated, and I agree, though I did not find it objectionable. The riotous colors provide some spectacular eye candy, and the Dolby Vision HDR is mostly excellent. There are several shots with very bright highlights that really pop—the sun behind a character, fireworks—and the darkness of The It’s inner sanctum is super deep. However, the entire dynamic range is not fully exploited until the end, and the shadow detail is not the best I’ve seen. Still, I’d wager it’s far better than a conventional presentation, which I didn’t get to check out in this case, since the El Capitan is not a multiplex.

On the downside, there are several added scenes that do not appear in the book—such as the overly drawn-out ending—and some shots linger on kaleidoscopic effects longer than they need to. This makes the movie seem rather long, even though its run time is just under two hours. The book is pretty short, so perhaps director Ava DuVernay thought it was important to extend it. Also, there are several plot holes, even though just about everything is explicitly explained in the dialog. And quite a few teen-pop songs lace the otherwise excellent score by Ramin Djawadi, clearly a nod to the intended audience, which dragged down the story for me.

The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is highly immersive, with lots of activity and music in the surround and overhead speakers. However, dialog intelligibility was very poor in the screening I saw. I don’t know if that was the El Capitan’s sound system or the mix, but I missed some important dialog. Good thing I already knew the story!

Sound levels were quite reasonable: Leq (average RMS level over the entire length of the movie plus trailers) = 96.1 dBZ (flat), 82.7 dBA, 94.2 dBC; Lmax (maximum 1-second RMS level) = 119.8 dBZ; L10 (level exceeded 10% of the time) = 94.8 dBZ; L50 (level exceeded 50% of the time) = 82.0 dBZ.

A Wrinkle in Time explores some very basic but timeless themes—good versus evil, light versus darkness, individuality versus conformity, the importance of self-acceptance, and the power of love—in a somewhat superficial way that befits its intended young audience. Yet, even as an older adult, I found it to be a delightful diversion full of heart and hope, reminding me of how I felt when I read the book all those decades ago. It’s definitely worth seeing, even with its flaws.

If you decide to give it a go, be sure to verify that it’s playing at a nearby Dolby Cinema; for a list of locations, click here. As I said earlier, some locations are showing it, while others aren’t. If you’re near one that is, it’s well worth the higher ticket price to see it there.

Check out the trailer:

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