Writers Marita Giovanni and Bruce Graham take the poignant and thought-provoking notions of life and death found in the Madeline L’Engle teen novel and turn it into Gidget meets Flipper drivel for “A Ring of Endless Light.” They have come up with the standard Disney original pic, filled with pretty stars, pretty sets and empty messages. Regular Disney fans and those unfamiliar with the book it is reputedly based on will find nothing amiss in this squeaky clean end of summer romance pic.
Mischa Barton stars as Vicky Austin, the eldest of the dynamic and overachieving Austin family. Vicky and her younger siblings Suzy (Scarlett Pomers) and Rob (Soren Fulton) are spending yet another summer with their grandfather (James Whitmore) on Seven Bay Island. Vicky is a sensitive poet who by day writes endlessly in her journal and by night dreams of strange underwater adventures. Vicky meets and befriends Adam (Ryan Merriman), a young student visiting the island to study marine biology. While assisting Adam in his work with a family of dolphins, Vicky discovers that she is able to communicate with the mammals telepathically.
As her involvement with the family of dolphins deepens, so do Vicky’s feelings for Adam. But she is torn between the no-nonsense scientist and her old summer flame, Zachary (Jared Padelecki) the local rich kid and sometime bad boy. When Ynid, the female dolphin, gets caught in an illegal drift-net operation, Vicky, Adam and Zack band together to stop the bad guys.
Lacking the confidence to share her gifts, be it poetry or dolphin speak, Barton’s Vicky should be an easily identifiable character to teen audiences. A little stiff in front of the camera, Barton still makes a somewhat beguiling Vicky.
James Whitmore has a brief and ridiculously dismissive role but manages to add an air of respectability to the pic while Merriman and Padelecki offer the heartthrob factor at best.
Director Greg Beeman does as much as is required with the simplified script, which has totally eliminated the contemplative and edgier facets of the book. Beeman appears to compensate a little by including some spectacular footage of dolphins at play as well as an incredible shot of a dolphin giving birth. While these images add appeal to the movie, they make the computer-enhanced dolphin scenes all the more obvious.
Jon Dowding’s production design, while pristine and inviting, is as unbelievable as the story. It is a burden for audiences to believe that the cerulean blue waters of Australia are that of the Atlantic Ocean.