Updated: Apr 15
A Wrinkle in Time at California’s Redwoods
A Wrinkle in Time represents an ironically ideal movie title for my visits to the Redwood Coast of Humboldt County, California. The popular young-adult-novel-turned movie features a time warp, a condition I felt five decades after the start of my four-year residency as a university student in the community. Plus, in another nod to that title, those 50 years meant my face developed a whole lot of wrinkles.
Besides the crags decorating my features, the idea of A Wrinkle in Time suits the area perfectly. Time stands tall in the redwoods. The landscape maintains an eternal sense despite shifting sands from the rugged ocean that lends its name to the region’s genus of “coastal” redwoods. The waves themselves never cease pummeling the shore, helping to create a unique sensibility in the Pacific Northwest.
But those redwoods—they spent centuries growing. They stand like a fortress that led to the term “redwood curtain,” a seeming barrier against urbanization south of Humboldt County. The wet weather that makes those trees grow means development crawls at the pace of a local resident called the banana slug.
Standing amidst protected forests of state and national parks, I inhale a savory fragrance that blends earth with vegetation in a moist mix. A thrush might send out a song, but generally the silence feels unusually noticeable and profound. The trees and their curtain lured me to the county as a student at what now gets called Cal Poly Humboldt. Major? I could care less. Just give me those trees.
My residency made me adapt to the region’s frequent rain, where the phrase “forty days and forty nights” really happened. I loved it but nonetheless eventually moved on to a location featuring vast differences (and a job market). No seaside waves pound and rain hardly ever pours in Reno, Nevada. There, I collect a monthly check, bask in sun, plus make good use of Lake Tahoe, pine forests, and Sierra Nevada trails. Still, every now and then I need a fix of extremes—ocean and redwoods.
Back I go, crossing through that redwood curtain to stand in a forest of giants where mist and quiet create a sense of awe. Could that famous large-toed creature Sasquatch roam around here? Like any X-Files fan, I want to believe.
Bigfoot—or not—every trip to the redwoods offers its own wrinkle of a time warp, the chance to stand still and marvel at a scope and scale that seems to come from another world.
A Wrinkle in Time, 2018 with Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and others helping young Storm Reid find Chris Pine amidst awe-inspiring locations like California’s redwoods. A cult favorite novel, come to life with a respected cast helmed by acclaimed director Ava DuVernay may appeal to its intended young-adult (YA) audience but misses the mark for grown-ups. Story elements include many appealing fairy tale basics, but presentation features clumsy images. While acknowledging Oprah’s enormous impact on the world—not just entertainment—her arrival as an actual giant distracted me from the story. Not a real problem when plot elements come in such a predictable manner. Still, the project needed a keener eye to special effects. But once again, Humboldt County makes the most of its on-screen moments, including some filmed in Eureka’s tree-laden Sequoia Park. Readily accessible for public visits, the park features trails under towering trails, with a suspension bridge located right next door in the city’s zoo.
Murder Mountain, 2018 with Garret Rodriguez disappearing in southern Humboldt County. Some locals I talked with criticized the Netflix documentary series for simplifications and exaggerations. But much rings true in the story about violence surrounding the then-illegal marijuana growing industry near Garberville. The documentary presents a conundrum faced by Humboldt County going back to the time I lived there. With staples like logging and fishing facing environmental restrictions and other constraints, money earned by growing and selling pot helped stabilize the economy. But as Prohibition demonstrated with alcohol, providing illegal substances brings on its own set of problems. Murder Mountain shows these challenges in a compelling manner.
Outbreak, 1995 with Dustin Hoffman hanging out in Ferndale and finding solutions to a global pandemic. Director Wolfgang Petersen specializes in suspense, and his movie feels more like a disaster actioner than serious look at the ramifications catastrophic viral spreads. During the Covid-19 isolation period some 25 years after the movie’s release, my friends and I logged into the movie on a Zoom-like forum that let us stay in our own homes and view the movie together. Typing in comments, we readily accepted the threats outlined in the film but doubted how rapidly a vaccine arrived to save the day. Turns out we misjudged our new reality, where a vaccine came promptly enough but got rejected by so many people (the same mind shift goes for Contagion, generally considered the more realistic among pandemic stories). Outbreak’s heightened entertainment qualities include Kevin Spacy before Oscars and a downfall, plus the irony of Dr. McDreamy (Grey’s Anatomy’s Patrick Dempsey) as the guy who exacerbates the viral spread. And once again for Humboldt, while the movie fails to achieve classic stature, the region’s locations offer visual pleasures and incentive for a visit.
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, 1983 with Luke and Leia on speeder bikes through Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park. …or something like that. Even though some of time stands still in the region, changes occur and like a banana slug, gradually shift from their starting point. For instance, just say “Luke and Leia,” everyone immediately knows the original stars as Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. As for specific location, filming took place before of national and state park designations and restrictionsAnd that bit about Episode VI, not III?. I saw Return of the Jedi in a theater as a third Star Wars installment before filmmakers dallied with a backstory in several other films. My initial viewing disappointed me by lacking the emotional depth from the previous film, The Empire Strikes Back. Also, while Jedi featured a less cliff-hangery ending than the earlier episode, I resented having to wait 30+ years for a final resolution (even if it included Adam Driver). Still, I maintain a couple of positive reactions about Jedi. Han Solo survived his cliffhanger Empire freezing finale. And Jedi’s redwood chase in the park’s Cheatham Grove looks spectacular.
Virgin River, 2019- with Martin Henderson looking handsome in British Columbia passing as Humboldt County. Along with a plot springboard where a medical practitioner moves from the big city to a tiny community, Virgin River imitates Northern Exposure by faking its locations. For River, British Columbia steps in as rural Humboldt County and the tree/water connection passes the visual test well enough for the show to run several seasons. Granted, anyone who spends real time in the redwoods knows the difference between big versus BIG trees. Though some plotting nods its head to northern California’s distinctive marijuana industry, the region’s basic draw as a setting derives from its combination of beauty and isolation. As for story, the dynamics of romance novels serves as lure, with different couples finding their ways towards futures together, scaling obstacles that grow taller and wider than redwood trees. Talented and likeable performers make good company in what works for me like a guilty pleasure, a show where my cynical side recognizes all the contrivances and manipulations but the rest of me enjoys in spite of myself.
Willow Creek, 2014 with director Bobcat Goldthwait shifting from comedy to horror in the title community. Known for acting in Police Academy and other comedies, director Goldthwait surprises with a tense and scary “found footage” look at a creature said to roam forests in Humboldt County. The setting’s inspiration comes from a 59.5-second film showing a tall, furry animal walking upright by a forest near Willow Creek.
Considered a hoax by many, the snippet nonetheless cemented a connection between Humboldt County and Bigfoot. Goldthwait mines the link with a low-budget effort that replicates fear faced when hanging out in an isolated domain where large predators see humans as tasty snacks. Goldthwait records real Willow Creek locals expressing their attitudes towards Bigfoot, plus his tiny crew of seven hiked 17 miles on a dirt road to the Bluff Creek site where the 1967 film shot.