Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Film)
Release Date: September 30th, 2016
Directed by: Tim Burton
Starring: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Chris O'Dowd, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp, Ella Purnell, Judi Dench and Samuel L. Jackson.
Director Tim Burton has a distinct style and aesthetic that is recognizable to filmgoers, and it has never been more obvious than in his newest film and adaptation, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Based on the hit book series of the same name (review here), Burton touches on all of his favorites, including sickly waifs with dark shadows under their eyes (two of them this time!), a crazy-hair, crazy-eyed leading actress, disturbing scenes, and excessive use of CGI. In a way, Miss Peregrine's is the perfect film for Burton. The book gives a cohesive storyline that's ripe for adaptation in his trademark style. Plus, it's a book about vision, as photographs are a recurring motif throughout the narrative. Burton seems to miss this however, and what we receive in turn is a mess. A visually stunning mess, sure, but a mess all the same.
For the first half of the film, the story doesn't stray far from the book. Jacob Portman (played by Asa Butterfield and called "Jake" throughout the movie, as opposed to his full name in the book) is working a crappy job in one of the stores his family owns. He has absolutely no friends, (probably because he goes by Jake instead of the much better Jacob) and he adores his grandfather, who used to tell him stories of the fantastic orphanage where he spent his youth. Unfortunately, his grandfather (played by the always great Terence Stamp) is killed in the woods by a hideous monster who has plucked out his eyes. With his dying words, he tells Jake to find "The Bird" in "The Loop." Jake freaks out and his parents send him to psychiatrist Dr. Golan (Allison Janney, not playing a mother for once), who suggests that Jake follow his grandfather's dying directions. Together, Jake and his father make their way to the Welsh island of Cairnholm, and while Jake's father (played bogglingly by Chris O'Dowd... seriously what is he doing here?) is off watching birds, Jake searches for the old mansion that his grandfather spoke of. There he meets a troupe of "peculiar" children and their headmistress, Miss Peregrine. Hilarity ensues.
It's actually surprising how much of the first half of the movie follows the book. Tim Burton and writer Jane Goldman add details ripped straight from the novel. Then the second half happens, and the entire book is thrown out the window. I wouldn't have an issue with this usually: adaptations are limited in what they can do, and there's no reason to follow a book beat-by-beat. What makes this an issue is the fact that the film doesn't make any damn sense. There's a thoughtful, laid-out opening, and then mountains of exposition and a ridiculous conflict that I had trouble taking seriously. The ending is like an entirely different story.
One of the major changes is the addition of Samuel L. Jackson's head villain Barron, the leader of the wights (former peculiars who were turned into monsters and back into a humans by eating other peculiar's eyeballs). Jackson is having a hell of a good time here. Every moment he's on screen is a delight, and he skulks about looking sinister, cracking jokes, and otherwise chewing scenery (as well as eyeballs). Barron leads the other wights and their invisible slender-man monsters called hollows against the children, hoping to capture Miss Peregrine so they can use her and others like her to power a machine that will let them live forever.
Despite how fun it is to watch Jackson on screen, his casting shows one of the major issues with the film: great actors in mediocre roles. There's only so much they can do with the parts they're given, and they can't go too far or else it would disturb the film's aesthetic. Samuel L. Jackson steals the show, but his capering actually detracts from his part's inherent menace. Eva Green is amazing as usual, even if she doesn't get a lot to do but stare intensely and drop exposition. Asa Butterfield and the other peculiar children are not awful actors, but there's nothing remarkable about them. And again, I don't know what Chris O'Dowd is doing here, and for that matter, Rupert Everett and Dame Judi Dench (Dench in particularly is wasted here).
The exposition is plentiful and tedious. There's a lot going on this movie. We need to learn about "peculiars," loops, wights, hollows, general time travel, and evil schemes for immortality while also balancing hidden destiny and love story subplots. Because of this there's no time to really get into anything substantial (which is odd for a film that relies so much on time travel). One of the best scenes in the book was the father explaining that they had suspected Jake's grandfather of having affairs on his frequent "business trips." It's a great scene because it shows the father's pain from the grandfather's neglect, and it hurts Jake to see the flaws in someone he loves. It hurts Jake's father to say this, and he has to go through three beers before he even brings it up. In the film? He tells it to him idly as they're going through the grandfather's belongings. Where's the emotion? Where's the pacing?
It should be a fun film to watch at least, and the movie does succeed with some striking images and scenery. But even Miss Peregrine's visuals become a chore as the CGI gets ramped up during the ending scene. There's an extensive battle on a boardwalk carnival and what looks like a circus across the street, which is a full-on "superhero team" segment that doesn't seem to fit the theme of the original story. This leads to a remarkably confusing time-travel situation that leads to some pretty awful plot changes and poor story telling. If you're going to see it I won't spoil it, but it involves the grandfather.
Overall this is not a quality film. I'm not even sure if fans of the book series will enjoy this, especially considering the wild departures it takes from the original story. The time traveling becomes unbearably confusing, the characters are not enjoyable or engaging, and nothing particularly stands out. I don't recommend wasting your money on this one in theaters unless you're a super-fan of the books. If you're just curious, I'd wait until it's available on streaming or Redbox. Otherwise, leave this peculiarity alone.