A peculiar director for peculiar children
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is directed by Tim Burton and stars Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Judi Dench, and Samuel L. Jackson. It is based off of the novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs.
For a film that is best described as dark fantasy as well as an odd mixture of Harry Potter and X-Men, Tim Burton would seem like a natural selection for tackling such a book-to-film adaptation. Everything that you've come to expect from Mr. Burton is once again on full display here: dark lighting, snazzy costumes, and delicate visuals that are bound to please even the most cynical of viewers. In my mind, however, Burton's direction has been hit or miss virtually his entire career, not quite being able to reach lofty heights achieved by the likes of Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg, nor achieving the mud pit lows of, say, Ed Wood or Michael Bay. Burton is about as middle of the road as it comes for directors, with his works never equating to total disasters, and not quite spectacular enough to be considered must-sees. This has not been more evident recently than with Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
The plot revolves around a boy named Jake (Asa Butterfield), who has been told stories by his grandfather all his life about how when his grandfather was a boy, he would fight evil monsters during World War II while living at Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children in Wales. The children living in the home possess strange abilities, and the children are regarded as "peculiars". Jake eventually travels to Wales to seek out the home and finds that it was destroyed in a Luftwaffe raid. However, Jake is greeted by some of the children in his grandfather's stories and is brought through a portal that takes him to 1943. Jake then meets Miss Alma Peregrine (Eva Green), who explains to Jake that she is of a special breed of peculiars called "Ymbrynes", who can transform into birds and manipulate time. Miss Peregrine and the children stay hidden from the outside world, because Miss Peregrine has set up a time loop for the day of September 3, 1943. Her and the children live the same day over and over again and avoid aging because of it.
Say what you will about the live-action Alice in Wonderland films, but I will be stubborn about insisting that those said films are not very good. If Burton's greatest critique as a director is being a style-over-substance type of guy, then the evidence for such a critique is abundantly clear in Alice in Wonderland. We can drive the point home even further with this film adaptation of Ransom Rigg's dark fantasy novel, which is obviously heavy on the visual appeal, but short on the narrative structure. It's not that the film is without enjoyment/entertainment value. It's just that there is not enough plot details and character development to enhance the overall experience.
- The stylish and dark visuals. The various peculiar children have interesting traits, especially Millard, who is invisible. The movie has a running gag of Millard running around with no clothes on, which, I suppose, would be the thing that any trouble-making kid would do if they knew that they were invisible. A young girl named Claire has a mouth with razor sharp teeth on the back of her head. Another boy named Hugh can shoot bees out of his mouth. You can see some of the X-Men type peculiars in Emma Bloom, who can manipulate air, and Olive, who is pyrokinetic. The film's climax allows the children to work together in using their abilities, which includes one child named Enoch who resurrects an army of skeletons that looks like stop-motion right out of Jason and the Argonauts. It's probably the neatest visual in the entire film. Burton is also one to avoid gigantic explosions and other Michael Bay-esque effects in his films. There is one scene where a German bomb is dropped on a building, and the bomb has an awkwardly compressed explosion. If Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich were directing this film, I bet that bomb would have unleashed at least ten explosions. Anyway, the necessary fantasy settings and visuals are all there in their usual Tim Burton fashion. When it's done right, it's done good.
- Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children really takes its sweet old time in getting started. I have never been one to say that any of Burton's films are too slow and/or too long, but wow does this film feel longer than its actual 127 minute run time. The film starts with its necessary exposition of the relationship between Jake and his grandfather, which is followed by a slow, tedious journey to Wales. Jake eventually makes it into the time loop, but then, for whatever reason, Jake decides to return to the present time. I failed to find a legitimate reason for Jake to go back to the present, since nothing changes other than Jake having a stronger realization of the main villain, portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson. Speaking of the villain, it takes until well over an hour into the film for us to learn who the villain is and what he is after. There is a brief glimpse of Jackson early on in the film, but by the time he begins to initialize his evil-doing plan, it is already too late for the climax to receive proper build-up and deliver rewarding pay-off. The film as a whole is an uneven combination of fantasy world-building and stopping an evil-baddy from doing evil-baddy things.
- The lack of narrative structure. It's a shame that several of the peculiar children are relegated to just their peculiar traits. Many of the children suffer from shallow character development and get only one or two moments to show off their peculiar abilities. With a setting that is part X-Men, I guess I should not be surprised that this film suffers from one of the most notable setbacks of the X-Men film franchise: an abundance of characters that struggle to be balanced. There's also not enough in the way of backstory of the home and how Miss Peregrine came to be. The story is a linear path forward that never cares to look back and wonder how it got to where it's going in the first place.
Fans of Burton will get the dark visuals and fantasy-setting charm that they've been getting for years, but Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children lacks the character development and narrative appeal to make it a wholly satisfying entry in the Burton directorial library. Like much of Burton's recent works, it's a middle-of-the-road cinematic experience that strays too far into the style-over-substance direction. But hey, Burton has made a living on being a style-over-substance guy, and I think he still has yet to bottom out. Michael Bay could learn a thing or two from Tim Burton, if he hasn't already.
Recommend? Watch it only if you've got some free time
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