Rated PG-13 for intese sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril
Screenplay by Jane Goldman, based on the novel by Ransom Riggs
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson, Terence Stamp, Allison Janney, Ella Purnell, Finlay MacMillan and more
Grade: Two stars
Tim Burton may be the master of the strange and fantastical, but I’m starting to think he doesn’t understand humans all that well.
That’s the biggest weakness of his “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” a visually inventive and oddly awkward adaptation of the best selling novel by Ransom Riggs. Though the movie’s flights of fancy are everything you might hope for, with a healthy dollop of the morbidity Burton is known for, it’s the moments where nothing strange is going on that feel the strangest.
The stretches of “normal” life feel like some sort of very earnest high school play, where every word and movement has the stiffness and artificiality that comes from having to think too hard about what you’re doing. Aliens, perhaps, would think this how humans behave, but for those of us who actually are human there’s a subtle wrongness here that grates. Burton’s spent so long in fantasyland that he’s forgotten what the real world feels like.
For those who haven’t read the book, “Miss Peregrine’s” tells the story of a young man named Jake whose grandfather is killed in a mysterious attack. After making a journey to a Welsh island with his father to find out if his grandfather’s old stories about growing up in a “peculiar” children’s home are true, he gets sucked into an adventure that takes him traveling through time, forces him to battle monsters, and helps him discover a truth deep inside himself.
Details of the plot have been changed fairly significantly from the book in some areas, particularly at the end. Though fans of the book will undoubtedly be frustrated – I found myself grumbling in more than a few places – the fact that they radically changed the ending is actually a gift to those who never read the book. The novel – the start of a trilogy – ends on a fairly significant cliffhanger, and the changes spare the audience from suffering the uncertainty of another “first movie” that may very well never get its intended sequels.
Other changes, however, were made merely to add to the story’s theatricality. A change in the villains’ food of choice, from souls to eyes, is both easier to show on screen and allows Burton to film a brief but truly morbid dinner sequence. It’s easier to appreciate the creativity of the scenes that were added on a submerged ship, which are beautiful though implausible even in the fictional universe of the movie.
The visual effects are the best part of the movie, and a round of applause goes to both the visual and special effects teams (the entire group is too big to be listed here, but please go find them on the movie’s imdb.com page). One battle scene near the end, entirely done in CGI, is particularly, subtly inventive.
As is usually the case, Eva Green and Samuel L. Jackson are the most interesting people on the screen, though Green is more successful at the balancing act between being dramatic and hamming it up too much. She even has some moments of real, genuine emotion that are actually quite touching.
It’s a genuineness that the rest of the movie can’t quite achieve. Burton may still be the best at conjuring monsters out of thin air, but it seems as though he’s lost the talent for creating people.
© 20th Century Fox