Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

 photo miss_peregrines_home_for_peculiar_children_zpsbvzyjo5a.jpg photo starrating-3stars.jpgThere’s no denying that Tim Burton has a distinct point of view. He’s always championed the outsider, the weird, the different in his movies. Thus he seems ideally suited to lens an adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The debut novel by author Ransom Riggs recounts the tale of Jacob “Jake” Portman (Asa Butterfield), a seemingly normal boy who wants to learn more about his beloved grandfather after his death. Jake’s search uncovers clues that lead to an orphanage on Cairnholm Island in Wales. Once Jake arrives at Miss Peregrine’s estate, he descends into a world of the unknown. There he finds himself in a bizarre time loop populated by a group of odd youngsters. What makes them so unique is that they have supernatural powers or deformities. Grandpa Abe (Terence Stamp) had always filled Jake’s head with these fantasies when he was very young. It now appears that these whimsical bedtime stories were indeed the truth.

Fables about orphans, often ones on the fringes of society, have long been the subject of beloved fiction. The Outsiders, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter, even Annie are some of our most enduring tales. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is no different. Ok so our narrator Jake isn’t an orphan. He has a mom (Kim Dickens) and a dad (Chris O’Dowd). However his grandfather didn’t and neither do the kids under the care of Miss Peregrine. This is an adventure about the struggle to find a place to fit in. It speaks to anyone who has ever felt like they don’t quite conform to rigid societal norms.  In essence, it’s for everyone. So no, the idea isn’t particularly fascinating or innovative but the manifestation of that idea is. The construct allows Tim Burton to work within his wheelhouse. Say what you will about Burton’s narratives. His work is visually gorgeous. Miss Peregrine is no exception.

Tim Burton has assembled a strong cast. Eva Green is a joy as the headmistress with a smoking pipe who has some peculiar abilities of her own. She’s not the primary lead but she’s mentioned in the title so I’d say the character is a key component. Miss Peregrine is sweet, but there’s an edge to her. She’s sort of a “Scary” Poppins that speaks in soothing tones with just enough curtness to her words to have a little bite. Then there’s the Peculiars, little curiosities, each one with a special ability. We live in the time of superhero movies so they’re not unlike the X-Men to cite a familiar reference. This one floats, another controls fire, he is invisible, she has superhuman strength, this boy has a beehive in his stomach. There are others. The benefit of their ability isn’t as important as its portrayal in cinematic form. The script doesn’t give us the opportunity to truly understand these people in any meaningful way. Yet I had fun in simply discovering and understanding their talents. Samuel L. Jackson plays the film’s main antagonist, the power-hungry Mr. Barron. Apparently, he is the leader of a group of evil monsters who look human. Unfortunately his poorly defined villain is a weakness of an increasingly convoluted saga.

The fable is not perfect by any means. It has a tendency to drag in the 3rd quarter, but I was mostly entertained throughout. Miss Peregrine’s simple beginning starts out promisingly, then grows ever more puzzling. It ultimately lacks a coherent narrative. Yet it never fails as a beautifully realized period piece. Tim Burton is known for his fantastical worlds. Miss Peregrine is the expression of the director’s dreams. The cinematography is nicely handled by 4-time Oscar nominee Bruno Delbonnel (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Inside Llewyn Davis). Set in 1943 with Gothic flourishes, Tim Burton makes good use of on-location shooting, first in the suburbs of Tampa, Florida, then Belgium, England, and Wales. All of that shows in the strong visual aesthetic. Torenhof Castle in Belgium was used as the setting for Miss Peregrine’s home and it’s stunning. I especially liked the exterior shots with a topiary garden of various animals. The production design utilized the actual rooms inside along with constructed practical sets, as opposed to digital backdrops.  These include a parlor, a dining room, a conservatory and a lab where one of the children can resurrect the dead. Speaking of which, there are many delightfully frightening images. Colleen Atwood’s costumes exploit this too. The image of two mute twins in white robes and masks to match, still haunt my mind. The chronicle is long and unfocused, but there are still enough moments to charm. Think of it as an exquisite but messy entanglement.

09-29-16

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19 Responses to “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”

  1. smilingldsgirl Says:

    I’m glad you found it so visually impressive. Aside from the skeleton scene and the underwater scene it did nothing for me. Especially the Florida sequences. It had none of Burton’s skewing of suburbia. It all looked pretty ordinary to me. As you know, I found this film a slog. One of my least favorite of the year. Every character just explains the magic instead of showing it. The peculiar children are hardly in the movie at all except for the blonde girl and Jake is completely bland. Not for me but glad you were entertained.

    • Oh my gosh, you’re making me appreciate this film even more!

      I didn’t even mention the skeleton soldiers. That was like something out of Jason and the Argonauts. Ray Harryhausen would have been proud. What a wonderful homage. As you mentioned, the underwater air bubble scene was definitely cool and then later when Emma expels the ocean water from the ship, I was dazzled by that image too. The children had fascinatingly grotesque abilities. That little girl with shark teeth on the back of her neck was especially bizarre. I knew the bee-hive boy had that peculiarity because they had already shown it once, and yet every time he opened his mouth, the way the bees flew out surprised me. The Hollows kind of looked like a cross between a giant Cthulhu and Slenderman. So imaginative.

      I’m sad you weren’t captivated by all this creativity. Oh well, I felt the same way about Star Trek Beyond so I understand exactly how you feel.

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        Ha. Those kids were hardly in the movie at all. We’d see them and then get back to more exposition. Yeah funny how different people see things. It really felt like it would never end. Even Miss Peregrine was underused and most of the time just explaining things. Anyway I am glad you liked it. Yay the skeleton scene

      • Hmmm well I already felt the movie was too long. I didn’t need it to be longer with more focus on the side characters.

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        No just take out all that exposition and spend time with the characters. Show don’t tell

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        And make your protagonist more proactive. Most of the time he is just asking questions and having things explained to him. It’s like if Harry Potter spent all his time hearing about quidditch and never getting on a broom

      • Ha! Perhaps we’re getting off the subject, but I always found the Quidditch match in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to be interminable. I get your point. It’s just that sometimes “showing” can be pretty awful too.

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        Yeah perhaps bad example because I hate quidditch. I guess fantasy has never been my favorite even when I was a little girl. If I don’t emotionally connect with the characters or the script doesn’t make me laugh than there is little hope. Like early Tim Burton I do connect emotionally and laugh/cry with the script (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Beetlejuice).

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        If you can appreciate visual spectacle this much you might actually appreciate Warcraft. It is very fun visually but confusing and boring. Maybe this would have felt less redundant and more special if I hadn’t just read the book to prepare? Could be

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        Although I will say the only thing I can think of more boring than watching quidditch is people talking about it. Ha! 😉

  2. Eric Robert Wilkinson Says:

    Just a heads up but the address for this seems to be the following:
    https://fastfilmreviews.com/2016/10/01/13489/

  3. I agree that based on Burton’s track record, he seems ideally suited to make Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Not surprised to hear that the film is visually gorgeous, since the it sounds like the kind of unusual story Tim Burton knows how to tell. Also not shocked to learn that the film’s villain is poorly defined. I got that sense from the trailers I’ve seen. Samuel L. Jackson is usually enjoyable to watch, although unfortunately he does tend to end up playing one-dimensional villains. I blame that more on poor writing than anything he does wrong. Bummed to hear that the movie drags in the 3rd quarter and that it lacks a coherent narrative. Still, from your description it sounds entertaining enough that I should check it out.

  4. I really didn’t like the novel so I am not sure I can be bothered to see this even though I have always enjoyed Burton’s aesthetic.

  5. I thought this was just harmless fun. I agree, it’s not one of Burtons best, but , who cares. His movies all look great and have a creativity to them. 3 1/2 stars

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