Fantastic Fest 2016 Review: MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

The young adult novel which inspires Tim Burton’s newest movie seems tailor-made for Burton’s creative and imaginative mind and his artistic sensibilities for creating a visually vibrant cinematic experience.  The material also has the right amount of abberance for Fantastic Fest audiences.  I have not read any of these books, but based on what I have read about the first installment, the story does feel somewhat derivative of other fantasy stories like Harry Potter and even the  X-Men characters from Marvel Comics.  Don’t get me wrong, the film adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is fun and entertaining, but is restricted by the limitations of its source material.

Asa Butterfield stars as Jake Portman, an American teenager who, through most of his childhood, idolized his grandfather Abraham (Terrence Stamp), a man who shared the wildest and highly imaginative stories with his grandson.  As Jake matures into his teen years, he begins to takes his grandfather’s tales with a grain of salt and dismisses them as fantasy told to him to keep him entertained.  When Abraham is murdered by a frightening and bizarre creature that only Jake witnesses, he begins to believe there may be some truth to the stories.  Jake convinces his father (Chris O’Dowd) to take him to Wales to investigate into the veracity of his grandfather’s tall tales.  When Jake discovers the remains of the orphanage where Abraham was raised, he gets transported to another realm where time stands still and Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) runs a special orphanage for “peculiar” children with extraordinary powers, just like his grandfather described in his stories.

With an adapted screenplay by Jane Goldman (Kick Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service), Burton does prove himself to be the perfect director for presenting this dark fantasy story on the big screen.  His mix of childlike wonderment and penchant for the macabre works well for the story material, even more so than his adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.  In this movie, Burton and his crew find a better balance between practical and virtual design than the work done in the Alice films.  Visually, the movie looks marvelous, but the writing is a bit less than stellar.

Considering the solid work that writer Jane Goldman has offered in the past, I am a little disappointed that her adaptation of Miss Peregrine is a bit lacking here.  Not only is the film held back by the limitations of the novel, Goldman does little to alleviate those problems, and because a two hour movie imposes additional limitations on a novel, this multiplies these issues.  Ransom Riggs’s novel has a rich array of characters (both heroes and villains), but according to a friend who has read the books, some of them suffer from underdevelopment.  That problem is evident in the film.  A few of the Peculiar Children get little to no development, but the villains suffer the most from this issue.  The villains and their motivations are rather weak and do not get the development they need to make them interesting.

I will say that I enjoyed the treatment that most of the Peculiars get and the cast members portraying them deliver solid work, particularly Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Terrence Stamp, and Ella Purnell who stars as orphan Emma Bloom.  The movie also feature fine performances by Allison Janney, Chris O’Dowd, Finlay MacMillan, and Lauren McCrostie.  Talented actors Judi Dench and Rupert Everett appear in the film, but are sadly given so very little to do.  Also, Samuel L. Jackson delivers a gleefully evil performance as the main villain Barron, but his character suffers the most from the poor development in the screenplay.

In addition to the character development issues, the movie ends a tad messily with some unresolved loose ends.  Still, I can honestly say that despite the weaknesses of the story, I still found some enjoyment and entertainment in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.  I think the story and main characters are interesting enough for further cinematic adventures, but any screenwriters adapting the material really need to correct the flaws and weaknesses of the source material because the potential for exceptional story telling is there. Tim Burton has the right artistic sensibilities for this fantasy world and I do hope he returns for at least one more adventure.

 

 

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