Cinema Dispatch: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox

Directed by Tim Burton

I mean… if we’re still gonna get YA films THIS late into the game; at least we’ve got an ACTUAL director behind it unlike say… The 5th Wave which, as far as I can tell, was directed by the Film-O-Tron 9000.  Still, the real life director they got here happens to be one that’s been on a downward slide for quite some time now, so while this looks like the perfect film for him to make, the circumstances don’t inspire a lot of confidence.  Does Burton manage to shake off his slump with this adaptation of a book that apparently a lot of people have read, or will this come and go like so many other films in this over saturated genre?  Let’s find out!!

The movie is all about Jake (Asa Butterfield) who’s living his boring everyday life in boring everyday Florida where things that are boring happen every day.  That is… until the incident!  One day he arrives at his Grandpa’s place and finds that he’s been dragged out into the woods and had his eyes gouged out by something.  The police think it was dogs, but Jake saw something out there in those woods, and it wasn’t a dog!  Not even Cujo is THAT precise with his killings!  Anyway, Jake finds some information in a book his grandfather gave him that points to a bunch of stories he was told as a kid about peculiar children living in a home in some English village, and he feels that he should go there to see if the stories were true.  If nothing else, it might give a bit of closure for him which convinces his dad to begrudgingly take him, out there.  Naturally his dad is a bit of dip shit and loses track of Jake almost immediately.  Well… it’s not ENTIRELY his fault considering the island has some sort of dimensional time portal or something… I don’t know.  Just think of it like that scene in James and the Giant Peach where he crawls into the peach and turns into a stop motion character.  On the other side of this portal thingy, he finds the children from his grandfather’s stories as well as Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) who watches over them and is chock full of information that she’ll doll out to Jake throughout the course of the film involving his grandfather, their time portal thingy, and the bad guys chasing them led by Mr. Barron (Samuel L Jackson).  Will Jake find a new lease on life and be able to work through the grief of his grandfather’s death by spending time with these Peculiar kids?  What does Mr. Barron plan to do if he ever finds out where Miss Peregrine is hiding all these kids?  What the heck do they do all day in this little pocket dimension anyway?

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“After dinner, we’ll play charades!”     “We’ve been doing that for the last seventy fucking years!”     “Hey!  Watch your language!”     “WHY SHOULD I!?  I’M AN OCTOGENARIAN FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!!”     “Huh.  Was Jesus a Peculiar like us?  I mean, he COULD walk on water.”

It’s better than some of Tim Burton’s recent films, but it’s absolutely another example of his worst attributes in full display.  The designs are beautiful and the premise is interesting, but the editing is all over the place and the ending just kind of falls apart; bot things that have been plaguing him since the turn of the millennium.  I think a lot of the positives are reinforced by the restraint necessary to do an adaptation (and not one of a bajillion episodes series where he pick and choose what to cover, a la Dark Shadows), but then the nature of this being a book series which takes more than two hours to get through also doesn’t help things as far as editing and structure.  Tim Burton still needs to find a way to counterbalance his faults, but at least with this one he managed to get a decent movie out of it instead of a train wreck.  Okay, MAYBE it’s a bit of a train wreck, but it’s one of those small ones where everyone walks away with only a few bruises and maybe a bloody nose.

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Whoa whoa whoa!   It isn’t THAT bad!!

Where this movie falters is Tim Burton’s inability to narrow his focus and find what’s really important to cover from the novel; rather he seems to be cramming in everything imaginable and doesn’t have much of a plan as far as how it flows and the way it needs to come together.  We’re getting exposition dumps a full hour into the movie when we should be winding down into the third act.  In a book, this can work out just fine, but it’s never clear exactly how far we’re into the story until all of a sudden we’re rushing into the climax.  If we’re being honest, the Harry Potter movies were similar in that regard and maybe a familiarity with the source material would help with this film the same way it helped with those, but it’s no less of a valid criticism to point out how jam packed everything is here.  There’s one kid who’s introduced very late in the movie, yet he doesn’t seem to serve an actual purpose here and is forgotten when shit starts to hit the fan.  Jake’s dad just disappears completely and considering how the movie ends, it’d be nice if we had at least ONE scene with his parents to close the book on those characters.  He also has to ask Miss Peregrine on at least three separate occasions to tell him what the fuck is going on, and it’s never clear why the hell she’s so distant about everything to the point that I was SURE she was going to have some dark motive or some fatal flaw that she didn’t want anyone to know about, yet it never plays out that way.  I THINK one of the kids was supposed to turn out to be a bad guy considering how off-putting they are (he’s basically Sid from Toy Story crossed with Dr. Frankenstein), but they never do anything with his character other than make him super whiny and kinda useless.

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There he is!  Over there on the left with the pitchfork, which by the way turns out not to be that helpful of a weapon.

Outside of the individual character moments and story arcs, the lore itself is BEYOND convoluted and just serves to muddle the narrative rather than enrich it.  Not only are we dealing with X-Men clones, we’ve got time travel, pocket dimensions, bad guys who can shapeshift, dissolve into mist, are sometimes Slender Man knockoffs for no real reason, and all sorts of other concepts that barely work together in the film.  Now sure, you can put some of this on the filmmakers who needed to convey all this information to the audience in an effective manner, but considering how disparate the parts are it comes off as a Sisyphean task more than anything else.  With something like Harry Potter, it’s really not that hard to understand the individual aspects of the world they inhabit, and it unfolds more naturally across those books and movie.  Here though, it feels like three of those jammed into one which does nothing to help the uninitiated get invested in the characters or the world they inhabit.  Oh, and as to be expected from a Tim Burton movie, all of these issues come to a head in spectacular fashion at the end where things fall apart completely.  It’s better what they did in Dark Shadows, but it’s still damn near incomprehensible even if there is a bad ass skeleton fight thrown in the mix.

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Why the hell aren’t skeletons in movies anymore!?  THEY’RE AWESOME!!

Other than those issues with the storytelling and some shaky acting here and there (Jake seemed to take seeing his Grandpa’s eye’s gouged out VERY well all things considered), there’s plenty to like here as the material seems tailor made for Tim Burton’s artistic sensibilities.  The film is gorgeous for the most part (I didn’t notice any particularly bad CGI other than the Slender Man creatures looking a bit cartoonish), and it has some pretty dark moments for a movie aimed at kids which I’m gonna classify as a good thing.  Kids can handle a lot, and I’m glad that even a genre as cynical as the YA adaptation can occasionally have enough courage to challenge their audiences with something truly grotesque; the highlight of which being a fight between two monster creatures that looks to be Stop Motion (though I wouldn’t be surprised if it was SIMULATED Stop Motion) that’s so unbearably grim that even I was feeling uncomfortable watching it.  Those tend to be the exception in the film though, and while I would have liked a bit more of the outlandish stuff to be peppered throughout (those Slender Man monsters are pretty awesome), the restraint was probably for the best as the look of the film doesn’t end up overpowering everything else.

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Wait, is that the dinosaur from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure!?

As far as the acting, I wasn’t too thrilled with most of the cast (especially Asa Butterfield who has the most to do but seems to be struggling with the material), aside from Eva Green is wonderful as the titular character and she manages to infuse a lot of the warmth and joy she has for her role as their caretaker with just as much icy menace as she’s very strict and has a strong need to stay in control of everything, even if it’s not entirely necessary.  Samuel L Jackson is a lot of fun in his role and honestly feels like what Burton would have normally gotten Depp to play, but he’s not in the movie all that much which is a shame considering how much fun he’s having with the role.  The problem with his character is that by hiding him from the audience for so long, it allows us to build him up in our minds the same way Voldemort was in the first four books/movies.  The downside of this approach is that you have to knock it out of the park once the villain DOES show up to justify the buildup, and it’s just not the case here.  His menace drains away pretty quickly after his big intro and he settles into a more comedic and upbeat performance during the climax of the movie which would be fine if we weren’t expected to consider him a threat and if the climax didn’t hinge entirely on him.  They either needed to cut the humor out of his role or diffuse his character much earlier in the movie and have him be more active in the story.

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“Well ain’t this some SHIT!”

Despite its unique setting, the movie just doesn’t feel unique enough in any aspect to really catch my interest.  That’s not to say that it’s a bad or even a mediocre film; rather it’s not as Peculiar as it thinks it is (hee hee hee).  In this case though, I’m going to put more of those faults on the source material than on the filmmakers, even though Tim Burton’s enthusiasm for the material is quite clear.  Harry Potter is better, X-Men is better, even The Golden Compass (criminally underrated) is better!  That said, it’s one of the better examples of the current crop of YA movies, so if you’re into that genre or even just the Tim Burton aesthetic, then you’re gonna find something to like here.  Maybe not in the theaters, but definitely check it out once it makes it to home release.  Then again, if this is a big hit, Tim Burton might just get off his ass and finally finish that Beetlejuice 2 sequel he’s been working on!

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If you like this review and plan on buying the movie, then use the Amazon link below!  I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite!  In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed!  Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage!  You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop!  HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (BD) [Blu-ray]

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