Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
Dir: Tim Burton
You could be forgiven for thinking that this was directly from the mind of Tim Burton because in so many ways it fits with his style, though I don’t think it’s a perfect pairing.
When Jake’s (Asa Butterfield, ‘Hugo’) grandfather (Terrence Stamp, ‘Superman II’) is killed mysteriously, he travels to Wales to unravel the truth behind the bedtime stories his grandfather told of his youth in a home for those with special abilities.
I live in Wales, in fact my town was location scouted, however filming was done in England, though the ‘Welsh’ aspects are even more amusing to see and hear when you know they’re not even in Wales. The locations that are used really do look excellent, even somewhat like a Welsh coastal village, and feel suitably solid and real which helps to root the fantastical elements in just enough reality.
At times the villains, even the lead played by Samuel L Jackson, feel more ineffective than they should. At one point I distinctly felt the lack of truly formidable threat and peril. For a film that, yes is a ‘family’ film aimed at youngsters, considering the high levels of weirdness and even gruesome darkness at times, it could have done with giving the antagonists a little more real bite despite the teeth certainly being there to be used, they sadly nibble rather than chomp.
There’s some great weirdness on offer though. I don’t know how much of this is directly taken from the source novel by Ransom Riggs as I haven’t read it, however I can imagine it’s being maximised by screenwriter Jane Goldman whose ‘Stardust’ won me over with its moments of brilliance years ago, plus of course Mr Burton is no stranger to weird imagery and characters. This mix of period fantasy with ‘peculiarities’ certainly could hold a lot of potential for locations, narrative and characters that push the levels of strangeness to the limits of a PG-13.
It’s a film full of oddities, with characters that mix everlasting adolescence and the prolonged issues of growing up, with a strange mix of abilities that are distinct from the ‘superpowers’ we see so much in other films. It also has an old-school sense of adventure, children teaming up to beat the bad guys, though here the foes are intent on their death and determined to eat their eyes. There’s no question why these books were adapted for film, with the inclusion of Tim Burton another clear bonus. It may be however that there’s even more to be enjoyed from the source novels that doesn’t fully end up on screen, most especially with the details and complexities of the story, much of which I feel we only touch on even in the just over 2-hours running time. Within that time however there’s a very good conveyance of the characters, setting, and some time is taken to enjoy what’s on offer and revel in the beauty and strangeness. Little scenes such as underwater in a shipwreck, or even just in the garden of the home, the pace seems to slow enough to have fun with showing off the abilities of the children and you really feel how much Burton loves presenting people and scenes like this.
In the last third I found myself getting lost in the workings of the ‘time loops’ that are integral to the story and especially in the resolution at the end. I was doing my best to follow the film but I must be honest and say I was unable to see how things were unfolding for the conclusion, it seemed to resolve far too easily when I thought there was meant to be a fatal time loop issue that was far too simply averted. Maybe I’ll catch the key piece of explanation if I watch the film again, or probably fully understand it if I read the books, but I would like to be able to walk away from a film at least able to see how such a major part of the story works.
Sadly I think this is potentially another in the recent spate of films that are made with the expectation of a sequel that may not get produced, or at least not in the way originally intended. Saying that, Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ also seemed like it wouldn’t get a follow-up and then unexpectedly did albeit in the hands of another director and to far less acclaim. While Tim Burton has said that a sequel will be moving forward due to the pleasing box-office returns, I see little reason for him to put anything else on hold in readiness of helming another imminently, I think there will be little rush or clamour. I thought this was perfectly fine as it stands and I am content enough with where we left the characters at the end.
Hopefully if a sequel does come together it will elaborate enough to clear up a little of my confusion and ideally bring a little more grit and bite as the returning audience matures. There’s potential here, I don’t see it being a storming success, however with Burton adding a bit more of what he’s so good at, maybe the next film could improve on this enjoyable adventure enough to win me over some more.