Tuesday, October 4, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children was written by Jane Goldman and directed by Tim Burton.

Goldman frequently collaborates with Matthew Vaughn, and the two of them previously wrote Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class and Kingsman: The Secret Service. She also wrote The Woman In Black.

Burton of course is the famously quirky and highly uneven director who brought us Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, Ed Wood, Mars Attacks!, Sleepy Hollow, Planet Of The Apes (2001), Big Fish, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, Alice In Wonderland, Dark Shadows and Big Eyes.

I enjoyed Burton's early work such as Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and especially Ed Wood. Something happened around the time he did the Planet Of The Apes remake though (maybe he lost his soul after directing such a piece of mainstream, corporate dreck?) and he seemingly lost his way. Miss Peregrine Yadda Yadda is a return to form for Burton, and comes very, very close to matching the quality of those early films.

The story's tailor made for an off-beat director like Burton. It's set in Xavier's School For Gifted Youngsters a special school filled with what are basically mutants, who don't fit into a world that misunderstands and shuns them. There are disturbing creatures, bland Florida tract houses, eyeball-eating monsters and even an old fashioned carnival funhouse. All this gives Burton the perfect excuse to showcase his trademark bizarre visuals. He even manages to work a little bit of stop-motion animation into the movie!

Like most Burton films, it's visually impressive yet ultimately flawed. There's a ton of mythology and world building, which requires even more exposition to set up. All this explaining bogs down the film at times, as Burton forgets he's making a movie and tells rather than shows.

The film is of course based on the book by author Ransom Riggs. He's an avid collector of bizarre vintage photographs and originally intended to include them in a picture book. His editor then suggested using the photos as the basis for an actual story. Riggs then picked a few of his favorite images and wrote a novel around them. The finished book is a mixture of prose and strange old photographs. In fact the Twin characters in the film are based on an actual photo that Riggs found (see above).

From what I've heard, people who haven't read the book tend to like the movie, while those who have hate it, due to the many changes made in the script. I'm in the former camp— I haven't read the book, and I thought the movie was pretty darned good.

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children is the first book in a series, the other two volumes being Hollow City and Library Of Souls. Will the film spawn a trilogy as well? Eh, I wouldn't hold my breath. The film's budget was a whopping $110 million. It's gonna have to make at least twice that to show a profit, and right now $220 million doesn't look very likely. Additionally, Burton is notorious for shunning sequels, so if there is one, he unlikely to be involved.

If nothing else, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children is a rarity in Hollywood— a Tim Burton movie that doesn't star Johnny Depp. I have no doubt Depp would have been in the film (most likely as Mr. Barron) if he hadn't been busy filming this summer's mega-bomb Alice Through The Looking Glass.

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children is also only the third Tim Burton movie that doesn't feature a score by Danny Elfman. 

Naturally because it's 2016 and we live in a Politically Correct Hellscape, many moviegoers are upset with the film because the cast is overwhelmingly white, with Samuel L. Jackson appearing as the only person of color.

Apparently Diversity (with a capital D) is now more important than historical accuracy. I'm pretty sure there weren't a lot of minorities living in 1940s Wales. Some may argue that this is a fantasy film filled with superpowered kids and invisible monsters, so it doesn't matter if it's accurate or not. Personally I think if a movie is set in a specific time, then it ought to be true to that period.

Burton actually diversified the cast a bit with the addition of Samuel L. Jackson. His character Mr. Barron isn't even in the book, so doesn't Burton get points for inserting him? Or are people pissed off that the only black character in the film is a villain?

I'll be honest here, I have no idea what is and isn't offensive anymore. This topic has literally worn me down.


The Plot:
Jake Portman (played by Asa Butterfield) is an average sixteen year old with an average job who lives in an average neighborhood with his average parents. He idolizes his Grandpa Abe (played by Terrance Stamp), who's spent his life telling Jake wild stories about his globe-trotting adventures— specifically the years he spent at a school for gifted youngsters on an island in Wales.

One night a coworker drives Jake to his grandpa's house to check on him. On the way they pass a terrifying man with white eyes (played by Samuel L. Jackson). Jake finds Abe behind his house, beaten and mutilated, with his eyes missing (!). Abe tells Jake to travel to Cairnholme Island in Wales, and check on the school. He tells him "the bird has all the answers." He then dies in Jake's arms. Jake sees a couple of horrific monsters heading toward him, but they're scared away by his coworker (who can't see them).

Jake's shaken by Abe's death, and his parents send him to a psychiatrist. She suggests Jake visit the island to achieve closure. Amazingly, his parents agree to this incredibly elaborate (not to mention expensive!) plan, and Jake and his dad travel to Cairholm Island in Wales. While his dad (played by Chris O'Dowd of The IT Crowd) stays in the pub all day, Jake explores the island.

Jake finds the school that Abe told him about, but unfortunately it's an abandoned, burned-out ruin. The locals tell him it was destroyed in a Nazi bombing raid way back in 1943, and everyone inside the school was killed. Jake visits again the next day, and enters the ruins of the house. Inside he meets several oddly dressed, superpowered children. There's Emma, who floats and can control the air, Olive, who can start fires with her hands, Millard, an invisible boy, Bronwyn, a super-strong girl, and the Twins, who are covered head to toe in white cloth.

Emma talks Jake into following them into a cave they call "the Loop." Halfway through the cave Jake changes his mind and runs back to the pub. Inside he sees everyone's dressed in old-style clothing, and he's somehow traveled back to 1943. For some reason the locals think he's a Nazi spy and try to capture him. Suddenly plates and utensils start flying through the pub as Emma and the other kids rescue Jake. On the way back to the school, Jake is amazed, thinking he caused the disturbance in the pub with his mind, like the next Jean Grey. He's disappointed to find out it was the invisible Millard who was throwing the plates as a distraction.

Jake is taken to the school, which is still completely intact in 1943. There he meets Miss Peregrine (played by Eva Green), the headmistress of the school. Miss Peregrine is obsessed with time, and doesn't tolerate tardiness. She's also a Ymbryne (pronounced "im-brin), a person who can transform into a bird. Not surprisingly, she transforms into a peregrine falcon. 

Miss Peregrine introduces Jake to the rest of the children at the school. In addition to Emma and the others he already met, there's Fiona, a girl who can control plant life, Hugh, a boy with a beehive in his stomach (?), Claire, a small girl with a horrifying mouth on the back of her head, Horace, a boy with prophetic dreams he can project, and Enoch— a teenager who can control inanimate objects and resurrect the dead (for a few minutes).

Miss Peregrine explains that she set up the Loop to protect the children and the school. Every night, right before the Nazi attack, she uses her magic watch to rewind time twenty four hours. She and the children then live the same day over and over, without ever aging.

Unfortunately all's not perfect at the school. Every afternoon a terrifying monster called a Hollow (the same type of creature that attacked Abe) invades the Loop and tries to eat the children. Miss Peregrine kills it every day, even though the Hollow is invisible to her. Jake is the only one who can see the Hollows, and Miss Peregrine tells him that's his power, or "Peculiarity."

Miss Peregrine tells Jake that the Hollows are led by Mr. Barron (played by Samuel L. Jackson). Years before, Barron and several followers tried to steal the life force of a Ymbryne in order to live forever. The experiment failed, transforming them into Hollows. Somehow Barron found out that every time they eat the eyeballs of a Peculiar child, they'd look a bit more human. That's why they want Miss Peregrine's students— for their sweet, sweet eyeballs.

Jake goes through the cave and returns to the present. When he returns to the school in the past the next day, he's followed by a man who turns out to be Barron in disguise (he's a shapeshifter). Jake recognizes Barron as the white-eyed man he saw hanging around Abe's house the night he was killed. 

Barron captures Jake and takes him to the school. He demands Miss Peregrine come with him, to continue his experiments. She says she'll go with him, if he spares her students. Barron agrees, and Miss Peregrine turns into a bird and flies into his cage. Barron leaves with her, and goes through the cave back to 2016.

A Hollow then invades the school, and the students team up to kill it. Unfortunately it's time for the daily reset of the Loop, as they hear the German planes flying overhead. They try to reset the Loop before the bomb lands, but fail. The school is destroyed, and their Loop with it. They'll now have to find a new Loop, or start aging normally.

First things first though— the students set out to rescue Miss Peregrine. They figure out that Barron is taking her to Blackpool Tower. Emma takes Jake and the students to her secret underwater hideout, inside a sunken cruise ship off the coast of Cairnholme Island. She uses her air controlling power to raise the ship, while Olive ignites the engines. They then sail the ship to Blackpool. There they find an abandoned Loop inside a fun house ride, and time travel to 2016.

They find Barron and his crew of Hollows inside Blackpool Tower. Barron sends the Hollows after the students, and a battle wages in the middle of Blackpool amusement park. Jake sprays the invisible Hollows with cotton candy and trash so they can be seen. Enoch, who can bring inanimate objects to life, animates the skeletons of the cruise ship passengers and commands them to fight the Hollows. The students eventually overcome the Hollows and kill them all.

Barron captures Jake, and then shapeshifts to look like him. Emma and Enoch enter and see what appears to be two Jakes. They both try to convince Emma they're the real one. Finally the real Jake says he can do something that Barron/Jake can't— see Hollows. A Hollow enters, sees Barron/Jake and assumes he's the real thing. It grabs him, eats his eyeballs and kills him. They then rescue Miss Peregrine, and several other Ymbryne's Barron had captured.

Emma tells Jake that she and the other students can't stay in 2016, as all the years they've spent in their Loop would suddenly catch up to them. Emma, who's sweet on Jake, hopes he'll come back to 1943 with them. He says he can't abandon his family, and stays in 2016. Emma and the others enter the fun house and go back to 1943.

Jake goes home, and finds that Abe is alive (because after using the Funhouse Loop, he's returned to 2016 several months before he left— confused yet?). He tells Abe the events of the past few days. Abe gives him a book that's full of money from all over the world, and tells him to follow his heart and go back. Jake then locates a series of Loops and works his way back to 1943. He boards the cruise liner seconds before it takes off for Wales, and is reunited with Emma. Miss Peregrine watches from above, in bird form.

• Asa Butterfield and Chris O'Dowd were born in England and Ireland respectively, but play Americans in the film. What, was there a shortage of good American actors? Not that I have anything against Brits, but it seems like casting U.S. actors would prevent a lot of problems— like characters with dodgy American accents.

• Jake has a couple of VERY indulgent parents. His psychiatrist suggests taking him all the way to Wales for "closure," so he can get on with his life. His parents say, "Well that sounds just fine," and actually agree to the trip!

I can absolutely guarantee that my parents would never have taken me all the way to Wales just because I felt sad about my grandpa's death. 

• When Jake and his dad arrive in Cairnholme, they stay in a pub/hotel called "The Priest Hole." Um… that's a pretty unfortunate name.

Oddly enough, a priest hole is an actual term in the UK. Back when Catholics were persecuted by law in England, many homes contained hiding places for the local clergy. This hiding places were called  you guessed it priest holes.

Even though it's a real thing, I think I would have chosen a different name for the pub in the film. The words "priest" and "hole" should never appear in the same sentence, if you know what I mean.

• Some things never change. The sun rises in the East, the tides ebb and flow, and Tim Burton is still having daddy issues. Virtually every film he's ever made has featured a distant, ineffectual father character. Maybe he needs to go to Wales for closure?

• Amazingly, the exterior of the orphanage and the grounds around it are a real location, called Torenhof Castle (located in Antwerp, Belgium). The house has such a bizarre look that I figured it was either CGI or a model.

• Why do all the students wear "Are you my mommy?" style gas masks during the nightly Reset? Sure, there were German planes flying pretty low overhead, but I didn't see any gas.

• If you stop and think about the time travel in the movie for even thirty seconds, it'll collapse in on itself. None of it makes much sense, as the rules seem to change to fit the needs of the script.

For example, Miss Peregrine and her students live in a Loop— a twenty four hour period that's reset every night. Because of this they never age, as they're reliving the same day over and over. In fact some of the kids are supposedly over a hundred years old. 

Yet clearly their minds aren't being reset every day. They don't repeat the same actions over and over like the townspeople in Groundhog Day, and they remember all the things they've done in every Loop cycle.

I'm not complaining about this, mind you. It's a fantasy story after all, so I'm not expecting Stephen Hawking level science here.

• Speaking of aging— in the book, Enoch looks like a teenager, but is really 118 years old. Millard appears even younger (or would if he wasn't invisible!) but is actually 87. 

Being trapped in a prepubescent body and confined to a tiny island forever seems like a special kind of Hell. I'm surprised some of the kids don't willingly walk into he arms of the Hollow who attacks the school daily.

I kind of wish the movie would have touched on this issue instead of ignoring it altogether.

• There was some pretty good CGI de-aging of Terrance Stamp when the 1943 version of him calls the school (even though much of his face was hidden in shadow).

• Tim Burton is a big fan of stop-motion animation, and managed to sneak in a bit when Enoch is demonstrating his power to Jake. One of Enoch's creepy creatures even has scissors for hands!

• Speaking of scissors and hands, the grounds of Miss Peregrine's school features some very familiar topiary sculptures...

• Looks like Enoch is the film's Designated Asshole™. You know, a character who dislikes the hero and makes trouble for him for no other reason than because the script says so. Think Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter books. He ends up making nice with Jake by the end of the movie of course, but there was no reason for his animosity to begin with.

• Emma takes Jake to her secret hiding place— a sunken cruise liner at the bottom of the ocean just off Cairnholme Island. The ship is filled with the skeletons of the passengers.

So why are all the skeletons in the dining room sitting at their tables, like they died calmly between bites? Wouldn't they have panicked when the ship began to sink, and tried to escape? In fact later on we see all the life boats are still in place on the ship! Did it sink in five seconds?

• In the book, Emma's power was fire, and Olive could float. The movie switched their abilities so Emma's now the one who's lighter than air and has to wear lead shoes. The movie also gives Emma the additional power of control over the air. Why this seemingly arbitrary change was made, I have no idea. In an interview, Burton said he switched the powers because the image of Emma floating over the beach was "poetic."

Fair enough, but then why not leave the powers alone and just have Jake fall for Olive instead of Emma?

• All through the film I knew there'd be a big reveal of the Twins' superpower (Spoiler: They're snake-faced Gorgons whose gaze turns people to stone). How'd I know? Because they were the only two whose Peculiarities weren't specifically spelled out early on. Sneaky!

Despite its minor flaws, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children is a return to form for Tim Burton. It's chock full of his visual style and usual touches, and manages to tell a compelling tale, even if it does get bogged down in exposition at times. The ending gets a bit rushed, but over all it's well made and definitely worth a look. I give it a solid B.

1 comment:

  1. My daughter and I just watched the Fourth Doctor's Pyramid of Mars. A priest hole features in the plot of that story as well!


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