Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Ella Purcell, Samuel L Jackson, Chris O’Dowd, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Milo Parker, Terence Stamp, Kim Dickens, Allison Janney, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie.
Harry Potter meets X-Men on Groundhog Day?
For years Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield, from Hugo, etc) has heard fantastic stories from his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp) about the time he spent in a fantastic orphanage in the years before WWII. However, Jake’s parents have done their best to dismiss his stories as fanciful and they dissuade Jake from putting too much stock in them. But after Abe is killed in mysterious circumstances Jake sets out on a journey from the warm climes of his native Florida to a remote, rain swept island of Cairnholm, off the coast of Wales, to visit the remarkable children’s home that played an important part in his grandfather’s upbringing. He is accompanied by his skeptical and self-absorbed father Frank (a surprisingly unsympathetic Chris O’Dowd).
Abe visits the ruins of the orphanage, which was apparently destroyed by a bomb in WWII. But magically he is transported to the children’s facility and introduced to a number of and unusually talented children who have strange powers that have caused the outside world to fear them. The crossbow wielding, pipe smoking Miss Peregrine herself (Eva Green, from the Bond film Casino Royale, etc) turns out to be a shape shifter and an ymbrine with the power to control time. She runs this school for gifted students who possess unusual abilities, such as invisibility, the ability to float, etc. But most of these peculiar children are only briefly sketched and it is hard to empathise with them. But where does Jake fit in? What is his strange power?
Apparently all the residents here are stuck in a time loop and they relive the same fateful day from 1943 over and over, a bit like Groundhog Day. But Jake’s presence sends out a ripple through time that changes the chronological loop. He has attracted the attention of the sinister creatures known as the Hollowgasts and their malevolent leader Barron (Samuel L Jackson) who then attack the school. Barron believes that by destroying all these peculiar children he can return to a normal existence. Jake has to discover his true power and try to protect the school and its residents.
Based on the best selling YA novel written by Ransom Riggs this is a twisted mix of fantasy, horror and the supernatural, and at heart is a tale of good versus evil. Like a lot of YA novels set in strange worlds Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children seems to follow its own inconsistent internal logic. The script has been written by Jane Goldman, who wrote X-Men First Class, etc, and it comes across as a little derivative of better yarns. The film also seems to owe a slight debt to the X-Men franchise. It is a perfect fit for director Tim Burton’s sensibilities and his distinctive visual style, and his fingerprints are all over the material. Thematically the film deals with outsiders trying to fit into a strange world, a theme that drove one of Burton’s best films Edward Scissorhands. There are some typically ghoulish Burton touches throughout, although some scenes, such as when the Hollowgasts eat eyeballs, may prove a little dark and scary for younger audiences. But the film is overly long and unevenly paced, and there are several flat patches.
Visually the film is quite impressive, and the CGI effects are seamlessly incorporated into the film. During the climax skeletons come alive in scenes that will remind older audiences of the work of the late great Ray Harryhausen who was a master of the stop motion animation. There is also some great production design from Gavin Bocquet (who worked on Star Wars Episodes 1, 2 and 3, etc) who creates the Gothic look for Miss Peregrine’s home. Burton effortlessly immerses us in the quirky world of Miss Peregrine’s home in the film’s early scenes.
Green is good as the shape shifting Miss Peregrine, and is clearly enjoying herself here. She brings a sultry presence to a role that once would have been played by Helena Bonham Carter. Butterfield continues to impress with another solid performance in a rather strange role that is something of a change of pace for the talented young actor. Newcomer Ella Purnell is good and brings a more sensitive and nuanced interpretation to her role as Emma, the love interest for Jake. Unfortunately there is a lack of genuine chemistry between Butterfield and Purnell. Jackson seems to revel in his scenery chewing role as the menacing and psychotic Barron. The supporting cast includes Allison Janney as Jake’s therapist Dr Golan, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett as a pompous photographer, but they are all wasted in small and thankless roles.
While Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children contains many of Burton’s trademarked weird touches, oddball humour, and visual stylings this is something of a lesser effort from the idiosyncratic director, and may disappoint long time fans.
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