Photo courtesy of 21st Century Fox
By Abigail Miller/ Contributing writer
Young adult books make popular choices for new film franchises — just look at “Harry Potter,” arguably the biggest book-to-movie franchise ever (and the second-highest grossing franchise of all time), followed by box-office success “The Hunger Games” and even the “Twilight” franchise.
However, we haven’t been to Hogwarts since 2011 (although we are set to return to J.K. Rowling’s magical world in November), and “Twilight,” “The Hunger Games,” “The Maze Runner,” “Divergent” and every other popular YA franchise since “Harry Potter” has failed to capture the same magic audiences found in that wizarding world.
Then, in 2011, Ransom Riggs gave us the gift called “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” and all is almost right in the world.
Maybe the best thing about the film is its atmospheric quality and the artistic vision of the crew, such as costume designer Colleen Atwood, who did an absolutely magnificent job adapting a 1940s wardrobe and creating a thoroughly believable timeframe for the film.
This, combined with director Tim Burton’s customary gloomy setting resembling those of “Corpse Bride” and “Edward Scissorhands,” boosted the film in places it desperately needed it.
The film unravels through the eyes of Jacob Portman, portrayed by English actor Asa Butterfield, a teenage boy who grew up listening to his grandfather’s stories about a home filled with special children. After his grandfather dies, “Jake” takes a trip to Wales to try and find the children’s home and its strange headmistress: Miss Peregrine, played by a magical Eva Green who brings an elegance to the mysterious character that few other actresses could have achieved. Though it appears the home, and everyone who lived in it, has been destroyed by a Nazi bomb in World War II, Jake is lead through a loop in time on September 3, 1943.
After finding Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children, Jake is sucked into a world filled with as much danger as there is magic.
Giant invisible creatures called “hollowgasts’ or “hollows” — horrifying creatures resembling the children of Slenderman and a Leviathan from season seven of “Supernatural,” but with tentacles in addition to sharp teeth — are hunting the children, and Jake is the only one who can see them. The creatures are led by a white-eyed former peculiar named Barron, played brilliantly by Samuel L. Jackson, who became a horrifyingly-mutated creature called a “wight” after trying to become immortal.
After Barron kidnaps Miss Peregrine, the children band together to defeat the enemy in a predictable fashion, rescuing their beloved headmistress.
While it isn’t completely Potter-level good, the magic in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is definitely worthwhile. However, the film’s true selling point is its aesthetic. “Miss Peregrine’s” visually stunning shots and set decor exude the iconic, yet charming Gothic appearance we’ve come to expect from Tim Burton.
In fact, if I didn’t know better, I would be convinced that Ransom Riggs wrote the book specifically for Burton to adapt to film.
The story and characters flow effortlessly with Burton’s dark, quirky and almost creepy style. Everything from the sets to the costumes to the overall theme of the film match up perfectly with the world that Riggs originally created. And as much as I love films like “Alice in Wonderland” and “Sweeney Todd,” it is definitely refreshing to see a Tim Burton film without Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Luckily for us, the adult actors in this film are perfection.
But, whether the fault lies in the somewhat entertaining visual effects or 21st Century Fox’s hefty check to Mr. Burton, the budget should have accounted for less cringe-worthy child acting. Sadly, Butterfield, renowned for his roles in “Hugo” and “The Boy with the Striped Pajamas,” seems to struggle here.
Several scenes, ranging from the discovery of his dead grandfather to the departure from Emma, the girl he loves, are intended to be tear-jerking but instead come off as nonchalant due to Butterfield’s mundane attempts at sadness. His character isn’t the only one having difficulty eliciting emotion, but, for the main protagonist, I expected much more from such a talent.
And if you are a fan of the books, be warned: Burton does a good job of sticking to the source material as much as possible, but there are definitely some significant changes.
One of the most notable changes is that Emma and Olive’s peculiarities have been swapped in the film — in the book, Emma makes fire with her hands while Olive is lighter than air. Another significant difference is that Barron is not even a character in the book; instead, the novel’s main antagonist is Dr. Golan.
The ending, which I will not spoil, is also much different than the source material.
The screenplay, in general, left little room for plot-holes and kept me in anticipation for the next scene in the proverbial “groundhog day” scenario. “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’s” fun, mesmerizing story could easily be described as the ultimate Tim Burton film and will tide any fantasy series fan over until the next film they are looking forward to is released.
Overall, this magical film is an eerie, but enticing, must-see for fall.