October 3, 2016
Tim Burton is really a film director with a distinct flavor in his vision. Dark, gothic, quirky are the adjectives which are always used to describe his films, be they live action or animated. He started with "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" (1985) and "Beetlejuice" (1988). He then reinvented "Batman" (1989) to be the grim and angst-ridden superhero we know today.
He was perfect for stories like "Edward Scissorhands" (1990), "Sleepy Hollow" (1999) and "Sweeney Todd" (2007). Even his animated projects have a macabre look: "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993), "Corpse Bride" (2005) and "Frankenweenie" (2012). Under his hands, previously lighthearted children's literature like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (2005) and "Alice in Wonderland" (2010) turned into bizarre visual treats.
It seemed so natural that the film version of this book entitled "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs, which tells about an orphanage where kids with special powers live, fell into directorial lap of Tim Burton. I have not read the book so I am just judging this film as itself, not as an adaptation.
Set in the present day in a Florida town, Jake Portman had always been very close to his grandfather Franklin. He was enthralled by his Grandpa's fantastic stories about his childhood and his extraordinary friends. One day, Jacob witnesses his grandfather was attacked and killed in his home by what looked like a lanky long-limbed giant monster.
To recover from his trauma, Jacob traveled to an island in Wales where his grandfather spent his youth. By some strange loop of time, Jacob actually got to meet the enigmatic Miss Peregrine and visit her fascinating Home for Peculiar Children that his grandfather had been telling him about in his stories. When the vile Mr. Barron and his monsters attack the Home one day, Jacob gets caught in the action, and discovers an special power of his own.
Eva Green, a most unexpected actress to see in a film for young audiences, played a very confident Miss Peregrine, a Gothic Mary Poppins of sorts with a crossbow instead of an umbrella. Asa Butterworth has that intangible factor which could make viewers empathize with him and relate to his adventures as Jake, no matter how weird they get. Terence Stamp may have too stern a face to be a loving grandfather, but his scenes with Butterworth were actually quite heartwarming. The ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson does his hammy comic despicable best as the main antagonist Mr. Barron.
Among the titular Peculiar Children, the aero-kinetic Emma Bloom was the most prominent, played by Ella Purnell. Predictably, there would be a young romance angle between Emma and Jake, though I thought there was not much chemistry between Purnell and Butterworth. The other kids would all get their chance to display their abilities, notably the plant-controlling Fiona (Georgia Pemberton) and the life-restoring Finlay MacMillan (Enoch O'Connor). My personal favorite was the super-strong Bronwyn Buntley played by the very cute child actress Pixie Davies.
The storyline about a school of kids with special abilities is already too common. Hugely successful film franchises had featuring such schools, like Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters (the X-Men series) and Hogwarts (Harry Potter series). Anyhow, as expected, the film was an extravaganza of computer-generated special effects, best seen on the big screen. I enjoyed the scenes which introduced the kids and their abilities, though these were too short and superficial. I also enjoyed that climactic battle at the fairgrounds between the kids, the skeletons and the monsters, but this had a rushed feel.
Though I am not exactly a fan of his ghoulish films, Tim Burton's stamp was clearly seen in this one, even without Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter. Only Burton can do a morbid scene about eating eyeballs, and still manage to make it look oddly delightful. 6/10.