Label: Twentieth Century-Fox
Region: 1 (NTSC)
Released: December 13, 2016
Genre: Fantasy / Supernatural
Synopsis: A boy travels to the isle where his grandfather grew up, and discovers a time loop inhabited by gifted children, and his own peculiar talents.
Special Features: 2 Featurettes: “The Peculiar Story” + “Map of Days: Miss Peregrine’s Home / Blackpool Tower” ‘ Music Video: “Wish You Were Here” / Gallery: Sketches by Tim Burton + Photos / Online bonus content links.
Tim Burton’s latest work is itself a peculiar film that’s likely to sit better with its intended family audience than genre fans wanting an eerie tale with dark subtext and a heavier Gothic atmosphere.
Ransom Riggs’ story, as adapted by Jane Goldman (Kingsman: The Secret Service), is of kids with special powers forced to relive the same 24 hours since 1943. It’s an odd hook that seems implausible not because living in a time loop is impossible, but because it hasn’t driven everyone in that world utterly insane. The same weather, the same baby squirrel tumbling from a tree, and the same air raid that sends the modest group out of the house into the garden where they wait for headmistress Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) to pull out her stopwatch and prevent Nazi bombers from destroying the school. In reality, the school and its inhabitants were blown to bits, but Peregrine found the perfect day to create a safe nook where everyone could live happily every after for all eternity.
None of the kids have become tit-for-tat sociopaths, and no one ages physically or emotionally; the kids’ intellect never matures, although they’re fully cognizant of how they’ve been living for 73 years, fully reliant on Peregrine for discipline, education, and never missing dinner.
Things change when Jake (Asa Butterfield), the grandson of the only group member (Terence Stamp) to leave the island travels with his father for a vacation where the pair are supposed to bond. Not unlike 1980s kid-friendly monster films, parents have the intellect of a potato chip; they drift in and out of the narrative to be the nuisance that sends the youngsters to experiment and seek out like-minded friends, and any lingering parental discord is ultimately smoothened in the film’s finale. Parents are generally oblivious to weird happenings, and Goldman’s script exploits Jake’s ability to visit the Peregrine school as an easy ploy to keep dad (Chris O’Dowd sporting the most neutral American accent ever) out of the story for most the film.
Jake doesn’t realize he has his own set of peculiar abilities until a crucial event allows him to see Hollows, faceless Silent Hill-type creatures sent by a vengeful, greedy faction of adults similar to Peregrine who steal the kids’ talents to become omnipotent. The group eventually leaves the isle and the security of the time loop to fight the overlords headed by Barron (Samuel Jackson) at a seaside amusement park.
Peregrine is an ornate production designed to support a script that really isn’t about anything, but it is a cobbling of concepts from other sources: the idea of a secret school populated by gifted kids evokes the X-Men franchise (which is more than coincidental, given Goldman scripted X-Men: First Class), but the stealing of peculiar talents – kids & teens who can defy gravity, keep a nest of bees inside one’s tummy, manipulate inanimate objects with magical hearts, generate caustic heat – is almost identical to TV’s Heroes (2006-2010). Instead of one greedy egotist, there’s a clique of overlords; instead of slicing open the heads of heroes to steal their skills, Barron & Co. take their eyeballs; and similar to the show’s dwindling logic after its first season, Peregrine’s lack of logic and continuity gaffes start to transform the film into celluloid Swiss cheese.
Emma (Ella Purnell) defies gravity because she’s filled with hot air, and uses lead shoes to remain on Earth. She takes Jake to an underwater shipwreck where she blows air to expunge seawater from a room and create a safe dry space in spite of surrounding water pressure, and removes from a desk a pristine metal box that contains maps and stills free from any water damage. Later on, Emma’s only means of escaping an onslaught of Hollows is to toss her lead shoes and fly away from the schoolhouse. She’s later seen tethered like a kite to Jake’s hand, and yet when she returns to the shipwreck and raises the craft to the surface, her lead shoes are back. The ship’s engines also manage to function in full after Emma ‘ignites’ coal that’s been exposed to watery elements for 70+ years.
Burton doesn’t show any gore or excessive violence, but there is that sequence where eyeballs are plucked from sockets, placed on a large platter, and devoured by Barron & Co. like rich chocolate truffles. It’s not R-rated material, but if the producers had intended Peregrine to be targeted at pre-teens, the eyeball feast pushes the film closer towards PG-13.
As the chief villain, Barron is visually striking, but his main peculiar skill – transforming his appendages into metallic objects (swords, axes) is a little too evocative of Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and the T1000 model that morphs itself into any kind of metallic weapon and impersonates other characters. Barron can easily transform himself into Jake’s shrink (Allison Janney) and an island birdwatcher to gain the boy’s trust.
Peregrine is beautifully cast but doesn’t make much sense, and the opening scenes are hasty, impatiently edited to get Jake to the island, making the psychiatrist scene and one-time appearance of his mother jarring. Worse is his reunion with Emma in the finale that happens in one fast cut; his ‘journey’ back to the ship is explained via a ridiculous flashback montage and hasty narration where he recounts the ‘long period’ taken to track down the wandering ship and find his love. End of story.
Actor Butterfield bears a striking resemblance to the animated lead in the Burton-produced James and the Giant Peach (1996), and certainly in the opening scenes, the actors move, react, and speak as live-action versions of animated characters which gives them a unique oddness, but it also gives one a sense Burton had patience for just a few key scenes and directed others with less finesse, if not insufficient care towards dialogue, plotting, and flow.
Neither awful but certainly not great, Peregrine will prompt the curious to check out Riggs’ use of creepy images in his books, but the film itself is a misfire best savoured by less picky audiences.
Also available: separate podcast interviews with composers Mike Higham and Matthew Margeson discussing their excellent score.
© 2016 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review