★★★★Directed by Tim BurtonStarring Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Terrence Stamp, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris O'Dowd, Rupert Everett & Judi DenchFilm Review by Jack Bottomley
Tim Burton is a director with a huge fanbase, which stems from his influential early work, to even his more polarizing modern output. Of late the bushy haired auteur has continued to release a string of pictures but with Alice in Wonderland hitting the box office but drawing mixed reviews, Dark Shadows struggling to engross an audience and Big Eyes going rather unnoticed, Burton’s body of work has been labeled “hit and miss” nowadays. Although this reviewer feels many unfairly chastise Burton as “having lost his touch” (as 2012’s Frankenweenie was an underrated gem). Nevertheless, Burton’s newest film, based on the well-received bestseller by Ransom Riggs, is right up the street of the gothically inclined filmmaker. So is Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children worth a visit, or does it need to be shut down immediately?
This young adult fantasy focuses on the 16-year-old Jake (Asa Butterfield) as he tries to deal with the mysterious death of his grandfather Abraham (Terence Stamp), to do so he travels with his dad (Chris O’Dowd) to a Welsh island that houses a children’s home where Abraham once lived. For years Abraham told Jake fantastical stories of this home and its “peculiar” child inhabitants and their carer Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who all had incredible (some might say impossible) abilities. Naturally Jake has grown to be sceptical of such tales but he will soon discover the world is a lot more unique (and dangerous) than he ever realised. One might say this material was perfect for a director like Burton, who naturally imbues the film with visual polish and his trademark Gothicism and outsider touch but also delivers something a little different from the usual.
Despite being promoted as a kind of a posh X-Men, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children has more in common with a ghost train or carnival ride, especially come its splendid climatic stretch, which is set and shot on Blackpool pier (a set-piece that also tips its hat to Ray Harryhausen). Jane Goldman’s screenplay is filled with many ideas (in fact this is often a problem, as there are so many ideas vying for your attention at once) and the plot’s time loop qualities do mean the story gets a bit untidy in places. However the film never descends into incoherency and in spite of the odd plot hole, it all does flow entertainingly along. Burton’s directorial flair and Goldman’s wit does ensure a rather fun time at the cinema and there are some worthwhile (if passing) themes of post war ideas of real evil inspiring fantasy stories, carried over from the source material.
The visuals look wonderful with some truly dark moments (those tentacled Hollowgasts and some very Horror movie inspired opening credits) that may prove too intense for really young kids (mind you it is a 12A). Coleen Atwood’s costumes, Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography and a great score by Mike Higham & Matthew Margeson, all combine to ensure an interesting and unusual populist piece of entertainment. After all when was the last time you saw a group of baddies gobbling kids eyeballs in a mainstream young person aimed film?
To that point the acting and characters are one of the film’s best qualities, as Eva Green steals many scenes as the stern but caring (and yes odd) Miss Peregrine and Asa Butterfield makes a great lead as Jake. There is also an enjoyably pantomime like villainous turn by Samuel L. Jackson as the genuinely spooky Mr. Barron, who some may find a bit over the top but I felt fit in neatly with the film’s carnie-like qualities. The group of youngsters that make up “the peculiars” are also all on good form, with some getting more screen time (and more to do plot wise) than others but all feeling distinctive and a welcome ensemble onscreen – with Ella Purnell’s air light teen Emma being the biggest supporting standout. Burton has gathered a great cast here and they compliment an entertaining motion picture.
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children does not see Burton return to his Edward Scissorhands spellbinding form but does see the much loved movie maker having fun. Fans will be very entertained, and regular cinemagoers ought to have some fun too with this thoroughly enjoyable movie that boasts unique settings, characters and a story that is not always neat but makes for a constantly enjoyable movie.
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