Well, it took 15 solid months of hiatus, but I’m back (I hope), this time with a new review. This time, it’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, a movie based on the book of the same name by Ransom Riggs. (Yes, the author’s name is “Ransom”. I’m not sure if that’s his real name or a pen name/nickname, but I can’t decide which would be worse.) I never read the book, though I vaguely remember glancing at it in the bookstore. I don’t know, maybe it looked too much like a Lemony Snicket book or something? I mean, the movie was directed by Tim Burton, which says something. I probably should go back and read it, though. There are also three books, while the movie is apparently only based on the first book. Whichever form of media we’re discussing, it’s about a boy whose grandfather’s stories and mysterious death lead him to a group of children with weird abilities, along with their guardian, who can create single-day “time loops” and turn into a bird. There are also evil “peculiars”, as they’re called, who got turned into monsters due to an immortality experiment gone wrong and now can only maintain their humanity by stealing the eyes of other peculiars and eating them. Which is freaking messed up. And the bad guys are constantly trying to find new victims and eventually discover the main characters, so they have to get rid of or at least neutralize said villains.
The movie is okay, I suppose. There are definitely stories about kids with powers that are more engaging, but there are also plenty that are worse. One thing I did notice is that the movie took its sweet time setting the scene; the main character doesn’t even meet the eponymous Miss Peregrine and the peculiar children until a good half an hour in, and before that, the focus is more on him and his grandfather’s relationship, with a bit of mundane slice-of-life stuff. The kids’ peculiarities range from your standard stock powers like super strength and pyromancy* to more unusual stuff like having bees living inside oneself or being lighter than air. You know, I was a peculiar child, too, but my peculiarity didn’t give me special powers or anything; it was mostly just annoying. And now I am a peculiar adult, thanks to the wonders of linear time. Speaking of time, how exactly do time loops even work? Why would the kids instantly age once they got outside of one? Why didn’t Jake start de-aging out of existence when he was in the past outside of a loop? What would happen if somebody took a clock from 1943 and brought it out of the loop to 2016? And what in the flying fartnuggets do birds have to do with time manipulation? Apparently in this universe, if you want to be Teferi, you must also be Emma Tolly from Children of the Red King.
(*Technically, “-mancy” is not the correct suffix to describe the power of or control over the root word, and it actually refers to divination or communication. “-kinesis” is better, but still simply refers to movement rather than conjuring or controlling. Unfortunately, both have been used so often in this context that they’ve pretty much become the standard despite the inaccuracy. That seems to be a common linguistic process, actually.)
I also feel like the movie falls into something that quite a few shows about superhero/mutant-type people do, that being “why didn’t they use their powers sooner?”. This gets especially bad with the twins, who did actual nothing for all but 10 seconds or so of the movie and totally could have gotten rid of the main villain when he was threatening Jake with a knife. And for how much of a threat Barron and his crew are to all the peculiars if they get what they want, you’d think they could have been more proactive in dealing with them instead of waiting until the bad guys already had the upper hand. I suppose they should have just sent Emma in, since she can’t be defeated. Even though you can get behind her, it’s no use. Also, you gotta love when the villains are part of an in-universe minority group and they’re worried about being hated and feared and people wanting to destroy them for it, so they subsequently attempt to remedy the situation by doing exactly the sorts of things that would make someone hate, fear, and want to destroy them. Good job resembling that remark there. For that matter, seeking immortality is probably one of the oldest antagonistic motivations in the book; I wouldn’t doubt that there are stories from a few millennia B.C. that have that as a plot element…but one thing I never quite got about it was why one would want such a thing, especially someone who doesn’t have all that much more power or influence than a regular person and doesn’t seem interested in exploring and learning. If they actually did become immortal, what would they do then? Become a history teacher? Sit around and watch Seinfeld with a margarita in hand?
One thing I do wonder is how different the movie would have been with a different director. I don’t know how creepy the monsters were in the original book, but they’re pretty darn creepy here. The way that the main villain ultimately goes down…well, without spoiling anything, it’s kind of satisfying, but jeez, I almost felt sorry for the guy. Almost. Anything involving serious harm to the eyes, especially if it’s plucking them straight out of their skull, is guaranteed to be disturbing, and adding giant invisible tentacle monsters to the mix certainly doesn’t make it less so. There’s also a bit of retroactive horror when you start to wonder about what it was like when the kids’ powers were first noticed. Hugo brings up his experience, but what about the ones with much more dangerous stuff like the twins or Olive? Did the latter just have her hands start getting gradually hotter one day, or did she go to pick up a shirt and accidentally set it on fire or something? Anyway, that’s about enough rambling for now.
I don’t feel like there’s much I could say here that I haven’t already said. As I mentioned in the second paragraph, the structure seemed a bit, ahem, peculiar, but it didn’t ruin the show or anything.
Characters: Fine while they were there
The characters, for the most part, felt pretty real, not idealized or flat, but natural. However, most of them also did not get enough screen time to be fleshed out much. Jake, Abe, Barron, maybe Miss Peregrine and Emma, Enoch, and (funny enough) Jake’s father did, but for everyone else, I was kind of left wanting to learn more about them and see what makes them tick. Definitely the worst case of this is with the twins, who could probably have been entirely left out of the script in its current state with no difference aside from needing to change the scene when they’re fighting the monkey-woman. I didn’t mind the slice-of-life stuff at the beginning showing Jake’s relationship with his family, the therapist, the store owner, and such, but I would have been willing to sacrifice some of that in favor of the peculiar children being developed more.
Effects: Fine but minimal
For a fantasy movie, this actually didn’t have many special effects at all, and what was there was pretty basic, so I can’t really comment much on this aspect of it.
Dialogue: Pretty okay
The most stand-out character here was Barron, who spent the majority of his interactions with the good guys being a huge ham. I guess he is played by Samuel L. Jackson, though. Everyone else seemed pretty natural, and I thought that Miss Peregrine filled that niche of being a character who is caring and good with children but takes no crap with more finesse than, for instance, Mary Poppins did in her movie.
Positives: The characters and setting all felt pretty real, for the most part. Not real in the sense of “true story”, but more down-to-earth.
Negatives: In general, my complaints are pretty minor, but I really did not need to see monsters that stick their tentacles into people’s faces to pluck out their eyes and eat them. Tim Burton being Tim Burton, I guess.
Final score: 5
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children didn’t blow me away, but aside from creepiness and unanswered questions, it was ultimately inoffensive and a decent bit of entertainment while it lasted. It does also make me curious what the books were like, so there is that.