Saturday, 22 October 2016

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children (2D / SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 127 mins / Dir. Tim Burton / Trailer

Well, pre-judge not lest ye be pre-judged. As much as the trailers*1 had led me to believe that Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children (look, MPHFPC, yeah>) was going to be 'Tim Burton's X-Men Juniors'*2 with a light dusting of Hogwarts, it turned out to be more a mashup of Goodnight Sweetheart and Nightbreed. Which is far cooler, when you think about it…

When placid outsider Jake receives an ominous message from his grandfather Abe, he arrives at his house to find him murdered. Against the full support of his parents, this leads to an emotionally charged journey to an orphanage in Wales, and the unravelling of a secret Abe had been hiding in plain sight for years…

Even under its 12A safety-blanket, the film is surprisingly dark given that it will be put on the same shelf as its more mainstream contemporaries. In thematic terms this is attributable to the source-novel's author, Ransom Riggs of course, but an equal hat-tip has to go to screenwriter Jane Goldman for translating it so intensely (it was she who adapted the inexplicably-12A Woman In Black, if you remember). But Goldman's natural darkness is tempered by Tim Burton's propensity for kookiness, although this never quite reaches its regular default level because of Goldman's focus.

At just over two hours, MPHFPC is by no means a short film, but I'd have been happy to have an extra half-hour or so scattered throughout, if only to connect me more with Jake. After the cursory Hero's Journey setup in act one, the film spends a lot of time introducing a lot of fantastical elements, and any awe, wonder or fear we feel is most probably our own, not the protagonist's. I was engaged and intrigued throughout, but I wasn't really moved by anything I saw; the pace of the story and rapid world-building not allowing the relationship between Jake and his grandfather Abe to have any real weight*3. Another part of the disconnect was that I could feel Burton struggling to fully direct a screenplay that wasn't his own based on a story he hadn't written. It's not that he hasn't left a stamp on MPHFPC, but Tim's definitely playing in someone else's sandbox, here.

And on the subject of wants-lists*4, I'd have liked the mechanics/limitations of the time-travel and causality looped explained more thoroughly (why/how can Abe make phone calls and send letters to the past, given that he's a spotter, not a time-controlling Ymbryne? Do all loops have to be limited to 24 hours?) Then again, if they'd gone into all of that, I'd probably only have written another couple of thousand words picking it all apart.

Still, the costs of on-set catering were presumably minimised by the scenery-chewing competition going on between Eva Green and Sam Jackson. They're both great (thanks in no small part to Burton's direction, of course), but their constant mugging is definitely A Thing™.

All in all though, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children is better than I expected, and a solid effort given its internal struggles.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
As above; Harry Potter, X-Men, Nightbreed.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
For the visuals, sure.
The story itself will work on any size screen, though

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think it probably does, just about.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Probably not.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Probably not.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Definitely not.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Chancellor Valorum and Mace Windu are in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Speaking of trailers, I'm relieved to note that the fucking trailer song (which only has one fucking line, apparently) isn't used in the film. Well, not in the main body, at least, I left before the first song of the credits had ended in case it was going to be in there. I should also point out that I don't dislike the song itself, nor Disa Jakobs' voice. Just the way she keeps truncating the word "coming" as if she's a fucking blues singer or something, her delicate delivery tripping over the word every single time like a member of the aristocracy trying to eat a kebab with a knife and fork. Yeah, it fucking bothers me.

*2 …because a group of gifted youngsters being looked after by an older teacher/guardian and using time-travel to repeatedly evade their predators is the basic setup for X-Men: Days Of Future Past. A film which Jane Goldman also screen-wrote. I'm not dumping the similarity at her door, by the way. Much as MPHFPC is based on the 2011 novel, the X-Men movie sprang out of the 1981 comic series. I'm sure the whole thing is a massive, chronological coincidence.

*3 Also cobbling the emotional-stride of the film is Terence Stamp taking "crazy old man" to previously undiscovered levels. I love the guy to bits, but there are few other performers who can manage to overact whilst being dead on-screen. Oh, spoilers.

*4 And on the subject of non-wants lists, point-deducted for Tim Burton's blink-of-an-eye cameo appearance which still managed to be wall-shatteringly obvious. I wasn't even waiting for it, and he still may as well have been carrying a neon sign...

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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