Saturday, October 08, 2016

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Tim Burton has had "Visionary Director" placed in front of his name so often that you'd be forgiven for thinking it's a title or rank, like "Doctor" or "General", rather than a description of how he was once perceived. Still is, by some, but it's tough to be a visionary for long. Your vision gets realized, or the world moves on, and it's really tough to have a second vision.

And, I wonder, sometimes, if the world just expects guys like Burton to burn out, developing an ego that makes him impossible to work with, or having an unforgivable flop without having a next thing which may do well - and generally does, in Burton's case - already under way. It's curious and laudable that a guy as apparently eccentric as him never really had the disaster which made him a cautionary tale (but the sort we love, who made a few great movies and then something so spectacularly disastrous that it's interesting) or forced him to refocus and become something new as he aged. Instead, while he may not really have something that he really wants to say any more, he's got skills. He can make something look nice, especially in a certain sort of aesthetic, and for all that guys like me write that he's coasting, giving Johnny Depp new stupid haircuts because he knows that some in the audience will eat it up, it's tough to argue with what he puts on screen not being well-presented. He does what he's good at very well

As a guy who has worked the same job for twelve years, I appreciate that, even if I do wonder if he's one of the directors who need a strong producer looking over his shoulder, saying the script isn't ready or pointing out things he's too close to. I always thought Denise Di Novi was that person for him, but they actually only worked on a few movies together (although Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood are generally considered his high point). Maybe someone like that could have helped him squeeze the potential out of Miss Peregrine, because with a legitimately great finale following a bunch of time where you can see potential being unfulfilled, it feels like he dove into the parts that interested him and got relatively lazy with the rest, even if there's no way for outsiders to know how it really went down.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

* * (out of four)
Seen 4 October 2016 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

There was a joke about Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children being "Tim Burton's X-Men" when the trailers started to appear, and while it was mostly about the veteran director's signature style, it's worth asking why Twentieth Century Fox, which by dint of a contract that Marvel Comics undoubtedly regrets has the rights to make movies with the real thing more or less in perpetuity, would bother with this mostly-bland adaptation of a young-adult novel. Burton (with an assist from Samuel L. Jackson) is able to jazz it up at the climax, but it's kind of dull otherwise.

The first child we met isn't particularly peculiar; Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) is a thoroughly ordinary teenager in present-day Tampa, ignored by girls and harassed by his classmates He's closer to his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp) than his father, and comes running when the nonagenarian calls, in a fit of seeming dementia, saying that the monsters from the bedtime stories he used to tell Jake are attacking. Finding the man with his eyes gouged out suggests something horrible happened, and the quest to find out what leads Jake and father Franklin (Chris O'Dowd) to the village in Wales where Abe stayed as a Polish refugee before joining the British Army in World War II. Despite Abe still getting letters from headmistress Miss Peregrine, the orphanage was destroyed during the war. Well, sort of; Jake soon finds that Peregrine, (Eva Green) Abe's old friends Emma (Ella Purnell), Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), Olive (Lauren McCrostie), and several younger children are alive and well, having been in a time loop that repeated the day before the Manor was bombed ever since, and which also keeps them hidden from Barron (Jackson), an evil Peculiar whose immortality experiments have left him and his cohorts as monsters that only Jake can see.

It's a Tim Burton fantasy, so plenty of weirdness is to be expected, but it seems incredibly telling that all the weirdness is on the surface, with almost no indication that any sort of thought has been given to what is underneath the Burton-branded design. I'm curious how much more explicit the book is about Abe being a European Jew who fled and then fought the Nazis; a film pitched to an audience old enough to enjoy some gross-out moments wouldn't seem to need to pussyfoot around the way this one does despite having a villain who is literally rounding up members of a persecuted minority for extermination and experimentation. The filmmakers really don't seem to be into metaphor at all, with the Peculiars' super-powers often seeming to be assigned randomly, especially when folks have more than one, rather than being a way to amplify who they are as characters.

Full review on EFC.

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