Tim Burton’s imaginative visuals make up for this adaptation’s clunky screenplay.
Though director Tim Burton’s obscure interests have long provided audiences with entertaining nightmarish tales of monsters, ghosts, and all things imagination, his films in more recent years have been somewhat hit or miss. Dark Shadows, Frankenweenie, and Alice and Wonderland carry the same elements he’s always worked with, but for some reason those stories didn’t hold the same strength of his previous works. Burton’s latest film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, is yet another prime example.
Based on Ransom Rigg’s 2011 debut novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children tells the story of Jacob, a 16-year-old misfit struggling to make sense of life after the death of his grandfather. When Jacob’s therapist, Dr. Golan, convinces his parents to let him go to Wales to learn more about his grandfather, and gain the closure he won’t be able to find in Florida, he uncovers more than he intended to find. This newfound information takes Jacob on a time-traveling, magical journey that will changes his life forever.
In regards to the film as an adaptation, I find that the less like the book a film can be, the better. Burton and screenwriter Jane Goldman included certain elements from the novel, such as Riggs’ use of old photographs and archival materials. In both the book and the film, Jacob’s grandfather uses these items to tell Jacob grand fantasy tales of monsters and children with peculiar abilities. These photographs, maps found along the way, and books act as a treasure hunt, each bit unveiling an aspect of Jacob that he never knew existed before. The movie goes beyond grief to include a coming of age story. Rigg’s characters and overall storyline may be incorporated within the film, but how these characters get from point A to point B varies throughout.
Screenwriter Goldman is known for her collaborations with Matthew Vaughn on Kingsman: The Secret Service, X-Men: First Class, and Kick-Ass. Despite these past successes, her script is this film’s biggest problem, particularly at the beginning where the dialogue is stunted and lacks flow. The lines read robotically and detract from the engaging performances of Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Asa Butterfield, and Ella Purnell. The script’s clunky structure dims the climactic moments of the film, leaving viewers dissatisfied when the credits roll.
Fortunately, Burton’s films go beyond story. He finds collaborators with similarly twisted visual sensibilities to create the sequences in his head. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, who worked with Burton on Dark Shadows and Big Eyes, beautifully captures this tale’s mystical atmosphere. The bright color pallet and distinctive costumes designed by Colleen Atwood are sharply filmed and keep viewers mesmerized throughout. Although the story falters its way to the end, Miss Peregrine’s technical aspects manage to intrigue you enough to make it worthwhile.