Once upon a time Tim Burton was the Sultan of Spooky, the King of Creepy. His early work, including Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and even his 1989 spin on Batman are still masterworks of eerie, dark filmmaking. Lately, though, his efforts have skewed more toward just plain odd. 2010’s Alice in Wonderland and 2012’s Dark Shadows are both ultimately forgettable, and 2014’s Big Eyes came and went with a collective shrug from audiences and critics alike.
Burton fans, however, surely rejoiced when news spread that he would be directing the film version Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. If ever there was material that would be the perfect avenue for Burton’s grand return to form, surely this was it. Ransom Riggs’ bestselling novel is full of darkness and weird things and death and mayhem and monsters.
What we actually get, however, is just another in the growing line of shrug-worthy Tim Burton films. While there are moments in Peregrine where we’re shown glimpses of the Burton we used to know and love, they’re too few and far between to make the film entirely worthwhile. In fact if you went in not knowing, it would be nearly impossible to tell that Burton had a hand in it at all.
Asa Butterfield stars as Jake, a Florida teenager who grew up listening to his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp) tell amazing stories about, well, peculiar children. After a monster attack leaves Abe clinging to life, he gives his grandson a cryptic message to find the loop and that the bird will explain everything. Jake eventually figures out that Abe was referring to his wartime children’s home on an island off the coast of Wales, so he heads off, father in tow, to find answers.
Shortly after he arrives, Jake indeed finds the loop─a portal back to 1943, where a band of peculiar children live the same day over and over again, trying to hide from the same monsters that killed Jake’s grandfather.
Emma (Ella Purnell) can levitate and control the air, Millard (Cameron King) is invisible, Olive (Lauren McCrostie) can start fire with her touch, to name a few, and they’re all watched over by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who can control time and also transform into a peregrine falcon. They’re an eclectic bunch, sure, and the each of the actors has a ball with their own peculiarity. Not so much Butterfield, though, who seems to be sleepwalking through the movie, alongside his onscreen dad, played by an uncharacteristically muted Chris O’Dowd.
The screenplay by Jane Goldman (Kingsman: The Secret Service) is haphazard and feels as though she was trying to cram too much into too little time, which makes her decision to add new characters and to divert the plot so far from the book, particularly the third act, feel so odd (and unnecessary). And unfortunately Burton seems content to play things perfectly safe, never really venturing neck-deep into the whack-a-doodle world that was once synonymous with his name. The peculiar children are still there, but the film world they inhabit is disappointingly bland.
Worth the 3D glasses?
It may actually be that Burton spent so much time trying to find ways to justify the 3D that the film as a whole suffered as a result. The 3D is amazing, absolutely, but it takes more than really good 3D to make a really good movie.