A stellar all-star cast come together to make Ransom Riggs’ book come to life on the big screen. From a script by Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service) and directed by Tim Burton (Corpse Bride, Edward Scissorhands) they bring you Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
Asa Butterfield (Hugo, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) stars as Jake, an outcast boy from Florida who, whilst growing up, was told all sorts of fantastic stories by his grandfather Abe, played by Terence Stamp (Superman II, Wanted). These stories revolved mainly around a home for peculiar children on a small island just off the coast of Wales.
When Abe is killed one night, Jake finds him, minus his eyes, sees a monster and is subsequently dispatched to a shrink, played by Allison Janney (The West Wing, American Beauty). After some convincing of his parents, Chris O’Dowd (Cuban Fury, Bridesmaids) and Kim Dickens (Gone Girl, Hollow Man), Jake gets to go to the island, with father in tow and enters a time-loop to 1943 to find all the children, un-aged, each with their own magical power or ‘peculiarity’.
Sometimes you hear about a part that was written for a particular actor, in this instance you could believe that this book was written with Tim Burton in mind to direct the film adaptation. It is made for him and he does well, in fact some of the shots are truly glorious. There’s something else that lets this film down though, and it took me a while to figure it out.
I haven’t read the book, so don’t know the source material, but the script is lacking something, well, quite a lot really. I think we’re supposed to think of Jake as a loner who comes good at the end, all heroic as you’d expect from a protagonist. But he’s just wet the whole way through. Even when he’s supposedly more confident at the end, you never get that sense. You’re also left without any real indication as to why he wants a different life from the one he has. There’s a segment at the start to show he’s not popular and his parents seem distant, but it’s not really enough to make you think he’d run away with a bunch of random strangers.
There’s also no indication that he finds any of the peculiarities actually peculiar. Maybe we’re supposed to be impressed by his ability to take it all in his stride but it takes away from the powers the other children have when he doesn’t even blink at them.
Talking of the powers, some are revealed straight away, like a parlour trick, whilst others don’t come out until the end of the film. This would usually be fine, however, and I’m trying not to give too much away here, some of the children have the ability to turn people into stone and so you think, why not just do that from the start? Turn the bad guys, the main one being Samuel L. Jackson, into stone? There may well be a good reason for this, other than it would be a much shorter film, but the characters are so shallow that we know next to nothing about them, even by the end.
Reading some of the reviews of the book you see the same problem raised, characters are shallow, Jake doesn’t really grab you etc etc. So maybe Goldman did a great job of transferring book to screenplay. But then, I think, if the source material is lacking, surely it’s your job as the writer of the screenplay to add to it? Adapt it? Flesh it out for the screen as required? Or maybe that’s just peculiar…