I love fantasy stories. Like loooove them. They are my thing.
So, when I saw the trailer for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children I couldn’t wait to see another “Once upon a time…” story, full of quirky characters and creative worlds.
Imagine my disappointment then when I left the theatre feeling like I’d only gotten part of the story.
I’m about to say some harsh things, but before I do you need to know something. It’s incredibly difficult for me to speak negatively about filmmakers. Being one myself, I know how much hard work goes into the creative process.
Think of this review as constructive criticism instead of trashing a film.
My hope is that you, the reader, will learn something from the mistakes of these usually, fantastic filmmakers.
Because even their mistakes are pretty incredible.
A quick rundown of its offences:
- Too many characters, too little time
- Too many plots
- Poor performance in a leading role
- Awkward edit
- Poor dialogue
- Confusing time travel
- Poorly rehashed characters
- Poorly written
Jane Goldman on a bad day
My guess is screenwriter, Jane Goldman, of some great titles like Kingsman: The Secret Service and Stardust, wanted to add as much of the novel by Ransom Riggs as she could, and in doing so lost the plot.
The important lesson here is, sometimes less is more.
Speaking as an aspiring author, one of the biggest lessons I learned in film school was to hold my story with an open hand, allowing constructive critisism to help shape and strengthen my stories. This helped me better understand what to focus on and what to let go of.
If Goldman had focused in on one, main throughline, the rest would have fallen into place, easily.
Instead, it felt like I a bunch of half characters in a strange, half story.
An example of this is Samuel L. Jackson’s character, the Baron. He felt like a sad copy of Valentine from Kingsman: The Secret Service. Both are quirky villains, neither seem to take themselves too seriously, and they both like cracking jokes.
The stronger version was Valentine because it was the first time we’d seen a character like this. He also had more unique quirks like his dislike for blood and violence, whereas the Baron had the jokes and that was about it.
Peculiar Children repeating every day
There was so much exposition that needed to be established in the first part of the film, and in doing so, many other elements got lost.
One of which was the loop factor.
One aspect of Miss Peregrine’s peculiarity is that of creating a time loop – a place to keep all her peculiar children safe.
Time travel is always a difficult subject matter in story, but it was incredibly difficult to follow in this film. Especially toward the end, I had to stop watching and try to figure out what in the world was going on.
One way this could have been handled differently is to get rid of other elements that are not needed.
For example, and some of you may hate this, but getting rid of some of the peculiar children would have actually strengthened the story. There were a few, who while being great characters, added nothing to the story. In fact, I forgot they existed until they were brought back for various scenes.
This is a peculiar remark, especially from someone like me, who loooooves character driven stories. (You can ask my writing group, I often lose the plot because I want to explore another character I’ve thought up.)
However, I think getting rid of characters like Horace Somnusson wouldn’t have changed much of the story.
The only time he actually serves a purpose is when he gives a glimpse into what could happen. After that, I forget he was one of the peculiar children. Until he randomly shows up again to flash his glowing eye at the Baron. Even then, it does nothing to stop the Baron; it only reminded me that Horace existed.
Characters are great, but when you shove so many of them into an already complicated story, it’s best to simplify where you can. Especially, when you have great, complex issues like grief.
Probably my least favorite part of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, was the story arch of Jake.
Early on, Miss Peregrine answers a phone call; it’s Jake’s grandpa who’s recently passed away. As they’re in the past, his phone call is also his younger self.
When Jake takes the call later on, somehow he knows it’s his grandpa, even though he’s never been told. Instead of having any kind of real reaction to hearing his grandpa’s voice, he launches off into a poorly prepared monologue and hangs up to go fight a monster.
First of all, I found Asa Butterfield’s performance to be incredibly lacking. But even if he’d been good, he still wasn’t given time to grieve his grandpa.
There’s always more to say, but what I want to leave you with is this; if you’re adding in these great character arch moments, let your characters have a time to process it.
Especially, when the idea of time features so strongly in your story.
Lazy storytelling doesn’t know where to edit and this is what happened with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
This is why the story suffers so much on film. It’s lazy filmmaking. They didn’t edit the story down and the focus was on the wrong moments. There were pauses to reflect on what was going on, but they were on things we didn’t need to pause on.
For example, there was a pause to watch a girl defy gravity.
We get it, air does what she wants, she can fly.
The more complex issue of grief? It’s almost like Burton didn’t know what to do with it, so he threw it in as an afterthought because it was part of the book.
Miss Peregrine saves the day
The one thing that saves this film for me, is Eva Green’s performance of Miss Peregrine. There’s something about the choices Green makes that I find compelling. They’re never quite what I expect, but are done with such conviction, I can’t fault it.
There’s a scene in which Miss Peregrine raises her hands to Jake. I expected her to place them gently on his face, but instead, she hovers there, inches from his face.
For those of you who don’t know the story, this may seem like a strange choice. And I’m not fighting that, it is strange. Or should I say peculiar. (See what I did there?) But there’s a strong purpose behind it. Miss Peregrine is not your ordinary woman. She’s also a bird.
We only get to see her transform into a peregrine twice throughout the film, but what Eva Green has done is remind us through subtle moments like this that she’s also a bird.
Whether its the choice to perch on the arm of a chair instead of sitting on the couch, or the sharp quirk of her head like a bird turning to look at you. They’re subtle reminders of her peculiarity.
If for no other reason, go see this film for her performance.
Ransom the day
I shall release you with this; if you want to watch a compelling performance by Eva Green, go watch it.
If lazy storytelling hurts your heart, read the book instead. This was one good thing about the film, it made me want to read Ransom Rigg’s critically acclaimed novel, the book is almost always better than the film.
Sorry Tim, maybe next time.