Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (October 2016)

*SPOILER WARNING*

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is one of the most unique stories I’ve ever read; it’s difficult to build a coherent narrative around a bunch of random, unrelated vintage photographs, but Ransom Riggs uses his pictures to construct a vivid, entertaining story and a fantastic cast of characters. Generally speaking, it’s extremely hard not to love this book. But unfortunately, this is not a book review.

Fasten your seatbelts, folks. This is going to be a long one.

MPHFPC follows Jacob Portman, who travels to Wales to gain closure for the mysterious circumstances surrounding his grandfather’s death. There he’s swept up in the world of “peculiars”. It’s sort of like X-Men; that is, if X-Men was written by Neil Gaiman and directed by Tim Burton. For that reason, I was thrilled when the film adaptation was announced, but I was less than happy with the ratings-fueled plot hole extravaganza I saw in theaters a year later. That’s not to say that there weren’t things I liked about Tim Burton’s MPHFPC; In fact, I think Burton was the ideal director to bring this dark YA fantasy to the screen. The film’s atmosphere fluctuated brilliantly, going from fairly comfortable to extremely dark in an instant. There were portions of the movie that will give me nightmares forever (I’m looking at you, Victor.), and other scenes that broke my heart (That last call from Abe, anyone?), but unfortunately, the overwhelming majority just made me disappointed. I’m not going to dignify the magically airtight sunken ship scene or the CGI skeleton battle sequence with a response, but…there are some other things I can talk about.

I could make a long list of the things about this movie that are different from the book, but I learned my lesson about adaptations a long time ago; sometimes creative license is a necessary evil. So in the end, it doesn’t really matter that Abe doesn’t have a Polish accent, or that they age-swapped a lot of the kids, and even that second contrived romantic subplot could be justified if I swallowed my pride enough to put some thought into it. The details don’t have to be perfect, as long as the changes help to translate the plot into movie-form. That being said, there were also a few changes that didn’t do much of anything to that end.

The first of these was Emma (or Olive. Both of them, really). Someone decided that it would be a good idea to switch Emma and Olive’s peculiarities (to clear it up: In the book, Olive floated and Emma flamed. In the movie, the reverse was true; Olive committed casual acts of arson with her bare hands, and Emma’s peculiarity was passive aggression. I mean air.). After some research, I’m starting to understand the reasoning behind it, but I still think it was a poor choice. From what I’ve gathered, the decision was prompted by a desire to weaken Emma’s character in order to give her a more visible arc, but as far as I can see, all it did was alienate a large portion of the movie’s target audience: everyone who’s actually read the book.

I’d understand it if the already existing plot wasn’t smooth enough to cram into a 2-hour box, because MPHFPC can get complicated. However, it didn’t seem like any of the plot-relevant changes made by the screenwriters changed much about the story at all. I’m convinced the whole “eyeball-eating baddies” thing was contrived to make the antagonists scarier (which is, as anyone who read the books knows, unnecessary). More ridiculous still is the notion that there is only a small number of hollows (I didn’t count, but there seemed to be about eight or ten) to worry about eating their eyes. Oddly enough, the most obvious plot hole of the bunch was the wights’ own white eyes, which disappeared when plot-convenient.

Despite adding all sorts of rubbish to water down a complex and involved plot in an attempt to make it easier to swallow, there were some good new things thrown in the mix, too. First of all, I liked this Enoch. I didn’t mind that he was aged up; I’d always liked him in the book and was happy to see him play a bigger role. He was creepy, he was bitter, and he had this kind of stupid bravery that was surprising; I got the feeling that the dude really protects his own. This part of him (and the creepy part of him as well) led to another new addition I liked: The Victor Scene. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I’ll try not to spoil anything, but…you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it. I’ve watched exactly 40 horror movies so far this month, and this is the most terrifying thing I’ve encountered yet. I may like Enoch, but damn. He can be cruel. There were also some loop-details that I enjoyed, like Abe’s phone call, and Miss Peregrine’s having to kill Victor’s hollow every day to keep the loop safe. It was a perfect representation of an imperfect loop, and of the ymbrynes’ responsibility to keep their peculiar children safe.

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(Miss P., book vs. movie)

On top of that, the parts where they did choose to remain true to the source material, their efforts really paid off. Horace and Bronwyn were spot-on, as I remember them, and Miss Peregrine was the type of unadulterated badass I’d always imagined for her movie-self. Even the hollows and wights, while their newly contrived motivations were shaky at best, were chillingly cool to look at. And for anyone worried that the iconic “Run Rabbit Run” scene would be ruined in the film adaptation; it was well-paced, it was creepy. I thought it was the best scene in the movie. MPHFPC was also quite true to Jacob’s home state; as a Florida resident, I loved that I could relate. Although I did notice one thing that made me laugh; Jacob’s room is (as CinemaSins would say) an orgy of evidence that this kid is from Florida. I mean, either that or this kid has a weird thing for manatees.

Despite all of these positive elements, the rest of the movie really couldn’t be saved. The plot got increasingly confusing towards the end; it left me searching for any semblance of the story I knew. They Percy Jackson’ed that ending, and then some. I think I called bullshit when Bronwyn killed a hollow with a merry-go-round unicorn, but some called it sooner (CGI skeletons v. hollows), and others later (Jake vs. Jake; seriously?). The worst thing was that, after Jake’s story about trekking through loop after loop to find his friends again, you get the feeling that a much better story could have been told. The team behind this movie was a capable one, but it just didn’t work out.

In the end, it’s tough to form a complete opinion about this movies because there were aspects of it that I liked a lot. Some parts rang so true to the book that I applauded, and some diverged so much from the familiar path that I cringed. Some scenes were classic Burton (see: Enoch’s baby doll fighting ring), others felt as though the writers just tied their director (and Riggs) to a chair and made them watch. I can’t say I recommend this film to anyone who’s read and enjoyed Riggs’ series, but if you haven’t yet and want to take a whack at the movie version, well, give it a look.

GRADE: C+

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