Saturday, October 1, 2016

#StayPeculiar: The Miss Peregrine Movie


I didn't realize Tim Burton was capable of so much awesome...oh wait, it's Tim Burton, of course he's capable. But put him in the director's chair for a movie based on a Ransom Riggs novel, and made with an as-always seriously on-point screenplay by Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, Kingsman), and it's easy to say one of the most gifted cinematic visionaries of our time has outdone himself. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is not only Burton's best movie since Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I now think it's Burton's best movie, period.

Can you see the monsters too?

For Burton fans in particular, this movie's a treat because it combines stylistic elements from his other movies in a surprisingly cool bit of self-pastiche. It starts out in Florida, so there's a bit of Edward Scissorhands in the creepy, pastel-colored Stepford Suburbia with an ominous other place just beyond the horizon - in this case, the swampy forests behind the home of Abe Portman, grandfather of our hero, Jake Portman. On the subject of Jake, Asa Butterfield (Hugo, Ender's Game) is the perfect fit for this role - the palest, skinniest, least outdoorsy teenage boy in Florida. Abe's nickname for him, "Tygrysko" (Polish for "little tiger"), he doesn't agree with it - he thinks he's more of a chicken. (Naturally, he'll soon prove himself wrong.) But back to the self-pastiching thing - in addition to Scissorhands, we also get a nice little bit of Nightmare-esque stop-motion in Enoch's first demonstration of his homunculi, and the otherworldly, colorful magnificence of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland - both of which really took me back to my teenage years when I first discovered Tim Burton. (Although I was actually twelve when Charlie first hit theaters, but close enough.)

Story-wise, the movie is, again, a lot like Charlie - it's pretty faithful to Riggs' novel, but then it starts slipping in some differences that make for a wildly different ending from the source material. Not only does this make the movie actually work very well as a standalone, it also averts that truly hellish cliffhanger from the book by incorporating twists that wouldn't have been out of place in Hollow City or Library of Souls.

One of the major changes, however, is the much-ballyhooed switching of Emma's and Olive's peculiarities, giving Emma air powers and Olive fire powers. Naturally, the trailers got a lot of fans riled up because of this, but not me. I love Jane Goldman's screenwriting work, and I thought she could do a good job with this little mix-up. As I watched the movie, I was a bit unsure, feeling that there was the (not-terribly-wanted) potential for a sticky little love triangle between Jake, Emma, and Olive. But no - shipping-wise, there's little deviation from the novel there, switching of peculiarities be damned. Hell, I think Goldman managed to do a better job writing Jake and Emma's relationship than Riggs ever did, focusing as much as she did on the tension between them. It's a bit of a nice foreshadowing of Butterfield's next role, too, in the upcoming movie The Space Between Us (where he'll be starring opposite Britt Robertson of Under the Dome and Tomorrowland fame.)

And in terms of other changes to the story - well, I can't really detail those without spoiling things, and I promised a spoiler-free review. But I can promise you this as well - there's a certain climactic fight scene that's equal parts awesome and funny (I had my jaw dropped pretty much the whole time), with slapdash, quick-cut shots of top-notch elemental combat and bloody amazing CGI work and even some cool music in the background, so other than the fantasy elements, it really smacks of Goldman, feeling like it wouldn't have been out of place in Kingsman. As much as I would have loved Tim Burton to help bring my story in Red Rain to life, up to now I didn't think he quite had the action chops to pull it off. But when paired with a Jane Goldman script, Burton can work magic he's never done before, and now I've really got to see what he would do with a Red Rain movie.

Speaking of magic, the peculiars themselves are so much fun to watch. The aforementioned elemental powers (which, when used to fight, are worthy of Avatar: The Last Airbender or Codex Alera), the protective badasses that are the ymbrynes (Miss Peregrine, of course, and Judi Dench as Miss Avocet), and even the dreaded villains, the hollows and wights, led by Samuel L. Jackson having WAAAAAAAY too much fun as Mr. Barron, late of the Society of Syndrigast Scientists. And of course the nature of the loops. Sure, the physics involved don't go as well-explained as they should, but they still make about as much sense as they do in the books, and for one movie, it's only too easy for me to park my brain at the door.

To all those involved in this A+ movie, all the props.

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember - Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

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