Yes, this review is incredibly late. Vacation, then robbery, then some scheduling conflicts with my friend who wanted to see it with me. As we go into this review please understand that Burton is on his last legs with me. I have not really enjoyed anything he has done as a writer, director, or producer since 2003’s Big Fish. In fact there are some works of his I absolutely hate with a burning passion that cannot be described in the english language. Dark Shadows, I am looking at you. I won’t even taint my site with a review of that rancid nay putrescent pile of celluloid trash. If that does not make it clear my expectations for this film little will. What I did look forward to was some decent fantasy and the generally engaging Eva Green.
Did I go deeper in or desire to escape the fantasy?
The story is based on a series of YA/Childrens fantasy book by Ransom Riggs, yes that’s his real name as near as I’ve been able to find. Originally crafted to be based on an odd collection of photographs it’s clear the story evolved into so much more. It was adapted to screen by Jane Goldman, who worked on some amazing films such as Stardust, Kick-ass, X:Men First Class & Days of Future Past, and Kingsman. The story is ultimately a fantasy in which our hero Jake (Asa Butterfield) finds out his grandfather’s stories may not have been. He journeys to Wales to uncover the mystery of the stories and is introduced to Miss Peregrine and her home. Of course such stories are nothing without conflict and for that we have The Hollows who well are the bad guys. In usual fashion I have simplified the story so as to avoid spoilers.
There are precisely three directors who could make this film that come to mind. Tim Burton, Matthew Vaughn, and Guillermo Del Toro. You need someone who gets the nature of world building and creating a fantasy world that we can both relate to but is different and one that is tangible. That is the problem so many other directors have, they don’t give us tangible worlds. Think of the first Harry Potter films or the first Lord of the Rings films. The worlds created were high fantasy but very real and touchable. Most films lose that in a swath of CGI, this retains its realistic physicality even though there is a distinct separation from between our world and the next. For fans of White Wolf Publishing/ Onyx Paths games this reminds me of either a small pocket realm from Mage the Ascension or a lost trod from Changeling the Dreaming. What it did was give me a sense of the surreal, a sense of magic. If you know anything of me, that automatically engages me if done right.
Burton did it right….mostly. Vaughn may have gone too far to the unreal. Del Toro probably would give someone nightmares (*stares at Pans Labrynth*). Burton is a visionary director who for the first time in a long time showed that he can move beyond the tired cliches of his other productions. While there are echoes of his style, this doesn’t quite feel like a Burton film that we’ve become accustomed to. It is beautifully early 20th century and at the same time shows the banality of the modern suburb. The colour palette is normalized for the majority of the film with the colours used to add to the story and are neither too far in either direction of the saturation scale. Where he fails us is tone. The movie is inconsistent. There are moments of “wow that’s intense” with moments that positively eject you from the movie due to tone, dialogue, and music. This is a problem he has had overall and how in the end I know it’s his. It just cannot decide where its lines are and how to stay within them or when not to appropriately.
Asa Butterfield (Enders Game) does sufficiently well in the lead role, mostly getting to stare wide eyed or longingly depending on the moment. The longingly is for Emma Bloom the girl lighter than air, (Ella Purnell) who pretty much has the same queues. I can’t say if they have chemistry or not, but their performances together tend to repeat so much of previous scenes I’ve seen a skipping records with less recycling of a moment. Both do act well, but the direction and or script do them no favours. Eva Green looks and acts fabulous as Miss Peregrine and has a major departure from most of her other works, though I think her time on Penny Dreadful helped a bit. Everyone else in the movie is “Good”. Nothing to write home about, no particular show stealers, but nothing that made me wince either.
I want to talk about production for a moment. The costuming, hair, and make up is stellar. The attention to detail is incredible. It is really well done and I do not believe a dollar of its $110 million budget was wasted. Sad that it’s only made $57 million so far. At best it will top out at $65, ensuring we do not see a sequel unless it screams to life on DVD. The creature designs were incredible and original and I wish I could find who specifically designed them. They were really well done and this person needs more work. As always though, no one has quite figured out creatures and purely CGI in daylight that doesn’t look wrong. It was glass breaking, at times, but otherwise really well done.
This is an ok movie. It could have and should have been better. I was invested in the world and wasn’t quite sure how it would end and that’s refreshing. As with a lot of YA works, I love the worlds built and most of the characters, but something fell off in the execution that created a sense of being disjointed. Like I know I liked it and I would even say good, but there’s just enough wrong that it keeps the movie from being elevated into me not having to hem and haw on the good factor. Maybe I am being kind because I want to be peculiar, because I want to escape into this world so much. Maybe they just did it right.
If this is the Burton we are getting in the future, I am glad. He still needs to fix his tonal shifting and pick a theme, but this felt good. This felt original and new from him. More please. You are better than you have been, and this could be better. Maybe it was stretching off old muscles, but you did good here. On your next do more and we will all be happy.
Should you see it?
If you enjoy fantasy yes. It has some pacing issues but otherwise you will be fine. I was successfully invested and that makes it worth a recommendations. Just measure your expectations.
Will you buy it on BluRay?
Without a doubt.
Haven’t quite decided if my week will allow me to see The Girl on the Train, but at a minimum you are getting the next Jack Reacher film next week. I hope it’s as entertaining as it’s predecessor.