K so this movie is of course yet another adaptation of a young adult/teen book that I’ve never heard of. I guess there’s no reason why I should have heard of it though seeing as I am neither a young adult or teen, I digress. The title of the movie (and book) is admittedly pretty cool, indeed the whole vibe I got from this movie did kinda remind me of the 2004 movie ‘Lemony Snicket’s A Serious of Unfortunate Events’. At the same time it also got me thinking along the lines of The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories. Funnily enough a quirky little book about weird monstrous children by the one and only Tim Burton. So it was of no surprise to me at all that Tim Burton ended up directing this movie (which is almost a rip-off of his ‘Oyster Boy’ book in part).
So, very briefly, the film is set in Wales of all places and sees young boy Jake (Asa Butterfield) learning about the mysterious school for peculiar children from his grandfather. After his grandfather dies in a very disturbing way Jake travels to Wales to look for the school, following instructions from his grandfather. Jake discovers that the old school was destroyed during WWII, but through a set of mysterious (this word will pop up a lot) circumstances which include a time portal, Jake goes back to 1943. A time when the school was in its prime. Turns out the school and its students all live within an infinite time loop (the same day in 1943), created by Miss Peregrine, where they never age, solely to avoid persecution from the outside world. Jake also learns of monsters called Hollowgasts (disfigured peculiars) led by the evil shapeshifter Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson). These monsters led by Barron hunt down ‘peculiars’ (or ‘Ymbrynes’) for their eyes. They consume the eyes which enable them to retain their powers and human form (which apparently makes them ‘Wights’). Did you get all that??
So lets take a quick look at the peculiar children (children with paranormal abilities). Now even though society has discriminated against these kids, rejected them out of fear, their powers are clearly of benefit to them. Its the classic narrative, the kids have special powers which are seen as negative in the film, but to you the viewer they come across as actually being really cool. Wouldn’t we all like a special power. And if any of this sounds familiar…yes it is indeed exactly the same notion as Marvels X-Men.
So anyway who’s who. Notably there are characters that clearly play an important role in the movie with their powers, and others that do not. Emma Bloom is aerokinetic, meaning she can manipulate air, breathe under water and she floats because she’s lighter than air oddly. These powers seem pretty useful. Enoch O’Connor can resurrect the dead and make inanimate objects come to life, very useful. Olive Abroholos Elephanta (say what?) is pyrokinetic meaning she’s basically Pyro from the X-Men. Very useful power. Millard Nullings is the invisible boy, say no more, highly useful power. Bronwyn Bruntley is a little girl with superhuman strength, highly useful power. Fiona Frauenfeld can control plant life, so she’s basically Poison Ivy. Reasonably useful power.
The you have Hugh Apiston is a little boy with…umm…bees in his stomach…what now? Pretty bizarre and useless power here methinks. Claire Densmore has a mouth full of razor sharp teeth…on the back of her head. K…errr, whatever. And finally the two very young twins (no names apparently) who are both in fact gorgons. You know, a creature that can turn living things into stone, Medusa. Yeah well these two little terrors can do just that and have to wear masks all the time. Chilling power right there folks.
So whilst most of this X-Kids team have some pretty sweet special powers that would obviously come in handy in times of peril. Four of them seem utterly useless to me frankly, in fact I wouldn’t even call them paranormal powers but more circus freaks. I get that’s all part of the story but it just comes across as odd that the author would give half the kids solid powers and the other half useless powers, so useless to the point that those characters needn’t even be in the book. Why would shooting bees out of your mouth be of any use unless you lived in a Nintendo platform game.
As for the bad guys, they were all peculiars originally I think (including Mr. Barron who’s power is shapeshifting), but the failed experiment disfigured them. Now they hunt down peculiars for their eyes (yes eyes) because some how that enables them to retain human form. I’m not sure why they are called Hollowgasts though, considering they are merely disfigured peculiars. Not sure why they all look the same or why they look like large demonic Jack Skellington’s? Probably because Tim Burton directed the movie (or maybe they look like that in the book). I’m also not sure why they are referred to as Wights when in human form when again, essentially…they are still peculiars. I dunno, I’m probably getting it wrong. Lets not forget that peculiars are actually called Ymbrynes just to make things even more confusing.
So aside from the myriad of characters and funny names what is the movie actually like? Well quite frankly its your typical Harry Potter-esque adventure really. I really do hate referring back to Harry Potter but unfortunately that franchise pretty much set the ball rolling for children/young teen book adaptations so its hard not to. But yes in general the fantasy element of the movie along with the children does all seem very familiar these days. Don’t get me wrong its not the exact same kind of fantasy with unicorns and goblins or whatever (in this one movie anyway, unsure about the book), but there are many similar elements involving magic, sorcery, shapeshifting, monsters etc…
Clearly Burton revels in the kids with quirky paranormal powers and of course the visuals. As you would expect the whole movie has that dark twisted fairytale vibe about it, helped by the WWII setting of course. Some of the kids are gaunt looking, slender, dare I say a bit goth with period attire in typical Burton colours. Its not blatant Burton but you can still detect it. The baddies look more Burton-esque as they are generally dressed in black and look more like vampires. Overall not a lot actually happens in the movie action wise, there are obviously some action sequences but nothing much of note. Obligatory sequences where the Hollowgasts attack the kids whilst they try to escape, the predictable showdown at the finale where Barron and co are defeated.
The whole sequence where they discover a huge sunken ship (ocean liner) and then proceed to raise it seemed a bit ludicrous even for this universe. Sure these kids have weird powers and I mock by mentioning the X-Men but at this point the movie does actually go full X-Men. Then in the finale there is a long battle against some animated skeletons which all seem rather stupid really. How strong were these skeletons geez! There is of course lots of time jumping between 1943 and the present, the setting being the UK does actually give the whole movie a cheaper look which I’m sure wasn’t the idea. Indeed the whole idea that these kids and Miss Peregrine have to live in an infinite time loop just to avoid the general public’s negative opinion of them seemed a bit daft to me. I mean surely you could just live somewhere secluded? Also this specific point in time is just before the school gets destroyed by German planes (WWII remember), so everyday they have to prevent this by winding back time. I mean, couldn’t you just chooses a earlier point in time?
The problem here is I haven’t read the book and like many of these fantasy books there is probably a lot more to it, more books and things that have been cut out. These types of movies always seem to raise so many questions also, questions and confusion. Like, when the Wights have successfully killed all the peculiars and run out of eyes, then what? I mean…I dunno, its not a bad movie, its perfectly entertaining to a degree, but everything is so by the numbers, so mediocre. The visuals are nice but predictable, the acting is fine, the effects are pretty bog standard CGI stuff apart from a nice small sequence of stop motion. The bad guys are spooky looking and generically bad, the Hollowgast monsters are unoriginal looking, a mix of Jack Skellington and [i]Resident Evil[/i] creatures, oh and Tim Burton makes a cameo.
There was a time when a Tim Burton movie meant something, it was almost like an event. Nowadays its more like yet another corny gothic escapade drenched in gaudy CGI. Admittedly this movie isn’t quite as bad as that, its definitely more grounded looking. But with a plot that becomes more convoluted as it goes (all these stupid names), weak humour and very generic villains, its just not really good enough to stand out within a packed genre. Its also clearly unsure in which direction it wants to go, dark fantasy or light-hearted fantasy. I dunno, I still can’t escape my feeling that Burton only made this movie because he liked just one aspect of it, the kids with peculiar powers. That aspect comes across nicely here, I wanted more of that, the rest of it not so much.