There are meta-humans (The Flash), in-humans (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and mutants (X-Men). Now get ready for peculiars! Filmmaker Tim Burton (who himself is peculiar, to say the least) has whipped up a mixed blend of Harry Potter, X-Men, and Jumper with some Groundhog Day-ish time-loops and children in mortal peril thrown in for good measure.
The problem with a book-to-screen translation is that many times there is SO much lost. Anyone who read the Harry Potter book series (like me) and then saw the movies knows exactly what I’m talking about. Many crucial details, plot devises, back-stories, and even whole characters are often jettisoned in the result. So, when watching this adaptation of Ransom Riggs novel, you might get the feeling you’re missing some story elements. Don’t feel bad, you’re not alone. After a slow first act exposition of teenager Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield), we learn that he’s had a troubled life. His grandfather, Abe (Terence Stamp), has always filled his head with strange and eerie tales of growing up in a home filled with ‘peculiar’ children.
But after Abe dies under mysterious circumstances, Jake is catapulted into a world he clearly isn’t ready for. Feeling troubled, Jake’s psychiatrist (Allison Janney) suggests that he and his dad (Chris O’Dowd) visit Wales, the last place Abe mentioned in an equally mysterious postcard. While there Jake, with the help of teen Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell), is shown a secret passage that teleports him from 2016 to 1943 and to a beautiful children’s home run by strict, but loving Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). This hidden fortress of solitude is part of many throughout the world that hide ‘peculiars’; kids with extra special abilities.
Among the kids are: Emma, who can float and manipulate air, Olive (Lauren McCrostie) who is a firestarter, super-strong little Bronwyn (Pixie Davies), Hugh (Milo Parker) who has bees in his stomach, there are creepy masked twin boys (Joseph and Thomas Odwell), Fiona (Georgia Pemberton) who can instantly grow any plant, and brooding Enoch (Finlay MacMillan) who can resurrect any inanimate object. To maintain their secret hideout, they live in a time loop that’s reset every night so they can live the same 24hrs in peace and harmony over and over again. Sounds nice, huh?
However, trouble looms because of a batch of bad peculiars kidnapped all the Ymbrynes (peculiars that can turn into birds, like Miss Peregrine) to become immortal. But their experiment failed miserably and they became these horrible creatures called Hollows. Now they feast on other peculiars to live and be human again. Ickkk! What Jake doesn’t know is that he’s there to help out and save the day, even though his clueless father thinks he’s mentally unbalanced. Jake eventually abandons dear ol’ dad in 2016, returns to 1943, and wants to help these odd kids… not to mention he’s got the hots for Emma, which irks Enoch to no end.
But, wouldn’tcha know it? The chief Hollow, evil Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson with white eyes and a fright wig), enters the picture and steals Miss Peregrine, causing the kids to fend for themselves and Jake to take up his mantle of hero. There’s time-traveling, resurrecting of ships and skeletons (with a cool nod to Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts skeleton fight scene), and a rather confusing conclusion that makes you just scratch your head and say, “Wait… what?”
Jane Goldman adapted the screenplay and is no stranger to peculiar scripts. She co-wrote X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass 2, but in adapting this known novel, she left out a whole lotta plot details and other facets that were crucial. The story jumps all over the place as Goldman tries to pick the best plot-points to make the story coherent enough to follow, but in the end, you’re left with more questions than answers. Thankfully, you have director Tim Burton to wade through the mess and pull out what he can and deliver a half-way decent film, unlike his Dark Shadows nightmare in 2012. Surprisingly, this film does NOT have Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter in it; his usual stock company of actors.
The SPFX are just amazing and the kids in it are likable, and you really have to hand it to Butterfield. With his expressive eyes and acting talent, this teen also has other movies coming out this year as well. Green is the perfect headmistress; sorta like a cross between a Professor McGonagall and Mary Poppins. Jackson, almost doing a reprise of his evil Roland Cox character from Jumper, is his ol’ lovable sarcastic self. Be aware that, even though it may LOOK like a kids movie, it’s rated PG-13 for really disturbing images and scenes that may frighten your child. There’s stuff involving eyeballs that’s truly gross! Just thought I’d warn you.
The People (1972)
What’s a schoolteacher to do when she finds out that the kids she’s been assigned to teach are really strange… even peculiar? The late author Zenna Henderson, one of my favorite sci-fi novelists growing up, wrote a straight forward simple little tale involving a teacher, a bunch of weird kids, and the community they live in. Kim Darby and William Shatner, who both starred together in a Star Trek episode once, meet up again in this remedial made-for-TV-movie.
Darby plays Melodye Amerson, the new elementary schoolteacher in one of those one-room schoolroom’s (straight out of Little House on the Prairie) in the secluded, hidden mountain town of Beddo. The people there are… well… peculiar. They’re sullen, soft-spoken, never-smile, and shuffle their feet when they walk. Even the kids are repressed, refusing to engage in such simple school activities like drawing, singing, and playing outdoors.
Visiting Dr. Curtis (Shatner) is also confused about these folks as they never, ever, get sick and thinks it must have something to do with their well water. But he and Melodye soon learn that if one gets hurts, another feels the pain and can’t be “sorted” from the pain without permission from the eldest in their group. Okay, that’s odd. Finally, Melodye gets the oldest kid named Francher (Chris Valentine) to reveal that, not only can he read minds, but also levitate and perform telekinesis! What the… ?
Taking a huge chance, she coerces her class to remember and draw their “home” and gets more than she bargained for, when they all draw their home planet where they came from! Yup! They’re alien escapees from a dying planet just trying to fit in on good ol’ planet Earth. After that reveal, Melodye is pretty much cool with the idea (as is Doc Curtis), and then there’s a dumb third act plot complication that is tacked-on for no reason that solves itself quite conveniently.
Based on Henderson’s novel, the screen adaptation was tackled by James M. Miller, who wrote a slew of TV shows like Kojak and Knight Rider, but it just felt lazy and boring. And that brings us to director John Korty, who literally destroyed this movie with some of the worst amateurish camerawork ever! The photography alone was bad enough, but jeepers! I’ve seen high-schoolers construct better videos on YouTube, for cryin’ out loud! Henderson’s writings are damn good and to see her work butchered like this is just heart-breaking.