Whenever I passed by Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in the bookstore, I’d always become intrigued by its cover of a little girl floating above the ground. However, it wasn’t until the news of the book’s intended film adaptation by none other than Tim Burton that I finally decided to purchase the paperback and add it to my bookshelf. Oh, and I must add the fact my beloved Eva Green playing the titular character of Miss Peregrine only sweetened the deal.
It took me all of one week (or less) to consume the 382 pages (which included an interview with author Ransom Riggs and an excerpt of its sequel). I found myself enjoying it immensely and even told my sister to take a read (which she would do via audiobook). After realizing how great the book was, I was all the more excited to see it brought to life. And if anyone could bring a book about weird kids to the big screen in a fun, imaginative way, it would be Tim, right? Well, I was wrong.
After finishing the book, I started paying closer attention to the previews and trailers for the film and noticed one major difference: They switched around the peculiarity of the main female lead with that of a background character for the sake of entertainment. And it was a creative liberty I wasn’t a fan of at all.
For those unfamiliar with the novel, it follows teen Jacob Portman as he delves into his deceased grandfather’s past and travels to Cairnholm, Wales, to investigate the orphanage his grandpa lived in with children with extraordinary abilities. After a series of events, Jacob learns the peculiar kids are not only real but still living — and hiding from monsters hunting them.
One of the main peculiars is Emma Bloom. She’s a feisty “spark” with the ability to create fire in the palm of her hand. She was also Jacob’s grandfather’s “sweetheart.” In the film, however, they not only changed Emma’s appearance but switched her peculiarity with that of young orphan Olive Elephanta, whose peculiarity is being lighter than air. Olive, in turn, became a red-haired teenager whose only role was to set the occasional fire and serve as another peculiar’s seemingly unrequited love interest.
Though annoyed, I understood why they chose to go this route. A character being able to control air can lend itself to nice fantastical and CGI-laden moments. However, the change was pretty jarring to me, as I had come to know Emma as she was in the book and liked her for it. Her fire power wasn’t useless at all, but I tried to look past it in hopes the rest of the film would be enjoyable so long as it stayed mostly true to the book. Boy, was I wrong.
After hearing the lackluster reviews of the film (as well as the controversy regarding Tim Burton’s lack of diversity with the cast), I opted out of heading to the theaters and waited for the flick to be available on DVD.
Off the bat, the movie seemed flat and boring despite the book being a bit of a page-turner. While the book starts off with Jacob’s seemingly boring life, the brutal, mysterious death of his grandfather and subsequent revelations of family secrets kicks everything into motion. Unfortunately, this was all truncated into scenes lasting the blink of an eye or condensed to one line of dialogue.
Making things a little more uneasy was the weird and choppy pacing. Jacob’s therapy sessions following his grandfather’s death are glossed over in order to start his adventure in Cairnholm, and all the investigative work Jacob did to find the orphanage was tossed out. I tried to accept it as a decision made to keep the film on track for time, but what it really did was make time for what became a bit of lackluster fodder and somewhat pretty visuals.
When we’re introduced to Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), she’s chipper and ridiculously obsessed with time. In fact, she’s more focused on time than she is being a protector of her charges, as she is in the book. That rubbed me the wrong way, but I live for Eva, so I forgave her.
But the rest of the movie became a little too unforgivable.
The budding romance between Jacob and Emma was barely there. Same with Emma’s torture over falling for the grandson of her former boyfriend. The movie awkwardly jumped back and forth between the 1940s loop and the present day with little to no time to explain the strange occurrences that build the movie’s (and book’s) climax. Instead, it focused on exaggerating the powers of the children, most of which came in handy in scenes that never happened, like the restoration of an old battleship and action/fight scenes in present-day 2016, which — quite honestly — made no damn sense.
Like seriously, how was Enoch (the kid with the power of temporary resurrection) able to walk around with dozens upon dozens of jarred hearts to resurrect skeletons or animate a giant metal elephant?! Let’s be serious.
Sam Jackson’s role as The Barron was OK at best, but when you factor in that Tim altered the original antagonist — Dr. Golan/Mr. Barron — in order to cast Sam, yet found it unnecessary to do so with other members of the ensemble cast, I was left wondering why he felt it OK to cast a person of color as the villain, but not one of the young heroes.
The endearing ending of the book was replaced by a rushed happy ending that (again) was nonsensical and left me with more questions on how the screenwriters could have possibly thought what they wrote was better than the source material. I also wondered if they ended the movie as they did in the event the chance of sequels (as the book is part of a trilogy) were slim to none … which (after seeing this) seems to be the case.
Listen, I totally get the need for creative license with book-to-live-action adaptations, but I think these studios tend to forget that it was the original content that made them want to make a movie of it … so maybe it’s best to keep some things as they are.