A few months before Tim Burton’s film was released, I read the three books in Ransom Riggs’ trilogy about Miss Peregrine’s home for peculiar children. I found the books extremely fascinating as they were based on real photos that Riggs and other photo collectors had found over the years: strange, old photos of little girls levitating, dogs smoking pipes and boys with wings. From these photos Riggs has made an exciting epic tale with imaginative contents enough for three films. When I went to the cinema, I therefore expected to watch the first of three film about the peculiar children.
During first half of the 127 minutes long film, I was well entertained. The film follows the book more or less, Asa Butterfield is believable as the American teenager Jake (Jacob) Portman, Chris O’Dowd is spot-on as his dad Franklin and it is a stroke of genius to turn Dr. Golan into a woman portrayed by Allison Janney. I only had one big objection and that was to what Tim Burton has done to the peculiar children.
SPOILER ALLERT! I think several of the young actors are great as the peculiar children, especially Hayden Keeler-Stone as Horace, but there are also children, who don’t appear in the books, namely the twins. There are photos of the twins in the books, but they don’t live in Miss Peregrine’s home, so they are no part of the action. I do understand why Tim Burton wanted them in the film, though, as their photos are the most intriguing in the entire trilogy and it is an odd thing that Riggs didn’t use them for anything at all.
In the books most of the children are much older than in the film. In fact, they all appear to be teenagers around Jacob’s age, apart from Enoch, Olive and Claire who are younger children, whereas in the film only Enoch (Finlay MacMillan), Olive (Lauren McCrostie) and Emma (Ella Purnell) are Jake’s age and the rest are little kids. Of course this changes the story quite a lot.
The worst thing is though, what Tim Burton and/or the screen writer Jane Goldman have done to Jacob’s love-interest Emma Bloom. In the books, Emma appears as a tough, dramatic teenage girl who has control over fire, which she can manipulate in her hands, shape and throw. In the film she is a blonde bombshell who has control over air and therefore is able to levitate. Wait a minute, the bookwork will say. Isn’t that Olive’s peculiarity? Little eight-year old Olive? Yes, but apparently Burton found it more gratifying visually to have a heroine whom the hero is able to have on a leash than one who is able to fend for herself with fire. In the film, the fire peculiarity has been bestowed on Olive, who is no longer a little girl, but a morbid teenager in love with the other morbid teenager Enoch.
I must admit that I hated this switch as it turned a fierce heroine into just another pretty blonde, telling girls that you have to be pretty and sweet to be the heroine, not weird and on fire. It is appalling and shoots down everything that especially Katniss Everdeen from “Hunger Games” stands for, but also other intelligent, strong teenage heroines like Hermione Granger from “Harry Potter”.
Let’s dwell on Harry Potter for a moment, shall we? In the Harry Potter books Hermione is an average looking know-it-all with bushy hair and large front teeth. The film makers got around her average looks by casting one of the prettiest little girls (Emma Watson) as Hermione, but if they had done it the Tim Burton way, they would just have replaced Hermione’s character with say Angelina Johnson. Angelina Johnson is popular and a good Quidditch player, right? Then it would have been Harry, Ron and Angelina who made up The Golden Trio, except the powers that be would have fiddled with Angelina’s age for her to become younger and they would have given her Hermione’s name as well, whereas Hermione under the name Angelina would have ended up as an average looking, know-it-all minor character who went to the Yule Ball with Fred Weasley and eventually married his grieving twin brother George after Fred’s death. That would never have worked, you say? But that is exactly what has been done to Emma in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”!
Well, rant over. Sort of. Half way through the film a Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) turns up. He is a wight or rather a hollowgast as the film doesn’t differentiate between the monsters = the hollowgasts, and what they are able to become= the wights. The problem is that there is no Mr. Barron in the books and no wights who eat the eyes of the peculiars as it is their souls they are after.
Because the villain is now different from the books, the plot has to be different too and in fact, the second half of the film is a quick, harmless ending to the entire story. How Ransom Riggs would allow his two novels “Hollow City” and “Library of Souls” in his epic Miss Peregrine-trilogy to be replaced by this superficial, somewhat comical ending on Blackpool’s North Pier is a mystery to me, but I was sorely disappointed.
Tim Burton chose the easy way out instead of filming the actual story, and I just can’t believe that I am never going to see an Emu-Raffe, the scary library of souls or Bentham’s central point for loops. I sure hope that over time, someone braver is going to do a remake and film all three of the books in a trilogy, as they fully deserve it.
SPOILER ALERT OVER! The film as such is funny at times, but as soon as Burton leaves Riggs’ story, it starts going downhill. There are good performances from several of the cast, including Eva Green as Miss Peregrine, Judi Dench as Miss Avocet and Terence Stamp as Abraham Portman, but that is just not enough to satisfy this disappointed reviewer. Ransom Riggs’ trilogy I’d give five out of five stars, but Tim Burton’s film I can only give three out of five: ***