Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: September 30, 2016 Released by: Twentieth Century Fox
A busy Tim Burton (Big Eyes) is back to tackle Ransom Riggs's YA 2011 novel with his imaginative, idiosyncratic, and macabre fashioning that isn't particularly deft in the 3D format although the shoot in Belgium, the UK and Florida employs proficient production designing.
His Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children is closer in entertainment value to Dark Shadows (based on a TV series) than other of his 'darker' fantasies like Beetlejuice or even Big Fish. There's no Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter in sight, but Eva Green (300: Rise of an Empire, Showtime's Penny Dreadful) is on board as the eponymously smug caretaker of a place in a 1943 time-loop. The very capable cast includes Judi Dench, Rupert Everett (as a ornithologist) and Allison Janney.
A wavering yarn adapted by Jane Goldman (a frequent Matthew Vaughn collaborator) has some pungency which Burton doesn't really capitalize on (especially in terms of some of the line readings). Maybe with his devotion to the more magical aspects which the visual effects artists excel at for the 'Peculiars' and their freakishly absurd antagonists, Hollowgasts.
Asa Butterfield isn't that the central figure as Jake Portman, a gangly Florida teen, interested in the stories of Grandpa Abe (Terrence Stamp) who left the loop to fight in World War II. Not interested in his indolent pop (Chris O'Dowd), he sates his curiosity in Abe's tales by heading off to Wales and connecting with Miss Alma Lefay Peregrine (Green, acerbically chewing the scenery). What he discovers are mostly children with extraordinary abilities and his own particular way to notice the minions of an evil scientist named Barron (Samuel L. Jackson, gleefully emoting with fright wig and ivory eyes).
At times Miss Peregrine can be a delight with some ornate set-pieces, sights (as with a character with an oral inversion), and edgy when it comes to the likes of Barron enjoying from a bowl. Yet, the scenes segue in a peculiar way that traverses from lively to banal from what appears to be an influence of opuses like a streamlined Harry Potter or even The Golden Compass. Jake gets a romantic interest in the form of Emma Bloom (Ella Pernell), an older peculiar (they can bend time and become avian) who is so light she needs lead footwear to keep from floating away.
Not having Danny Elfman for the score isn't that good, especially in an action-filled moment where synthesized sounds seem too jarring, as Burton's creative flourishes appear too transient as a result of not really being in sync with narrative strands (more fully realized in his aforementioned 'passion project' with well-cast, talented thespians like Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz). But, you can do worse than what is inconsistent, though well-mounted with the assailed, precious children, not to mention the fascinating machinations of Green and Jackson (more so than a blander Butterfield), to keep it less than being passably, peculiar, if watchable escapism.
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