MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN
Direction: Tim Burton
Actors: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green
At a time when most computer-generated blockbusters are aimed at audiences with attention-span deficiencies, it’s heartening to come across the work of an auteur like Tim Burton who continues to give free rein to his imagination, to bring the 2011 young adult bestseller of the same name to the big screen.
Collaborating with cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, production designer Gavin Bocquet and his longtime costume designer Colleen Atwood, Burton stamps his signature surrealistic sensibility upon the gleefully twisted tale of a Florida teenager (Butterfield) blessed with uniquely gifted powers.
A prelude introduces us to the youngster’s grandfather (veteran Terence Stamp, wasted in a thankless role). The old man is given to telling fanciful tales when reminiscing about his youth on an island in Wales during the Second World War.
Shortly after his grandfather’s mysterious death – he appears to have been murdered by some otherworldly creature – the lad sets forth to find out whether the strange stories he was told as a child were true or just a figment of his granddad’s imagination.
Arriving at the titular mansion, the boy forges a symbiotic bond with its forever young inhabitants. Thanks to the superhuman abilities of the home’s pipe-smoking headmistress (Green, camping it up), she and her wards can relive the same fateful day – September 3, 1943 – over and over and over. (Shades of the Bill Murray in Groundhog Day ).
The misfit children aptly referred to as ‘peculiars’, have special powers. One is invisible and another has razor-sharp teeth on the back of her head. A weightless girl (Ella Purnell) who wears lead shoes to prevent her from floating into the air also serves as the love interest. Scarier still is the presence of a small boy with a belly full of bees.
Perceived as a threat because of their ‘otherness’, they are persecuted by a white-haired villain (Samuel L. Jackson, uncharacteristically cartoonish) and his obsequious cohorts. Judi Dench, Rupert Everett and Allison Janney make undistinguished cameos as a fellow peregrine, psychiatrist and rival ornithologist, respectively. Throughout, the visuals are a feast for the eyes.
There are a couple of breathtaking underwater sequences involving a long-sunken ship and its skeletal passengers who come in handy during the outlandish climax. The feel-good coda, however, is a cop out.
Never mind. Viewers in tune with the director’s distinctive style will be delighted to discover that Tim Burton’s Peregrine… soars, and how.