Welcome, welcome, you fellow film fanatics. Nikkie and Super Hubs here to break in yet another new segment (category): Words Gone Silver. In all posts that bear this moniker, one or both of us will discuss the film adaptation of a novel—basically, how it holds up compared to its source material as well as its general quality as a movie. This will contain a bit of a book review component as well if we haven’t talked about the book yet, as is the case with this inaugural post and its focus: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, written by Ransom Riggs and adapted by Tim Burton.
This will be a very interesting post because, in a rare occasion (at least for Nikkie), neither of us liked the book much! We’ll be going into detail about our grievances with the book and the movie (which suffers from its source’s weaknesses), as well as getting into some spoiler talk, so if you LOOOOOOVE this book and/or don’t want to get spoiled, don’t read any further! If you’re curious or have no strong feeling toward spoilers, read on as Nikkie kicks things off.
Let me start this off by saying that this is what I get when my main motivation for buying a book is because it’s super popular.
While I do read things that are super popular (ANYTHING by Rainbow Rowell; Harry Potter, obviously; most things), I typically only pick them up if they actually seem like something I want to read. In fact, I often just stumbled onto popular reads because, up until I discovered Book Riot a few years ago, I never paid attention to bookish news beyond tracking authors I already liked (and barely even doing that). So being privy to the latest hot reads is a new development in my life, but it has done very little to actually change my reading habits.
In fact, only two other times in the past year have I let rave reviews push me when I was on the fence about a book. The first time was with Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, my hesitance being that I was kinda tired of female savior stories; I had mixed feelings until I read the sequel and really enjoyed it, so that ended up being a success. The second time was with Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen, and I was definitely led astray there—didn’t even bother reading the sequels.
Picking up Miss Peregrine’s also came from my wanting to share my love for YA with Super Hubs. With the kinda spooky pictures in the book, I figured it would combine that love with his love for spooky things. We bought it about a year or two ago, and it had been sitting around, collecting dust, until I saw a trailer for the Tim Burton adaptation a few months ago and realized we could do a comparison. So I suppose I’m to blame for doing this to us.
Since the movie carries a lot of the same issues as the book (with a few extra thrown in), I’m going to talk about some of my issues with the story as a whole first. What bothered me the most about this tale of peculiar children isn’t even the fault of author Ransom Riggs; not directly. You see, I cursed myself by having expectations.
I can’t even really articulate what my expectations had been other than “Not this.” I guess I thought I was going to get a story about a boarding school for kids with unexplained abilities, wherein the main character discovers that there might be something sinister about the school itself (along with its peculiar occupants). Instead, I got a time-travel story . . . But not just any time-travel—one that travels to World War II for absolutely no reason.
Here’s the context: Main character Jacob has this grandfather, Abe, who told him all these lofty stories of Miss Peregrine and her home for “peculiar” children. Said grandfather was sent there because there were monsters chasing him and the children, monsters that he would grow up to hunt down. After a while, Jacob’s parents believe he is too old to “go along” with these stories, so they tell him that the “monsters” were actually Nazis and that the pictures of the children (which Abe used to punctuate/validate his stories) were faked. So Jacob begins to believe, along with everyone else, that his grandfather is one pancake short of a full stack.
Of course, this isn’t the case because Jacob eventually finds Miss Peregrine and the peculiar children when, on a trip to Wales, he stumbles into a “magic loop” that infinitely repeats the day of Sept. 3, 1943. There, he learns that the children and the monsters are in fact real and that he shares a unique peculiarity with this grandfather: the ability to see the monsters, which are invisible to everyone else. That’s all well and good, but . . .
Why do we need to go to 1943 to learn about all this? What do we gain by having the story take place during World War II? Beyond the implication of Jacob’s grandfather being Jewish (though is it ever outright said?) and the fact that the magic loop is created on that specific day because a German bomb is dropped on the house, there is literally no point to this taking place during WWII. There’s not even a comparable prejudice metaphor when it comes to the monsters that hunt peculiars; that’s about trying to become immortal by using the time-wielding powers of peculiars like Miss Peregrine. So what greater narrative purpose is being served by this time period?
Suffice it to say, I couldn’t get over the surprising time-travel element, so my reading experience was soured. Then, as if taking us into the 1940s wasn’t enough, I also had to deal with ultimately upsetting time-loop logistics. Because time never really progresses within the loop, the bodies (and arguably the minds) of everyone inside do not age. At the time Jacob arrives on the scene, the “children” have been in that loop for decades. Had the loop not been created, they would’ve all be upwards of 80 years old, just like Abe. (In fact, I’m pretty sure one “kid” said that he was over 100.) But by being in the loop, their development was halted. Early into Jacob’s interactions with them, some of the “children” acknowledge the disparity between their appearance and what their biological age should be, while others continue to act the way their appearance suggests. However, it became increasingly clear to me that absolutely everyone is in the latter group. The best example of this is how one peculiar, Emma, falls for Jacob.
This is also the creepiest example because Emma and Abe were an item before he left to join the war effort . . . So what we have here is an 80-something-year-old woman in the body of a teenager falling for the teenaged grandson of her old boyfriend. WHY?! Why does that happen? It makes no sense! It’s like an even squeemier version of Captain America: Civil War, when Cap makes out with that former SHIELD agent who ends up being related to his former squeeze, Peggy. Except at least Steve had already liked that girl (whatever her name is lol) before he found out their creepy connect. Not so with Emma and Jacob! And at no point did I think that their love interest arc evolved beyond “She’s just interested in him because Abe left her and Jacob kinda looks like him.” It offers nothing to the story other than some motivational sexual tension on the off chance that being the ONLY PERSON ON-SITE WITH THE LIFE-SAVING ABILITY TO SEE KILLER MONSTERS wasn’t a good-enough reason for Jacob to want to stick around. Come on.
As those are my main complaints about the book—the remaining being ones that more stick in SH’s craw than mine—I am moving on to movie-specific issues.
What I dislike the most about the movie is a huge (and hugely frivolous) change that involves three peculiar characters: Emma, Bronwyn, and Olive. In the book, Emma has the ability to create fire balls, Bronwyn is an unnaturally strong teenage girl, and Olive is a little girl who can float. In the movie, Emma is given the floating ability (though it is characterized as having an “air” peculiarity because she can also control air . . . ????); Bronwyn, while still strong, is now a child; and Olive is a long-armed teenager who sets fire to anything her hands touch (thus she has to wear special rubber gloves at all times). These changes only become relevant to the story in scenes that NEVER HAPPEN IN THE BOOK.
While I don’t believe that film adaptations have to 100 percent stick to the source material, and while I actually think this is a solid adaptation, I can’t support changes like this. It’s not like any of the girls’ powers were too difficult to manifest via special effects, thus warranting a change that would’ve been easier to create/fake for the movie. It’s not like the new scenes were less complicated than any book scene that was replaced/removed—in fact, in almost all instances of major scene changes, the film scene was WAY more involved than the book. So why do it?! In no way did they really help or improve the story, so what was the point?
Speaking of changes that don’t improve the story, the time-travel aspect gets weirder because the defeat of the main villain somehow means that Jacob’s grandfather, whose death is the catalyst for Jacob searching for the children, is no longer dead. What?! Why?! Not only is this strange, it’s explained by some throwaway line that doesn’t actually explain anything. Given the amount of children we saw in the theater who were clearly nowhere near hitting puberty, I have to assume that this oversight was the movie people thinking kids will just take things at face value and not ask any questions. But this is not a children’s book; it is shelved with YA, so a significant portion of movie goers would be the adults who brought those pre-pubescent kids and teens/adults who read the books and wanted to see the adaptation. So a little sophistication would’ve been expected.
Additionally, this time-travel usage raises a question that the book does not: is there now a SECOND Jacob, one who never finds out that the children and Miss Peregrine and all those stories are real? Ugh.
Another change that rubbed me the wrong way involved Enoch, a peculiar child who is just creepy in both iterations of the story, and Victor, the deceased brother of Bronwyn who shared her peculiarity and whose corpse is kept in a locked room in the house. Enoch, you see, has the ability to animate things. He builds little men out of clay, puts the hearts of small animals into them, and brings them to life. He can also use bigger hearts to animate larger, deader things. I’m sure you can see where this is going: this kid’s gonna mess around with Victor. In the book, however, he merely threatens to do this because he’s trying to scare Jacob into leaving as part of a whole jealousy, imaginary-love-triangle thing. He thanksfully doesn’t follow through because one of the other children reminds him how neither Bronwyn nor Victor really appreciates when he does this.
In the movie, however, he does it, and it’s horrifying. Victor is “brought back” in the sense that he is an empty shell. His body pops up, and Enoch is able to manipulate Victor’s mouth into moving while doing the actual speaking himself. It’s very creepy. But what makes it horrifying is what happens in a later scene when we see Miss Peregrine go into Victor’s room (I don’t even remember why). She sees that his sheets have been disturbed, and when she goes to tuck him back in, there is a trail of tears trickling from his eye sockets. This is a clear indication that he didn’t appreciate being brought back, and it ripped my fucking heart out. YET ENOCH DOESN’T GET PUNISHED FOR IT. What the actual fuck? (Can you tell how unhappy I am with this book and movie?) For something that people clearly thought was a movie for kids, I thought that was several steps over the line in tonality.
In fact, the tone of the movie was very unbalanced. It was hard to tell which audience the movie wanted more: kids or teenagers. On the one hand, you’ve got that super upsetting scene described above, as well as a scene of the bad guys feasting on a huge pile of eyeballs and a scene at the end where the main villain gets his eyeballs plucked out. On the other hand, there was a very predictable bad breath/”You need a mint” joke at a moment that should’ve been very tense (and probably other moments that are being overshadowed by my rage over all the other things wrong with this movie). It’s clear who those moments are targeting.
Add to that the love triangle elements, the Tim Burton technicolor scheme (which was the best part of the movie; don’t get me wrong), all the death either implied or shown, and I’m sure you can see how hard it is to really figure out who Burton was hoping this movie with resonate with.
Now. With all that said, you must be wondering why I said this movie was a solid adaptation. “Clearly you didn’t like the movie, Nikkie, so how can you say it was good?” Easy, dear reader—I never said it was a good movie. I said it was a solid adaptation, which is a different thing entirely. This movie, even with its changes, does a pretty decent job of adhering to the plot and development of the source material. While I didn’t care for the changes, they ultimately didn’t really affect the story’s spirit (beyond that madness with Enoch). It’s still a story about a boy who discovers something magical and finally finds his purpose in life. It’s still a story where that boy macks on his grandpa’s sloppy seconds. It’s still a story with major sequel bait at the end. All of that is untouched, thus making it a good adaptation in my book. A good adaptation, though, does not a good movie make. BECAUSE the movie adhered to so much of the book, its storytelling quality was equally low. Things never got more interesting to me, even with the changes, and it never took any risks that paid off. Adapting a poorly formatted/poorly written story to film doesn’t automatically fix it, and that is doubly true for a movie that tries very hard to stick to said story.
As such, I just can’t say that the book or the movie is something I could comfortably recommend to anyone.
But don’t just take my word for it; read on as SH details his own disappointments. Take it away, baybuh.
So you know what kind of stories I hate? The stories where the main character spends a huge chunk of time whining about not being special, and then it turns out they’re the most special and everything is fixed. I don’t agree with stories that promote a worldview where being ordinary is the worst possible thing. It can be done well. It was not done well in Miss Peregrine’s. Here’s a breakdown of the book:
Pages 1–100: Jacob meanders around and whines about not being special and his parents think he’s crazy cus he has an imagination.
Pages 101-150: Jacob and his dad go to Wales cus his mom’s a piece of shit. Jacob doesn’t like Wales and whines about not getting along with the kids he meets.
Pages 151-200: Jacob finds the school and meets a bunch of kids, most of which make no impression, and he falls for a nearly 100-year-old girl who used to love his grandpa. Jacob continues to whine about not being special.
Pages 201-300: Jacob continues to whine until right around page 300 when Jacob finds out he has the super special power that no one else has except his grandpa, who was awesome.
Pages 301 – End: Suddenly action. Jacob finally stops whining and decides to abandon his (admittedly shitty) family.
This book is a discount X-Men of the worst kind. The powers everyone has are super lame except for Bronwyn and Millard. And I guess Emma. Emma has fire powers, but all she ever does is make balls in her hands to light dark places. Enoch can bring things to life by using organs. Where is he getting those organs!? And everyone else didn’t leave an impression, so I don’t really remember them.
And the time travel. I don’t like the time travel at all. It doesn’t make any sense. Jacob goes into the time loop in the present at, say noon, then he comes out several hours later. But why? Why does time in the present move forward while he’s in the past? How much does it move? There is no explanation! It’s basically arbitrarily decided so that he arrives in the present whenever it’ll make for the most drama. The first rule of time travel fiction is to establish consistent rules for the time travel! Unlike Nikkie, I sometimes like time travel stories—Back to the Future, for instance—but they have to be well-plotted. This book just kinda shoved it in there for no real reason. It didn’t even really have much bearing on the plot other than making the children quirky and old-fashioned. If the only way you can make your characters interesting is by putting them in a weird setting, then you need to write better characters.
Speaking of time travel: I do not trust Miss Peregrine. I know this wasn’t the intention of the story, but Miss Peregrine and all of her time-controlly ilk seem super super shady. They essentially tell all the other peculiars that they have to live within their loops for their safety, and then they keep them there so long that, if they leave, they’ll die. Yeah, there are monsters that are hunting them, but it seems like the loops were a thing before the monsters existed. And the time loops don’t even prevent the monsters from finding them; it just makes it harder. It seems like a clear case of a higher class trapping their subjects in an endless cycle of need. They created the need, and they feed it with propaganda and fear-mongering. I don’t trust it.
So yeah. I didn’t like the book. Nor did I like the movie.
Like Nikkie said, the movie had most of the same problems as the book but, weirdly, I feel like the movie was somehow better than the book. But still not good. Like Nikkie said, everyone was arbitrarily aged up or down, and powers were switched for seemingly no reason. It spends its first half implying that there was a romance between Abe and Miss Peregrine before switching back to the creepy dynamic from the book.
Mostly, though, the movie was just boring. Really really boring. Then suddenly full of action! But still boring. The action wasn’t particularly fun to watch, and it was very contrived in how it was laid out. The hollowgasts—the monsters, which are basically just Slender Man—are super easy to kill, but the children horribly fail at killing one just so it can lead to a long chase sequence. The only part of the movie that I really liked was a sequence where Enoch brought a bunch of skeletons to life. And I only liked it because there are few things I like more than living skeletons!
And seriously, the time travel was somehow more messed up. It makes more sense in that killing Sam Jackson (the villain) in the past keeps him from killing Abe in the present, but doing that opens up so many more plot holes. Also, when Jacob is done saving the peculiars, we never see him interact with his dad again. As far as I can tell, he kind of just left him in Wales and didn’t let him know he was still alive. Unless of course his dad isn’t even in Wales anymore because Abe isn’t dead, thus never giving Jacob and his dad a reason to go to Wales… The movie isn’t clear about that.
So yeah, I definitely can’t recommend this book or movie to anyone. I don’t understand why it’s so popular, and I never will. If you like it, good on ya, and but I’m afraid that I just don’t.
Nikkie here for the closing statement.
Rough stuff, am I right? Or as someone from one of my favorite shows might say, “Harsh barley.” But the harshness of this barley was absolutely necessary. Everything about this book was subpar. Almost everything about its adaptation was subpar as a result. The coolest scene in the movie to me (Emma using her air powers to push all the water out of a room in a sunken ship) was tarred by the fact that it shouldn’t have happened—plus how exactly do her powers work anyway?
This was a very strange experience, being so unenthusiastic about a book. Walking into the theater, I think we were feeling Batman v Superman levels of disinterest: we had next to no expectations but were obligated to see this through. It was . . . not a happy time. We’re going to need to cleanse our movie-watching souls with something better.
Maybe we should just watch X-Men . . .
May your DVDs remain unscratched,
Nikkie and Super Hubs