A teenager finds himself transported to an island where he must help protect a group of orphans with special powers from creatures out to destroy them.
'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children' is a strange and curiously exceptional film indeed. And not necessarily in a way that makes for wholly enjoyable entertainment. Granted, the children alluded to in the title are adorably odd, offbeat little nippers, which makes for the occasional amusement and delightfully whimsical visuals. However, they are not particularly interesting enough to sustain a two hour movie featuring an orphanage for kids with uniquely freakish abnormalities. Perhaps missing from this special school of gifted children is a kindly bald professor on a wheelchair teaching them how to use their talents wisely. Instead, it's run by a stringent headmistress who can transform into a peregrine falcon — hence, her name — and disguised as the exceptionally beautiful Eva Green. But that devilishly sexy smile beneath the puff of smoke from a pipe announces she's not as strict and severe as we're led to believe. Rather, she is the deeply caring motherly type protecting the children from harm.
Naturally, we have to wonder why these kids need protection, given they supposedly possess talents they could use to their advantage. Problem is they're not of the superhero-making type. The children are simply odd. Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell) wears lead boots to keep her from floating away, leading to a cute scene for her love-interest to pull her along on a rope like a balloon. Enoch (Finlay MacMillan) is a morbid teen who can reanimate the dead as well as lifeless objects, and Bronwyn Bruntley (Pixie Davies) is an adorable tyke with super strength while the pyrokinetic Olive (Lauren McCrostie) wears flame-retardant gloves for everyone's protection. The other kids are invisible boy Millard (Cameron King), plant-lover Fiona (Georgia Pemberton), beehive Hugh (Milo Parker), prophetic dreamer Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone) and Claire (Raffiella Chapman), who hides a sharp-toothed mouth beneath thick, blonde locks. There is also the masked twins (Joseph and Thomas Odwell) with a power that basically could have resolved things sooner and avoided a needlessly tacked on battle against the baddies.
The possibilities seem limitless for establishing a larger fantasy world based on Ransom Riggs's novel of the same name once Jake (Asa Butterfield) discovers their school in Cairnholm, Wales. Inspired by his grandfather's (Terence Stamp) bedtime tales of the kids at the orphanage and battling monsters, Jake searches for answers to the man's mysterious death. Quickly, we learn along with the bewildered boy who may or may not possess a particularity of his own that this world is far more complicated to fit into a single film. At the same time, given the amount of changes made to Riggs's original story, Tim Burton and company might have intended this to be a self-contained, standalone feature. This normally wouldn't be a drawback if Jane Goldman's script didn't also feel as though jam-packing a great deal of history and lore into 127 minutes. When audiences are hurriedly told of Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), a shapeshifting peculiar who hunts other peculiars, and how time-loops work, we are left feeling exhausted trying to keep up, racing to a climactic battle where everyone's abilities are finally put to beneficial use.
Ultimately, the real problem with 'Miss Peregrine's Home' is that it doesn't feel like a Tim Burton production, which is not say all his films should be limited to gothic atmospheres and dark, somber characters played by Johnny Depp. Only that considering Riggs's imaginative plot and the characters inhabiting this otherwise delightfully kooky fantasy, the story is practically tailor-made for his particular brand and style — or rather, it fits perfectly with his "peculiar" talents. There is little of that classic Burtonesque quality or sense of wonderment to be found anywhere, and it's somewhat frustrating watching a house full of endearingly strange children draw a mild curiosity while Butterfield's Jake maddeningly delays the leadership role he obviously was designed for. Indeed, it's quite unfortunate in a film where a villainous, gray-haired Jackson allowed to chew the scenery in ghostly pale eyes and a razor-sharp smile is more interesting than the leads. The better for him to kidnap these eccentric kids with peculiar abilities and dine on their eyeballs by a candlelit dinner with other such monstrous friends, but our eyes remain intact burned with the memory of a disappointingly boring Tim Burton production.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital HD Copy. The Region Free, BD50 disc sits comfortably opposite a DVD-9 inside a blue, eco-cutout case with a glossy slipcover. Skippable trailers kick things off before switching to an interactive menu with full-motion clips and music.
Miss Peregrine opens her doors to Blu-ray with an exceptionally beautiful, reference-quality 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, displaying a wide array of brilliant colors. In fact, for a Tim Burton feature, the film is delightfully picturesque with lots of warm, clean-rendered secondary hues, revealing a slight rosiness in the palest cheeks of the odd children and their headmistress. Even more splendid are the vivid, energetic greens of the home's lush garden and the bold, intense blues of the sky, which is made all the more intense during a lightning storm on the night of the Luftwaffe raid. Much of the film's beauty and splendor is thanks to Bruno Delbonnel's excellent cinematography, showing spot-on contrast and crisp whites throughout. Black levels are also well-balanced with deep, penetrating shadows, providing the image with appreciable depth.
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the freshly-minted, digital-to-digital transfer also shows clean, distinct lines in the furniture, Miss Peregrine's Victorian home and the surrounding foliage. The movie was originally shot on the Arri Alexa XT Plus camera system, which per the manufacture shoots natively at 3.2K resolution at Rec.709, and the elements were later mastered into a 4K digital intermediate. At times, the results are pretty extraordinary, revealing the smallest threading in the intricate clothing of both the children and Miss Peregrine, and individual leaves of trees are terrifically detailed. The tiniest scar, wrinkle and blemish in the faces are exposed, especially during the many close-ups of Samuel L. Jackson. Unfortunately, some of the CGI work is noticeably softer and slightly blurrier than the video's best moments, but aside from that arguably nitpicking grumble, the presentation is just beautiful.
Miss Peregrine and her children flaunt their particular abilities on a fantastically exciting DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack, making the movie a tad more enjoyable than the story itself. But, as is common issue with most Fox titles, the studio abandons the Dolby Atmos track heard in theaters but reserves it as an exclusive audio feature for the Ultra HD Blu-ray.
Nevertheless, the design immediately opens with a terrifically engaging and broad soundstage thanks to Mike Higham and Matthew Margeson's whimsical musical score. The mid-range is precise and highly detailed with appreciable warmth and fidelity, making every instrument and note within the orchestration clear and discrete from each other. The few action sequences throughout also benefit, allowing the smallest noise of debris to be discretely heard and fall across the three front channels. In fact, scenes with the "Hollowgasts" generate an impressive wall of sound to give them a larger than life poise and presence. The low-end adds a hearty punch and authority to the tentacle stomps and roars while explosions and lightning rumble across the room. All the while, vocals remains distinct and intelligible in the center of the screen.
The surround speakers are also continuously employed and a real joy to listen, which ought to be expected of a dark fantasy feature such as this. Whether it's the nature noises of Cairnholm Island or the kids running through the house, the design is filled with exceptional directionality as background sounds convincingly move off-screen, maintaining a wide and welcoming soundstage. Those same fights with the "Hollowgasts" are layered with flawless panning effects spreading into the sides and rears, particularly the battle on the pier in Blackpool, which creates a fantastically satisfying and immersive soundfield. Another highlight are the Luftwaffe raid scenes, which can rank as excellent demo-worthy choices.
'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children' arrives with the visual flare we'd expect from Tim Burton but lacking that classic Burtonesque touch and sense of wonderment that would perfectly suit the material. It's unfortunate that in a house full of endearingly strange children, the best the film can barely muster a mild curiosity and disappointingly dull. The Blu-ray, on the other hand, arrives with demo-worthy video and reference quality audio presentation. With an average and only somewhat insightful assortment of supplements, the overall package is ultimately a rental at best for the curious but a satisfying purchase for fans.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.