Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp, Ella Purnell, Judi Dench, Samuel L. Jackson
Plot: When his grandfather is mysteriously murdered Jake (Butterfield) travels to an island off Wales in search of answers only to find a time loop which hides a school for extraordinary children who he is destined to protect from the evil Hollowgasts.
Review: It’s been a rocky road for the last decade or so with “Sleepy Hollow” marking the end of what we could consider his golden period as he instead went off to play around in the studio system, remaking his childhood favourites. However with the release of “Frankenweenie” and the overlooked “Big Eyes” it would seem that cinema’s weird kid is keen to get back to his roots.
Adapted from the novel by Ransom Riggs who constructed the story around unusual photographs he had collected with the end result playing in many ways like a 1940’s set version of the “X-men” and making it all the more fitting that the script was written by Jane Goldman who previously worked on both “X-Men: First Class” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past”. Of course this story is seemingly written with Burton in mind as it celebrates the abnormal and bizarre to create a “Freaks” like family.
A pipe smoking Eva Green (something we didn’t know we wanted to see until now) plays a Ymbryne here which basically means she has the ability to change into a peregrine falcon aswell as minipulate time which might be one of the more unusual combinations of powers we have seen, but it does enable her to hide the home in a continual time loop of September 3, 1943. Here she is essentially a Burton vision of what “Mary Poppins” might have turned out in his hands and here heads up this unusual children home which brings together children of exceptional abilities.
The so called “Peculiar children” are unquestionably the real draw here as they all come with their own unique powers ranging from the aerokinetic Emma (Purnell) who is forced to stomp around in lead shoes to stop her from floating away, the super strong little girl Bronwyn (Davies) and the invisible boy Millard (King). At the same time we also have the kids who might have come from the mind of Burton had this not been an adapation with the human beehive Hugh (Parker), a pair of masked twins and Enoch who can resurrect both the dead and inanimate object all come with an air of classic Burton to them. The only one who didn’t work was Horace (Keeler-Stone) whose ability of being able to project his dreams like a human projector ends up coming off kind of pointless and more whimsical than anything close to an essential character.
While this was sold a family fare, there is certainly a dark vein which runs throughout the film be it Enoch using his powers to orchestrate his own fights to the death between his twisted doll creations or the Hollowgasts who are the twisted mutant forms of the evil wrights who battle their mutation by consuming the eyes of Peculiars a grotesque spin on the book which saw them consuming the souls of the children. As such in many ways it feels like the kind of family movies of the 80’s and early 90’s such as “The Dark Crystal” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark” which weren't afraid to throw in some darkness in with the fun.
Another aspect of the film which stands out is with the design work for the characters and locations throughout which sadly loses a lot of its charm during the modern day segments with those set in the 1940’s being packed with interesting details especially the Wrights whose flashback to the experiments which caused their mutation dripping in steampunk fantasy while Samuel L. Jackson clearly is having a blast as Mr, Barronthe leader of the Wrights. Of course this is a world were the kids can take a sunken ship and magically make seaworthy by combining their abilities and as such works best when your not questioning the fantastical logic it runs on.
The downside to the film though comes when we get into the modern day which are painfully bland and uninteresting compared to those set in the more colourful and generally more interesting 1940’s sections. Even when we get into the final showdown which see’s an army of skeletons battling the Hollowgasts in modern day Blackpool, the best parts are filmed in Blackpool tower whose styling makes it also seem like the 40’s setting despite being modern day, but then as someone who spent their childhood summers in Blackpool I can confirm that this is no doubt pretty accurate considering how they love nostalgia and why the place hasn’t really changed in the last 30 years.
A fun ride throughout despite the departure of Eva Green earlier than I would have liked, the pace is kept brisk throughout while for the fans of Burton’s earlier movies, this will no doubt feel like him getting back to making the films we’ve been wanting to see from him. I can only hope that he comes back for a sequel as there is clearly more to explore in this world and with the books currently set to be joined by a forth novel in the series it would seem that there is still plenty of material to draw inspiration from still.