Monday, August 7, 2017

Page to Screen: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Recently Amazon had Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs on sale so I downloaded that.  And the movie was recently on HBO so it seemed like a good time to read the book and watch the movie and compare the two.  There are a lot of similarities--at least until the final act of the book vs movie.  Spoilers ahead!

The book is told in first person from the point of view of sixteen-year-old Jake.  He lives in Florida with rich parents and for most of his life he's grown up with his grandfather's stories of fantastic children like a girl who could fly, a girl who can conjure fire, a boy who spews bees from his mouth, and more all led by Miss Peregrine, the headmistress who turns into a peregrine falcon. Jake used to believe those stories, but as he got older he started to think of them just as tall tales.

Then one night he comes home to find his grandpa dead.  Jake thinks he sees a monster running from the scene.  Traumatized by nightmares he goes to see a shrink.  In the book the shrink is a man while in the movie it's a woman played by Allison Janney.

In the book Jake's grandpa gave him some cryptic final words that led him to looking up the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson before he receives an Emerson book from his aunt.  In the book the book contains a letter while in the movie it's a postcard and Jake receiving the book is more streamlined.  Anyway, the letter is from Miss Peregrine only a few years earlier.  The address leads Jake to an island off the coast of Wales.  His father accompanies him to do some birdwatching for an ever-gestating book.

When Jake gets some kids to lead him to Miss Peregrine's house, he finds it a bombed-out wreck.  An old man tells him that the house was bombed by Nazis in 1940 (1943 in the movie) and there was only one survivor--Jake's grandpa.  (In the movie no one is supposed to have survived, Jake's grandpa having left earlier.)  After a few days Jake finds a trunk of pictures and drops it to the basement, where he soon finds himself back in 1940 when the house was good as new.  (This was streamlined in the movie.)

Jake meets all the children his grandpa told him about and Miss Peregrine, their caretaker.  They're called "peculiars" and like X-Men's mutants or Marvel's Inhumans they all have a natural ability that they're born with.  Miss Peregrine can turn into a bird but her real talent is for controlling time--something only birds can do.  For her and her children it's always September 3rd 1940/1943.  They live in a "loop" created by Miss Peregrine that resets every night just before the bomb hits.  The kids and Miss Peregrine don't age but they do know what's happening while the normal people on the island do not.  It's sort of like Groundhog Day with all the kids and Miss Peregrine as Bill Murray.

For some reason the movie changes Emma, the girl who dated Jake's grandpa and is thus attracted to him, from the girl who controls fire to the girl who floats unless she wears lead shoes.  I'm not sure why they made this change; maybe they thought the fire thing had been done too much already with Johnny Storm, Selma Blair in Hellboy, and Pyro in the X-Men movies.  But either way Jake and Emma become sort of a couple.

But the monsters that killed Jake grandpa's are soon coming for Jake and the peculiar children.  The monsters called "hollows" and their masters called "whites" (for their white eyes) feed on peculiars to try to regain their humanity.  They also want to kidnap Miss Peregrine to use her time abilities in an attempt to give them eternal life.  Jake, like his grandpa, is the only one who can see the monsters--his peculiar talent.

It's about this point that the book and movie really diverge.  In the book Jake and Emma spend some time together and go home to find the monsters have taken Miss Peregrine and another bird.  They gather up some other kids to track the monsters to a lighthouse, where they manage to free Miss Peregrine but not the other bird.  The monsters take off in a U-Boat while Jake, the children, and Miss Peregrine in bird form go in hot pursuit.  That's where the book ends, though I assume the chase is picked up in the next two books.

In the movie Jake goes back to town in the present and finds that the old man who told him about the bombing is dead.  He goes back to "the loop" but is followed by a tourist who reveals that he's a white--and also Jake's shrink.  (In the book the white was also Jake's bus driver in 8th grade and a couple of other people watching him.)  Jake takes the white to Miss Peregrine's where she volunteers to go with the white, turning into her bird form and letting him put her in a cage.  The children fight a hollow and then travel to another loop, this one in England in January 2016 on a boardwalk.  Using snow and cotton candy the children make the hollows visible and take them down before then using their powers on the whites to free Miss Peregrine.  The kids and Miss Peregrine return to the past, though they're no longer part of "the loop" and will live normally.

Kind of have to question whether the movie producers decided they were only going to adapt the first one and thus didn't want to end on a cliffhanger.  Which was probably pretty true since I don't think the movie did that well financially, though it can be hard to tell these days with foreign markets, Redbox rentals, digital downloads, and all that.

Maybe since I read the book first I actually liked it a lot better.  Much of the time when I compare a book or movie if the movie is similar enough to the book I say to just watch the movie since it's less time-consuming.  Since the movie is so different, especially in the last act, I actually think reading the book is better.  And actually it's probably better to read it in paperback or hardcover since there are a lot of old-timey photos included that really I couldn't appreciate all that well on the Kindle.  The writing is OK but there's maybe a little too much telling instead of showing and at least in the version I read a typo--"just deserts" instead of "just desserts."  But I think the book does a better job than the movie in setting up the background about Jake and his family and the island.  That all seems rushed in the movie, maybe so they could have the much longer ending.

I don't think the movie is bad, it's just not as good.  This seemed like the perfect project for Tim Burton, but like Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and Planet of the Apes he seems to phone this one in.  Miss Peregrine seemed like a perfect role for his wife Helena Bonham Carter but instead the part went to Eva Green (until the credits came up I honestly didn't realize this; I just assumed since Bonham Carter, like Johnny Depp, is in pretty much every Tim Burton movie she would naturally be in this), so maybe that's part of the reason the movie might be quirky but just seems lifeless.  And while I guess it's nice to have a more concrete ending, it is a significant change from the book.


  1. I have yet to convince myself to see this one, but we just might rent it.

  2. This is the type of movie I would've wanted to see when I was a kid, I'm just too busy to see it for now.

  3. I don't know if I have enough time to read the book but I'd definitely love to see the movie!!



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