- Director: Tim Burton
- Screenplay: Jane Goldman
- Year: 2016
- Main Actors:
- Asa Butterfield as Jacob
- Eva Green as Miss Peregrine
- Samuel L. Jackson as Barron
- Ella Purnell as Emma
*There are SPOILERS for the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children film and novel in this post!*
After reading Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, I knew that I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on a more controversial topic in the world of readers: book to movie adaptations. There are so many differing opinions about the topic, such as whether someone should be happy or unhappy that one of their favourite books is being adapted, if the movie can ever be as good as the book, and how much liberty should the screenwriter and director be able to take with the author’s original story. Personally, when I hear that a book that I’ve read and really liked is being made into a film or a TV show, I tend to be optimistic that they will do a good job with the adaptation. I try to go into it thinking that there is no way the film will ever be as good as the book, but they will do their best to be true to the main plot. After seeing the adaptation, if I notice that it’s lacking important scenes or plot points from the novel but it includes scenes that have been invented by the screenwriter or director, I usually get pretty upset. Why waste time on unnecessary, invented scenes when you could have just used the ones from the novel? However, I do realize that there is only so much a film can do while a novel is only limited by the imagination of its author.
After researching the method of translating a novel into a film, I found that a lot of the problems that readers have with film adaptations are actually very typical of the genre. In “From Book to Film: Summary” by Lester Asheim, it is made very clear that even though a film is based on a novel, it does not mean that the film must stay loyal to it. The director and screenwriter can take liberties with the story in order to make it more understandable for a movie audience. Certain aspects of the book will be emphasized, while other aspects are toned down. In Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, many of the strategies that Asheim mentions are put into place.
I admit that I definitely had high hopes for the film adaptation of Miss Peregrine, because it was directed by Tim Burton, and I thought that he would do a fantastic job with capturing the world and the peculiarities of the children. I was definitely correct about this, for the visuals of Miss Peregrine’s home and the surrounding area were both beautiful and fantastical, capturing the ‘magic’ of the place. The peculiarities were also showcased in the best ways, possibly in even more creative ways than in the novel (dare I say it). There was a distinct change in that Emma and Olive swapped peculiarities, with Emma now being the one as light as air and able to manipulate air and Olive now being able to manipulate fire. I actually really enjoyed this change and thought that it gave Emma, as more of a main character, a more active role since she had more opportunities to use her peculiarity. I do have to say, however, that it seems like Tim Burton and Jane Goldman took the last forty-five minutes of the film to kind-of just go crazy with the world. The ending was completely different from the novel and that really surprised me, since for more than half of the movie, it was a pretty spot-on adaptation.
There were quite a few differences between the book and the movie, some I liked and some I didn’t. In the book, we do not know the true identity of the wight that comes after Jacob, Miss Peregrine, and the other children. In the film, we know him as Barron, the leader of the wights. I think that giving him a clearer identity was probably the best move for the film, since it would help the audience understand his character better. Another change was that the romance between Jacob and Emma was given greater emphasis and actually made a lot more sense in the movie, although it did still feel like insta-love. Asheim says it is common that “the importance of the romantic love story is stressed to a greater extent in the film than in the novel” and this is due to romance plots being ingrained into audiences, who have come to expect it and who watch films, “seeking for romantic clues” (264). I believe that by the film leaving out how Jacob’s grandfather and Emma were in a relationship when they were younger, it made the relationship that Jacob and Emma develop a lot less strange.
Finally, I also loved the emphasis on Miss Peregrine’s ability to manipulate and understand time in the film. Miss Peregrine has created a time loop for them to live in, where they repeat the day of September 3rd, 1940 (1943 in the film) over and over again. Everything in the loop runs like clockwork and if it didn’t, a lot would go wrong. In a scene invented for the film, Emma tells Jacob that on the day the loop was created, a hollowgast came toward the house and tried to attack. Now that they have lived this day for many years, Miss Peregrine now knows exactly where and when she must kill the invisible monster, preventing it from causing any harm. Changes like these definitely make the story easier to understand, especially for the audience that has not read the novel first.
Unfortunately, not all of the changes were good ones, in my opinion. Tim Burton definitely exaggerated the “characterization, setting, and action beyond the norm presented in the novel, for purposes of more dramatic and sensational presentation” (Asheim 265). While his exaggeration was appreciated in some cases, for he made the characterization, setting, and action incredibly rich and developed, the entire conclusion of the film took this exaggeration too far. The completely new, alternate ending lacked substance and just seemed to be focused on the visual aspect of the monsters coming after the children and the children using their peculiarities to overcome them. To explain the characters’ motives to the audience, there is a conversation between Jacob and Emma where they say what their plan is and why. However, even after rewinding and re-watching this scene three times… I still didn’t understand it. They did not made the distinction between the past and present clear at all and this made their whole plan very confusing. In the end, the use of the children’s peculiarities was very visually stunning, but the whole scene still felt ridiculous. At one point there was an army of skeletons (animated by Enoch) fighting the hollows and it was just silly. There was a lot of comedy added to the movie that wasn’t in the novel and while I enjoyed it most of the time, I definitely did not for the last thirty minutes of the film, when I felt like I was just watching an absurd, undead circus act.
In the end, I found Tim Burton’s take on Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to be a pretty average book to movie adaptation. I would give the first half of the movie a 10 out of 10 and the second half a 2 out of 10. But my overall final impression of the film is probably around a 7.5, because although the ending was fairly awful in comparison to the novel, I did enjoy the movie and most of the changes that Tim Burton and Jane Goldman made. I recommend this movie to anyone looking to watch something mildly creepy, with beautiful scenery, and some comedy thrown in for good measure.
Asheim, Lester. “From Book to Film: Summary.” The Quarterly of Film Radio and Television, vol. 6, no. 3, 1952, pp. 258-273.
Riggs, Ransom. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Quirk Books, 2011.