By BRUCE DENNILL
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them / Directed by David Yates / PG
Fallen / Directed by Scott Hicks / 13V
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children / Directed by Tim Burton / PG
Not fully related to the world of Harry Potter but also difficult to completely differentiate from that literary hotspot due to having a shared creator in JK Rowling. Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is set in New York rather than England, allowing for a new set of cultural references (even if most of the major roles are played by actors from the UK). Thematically, though, there’s not much going on: magical creatures escape; a few characters in the new chase them down; and a bad guy is coming … at some point. And even though, broadly speaking, these are the major facets of the piece, they don’t really gel. Hunting down the critters is fun, and an opportunity for the film’s CG effects experts to go to town, but it’s not terribly meaningful. And when the villain arrives, the drama is so ridiculously over the top that fear hardly seems an option, replaced instead by cynicism, particularly when it becomes clear that the film is designed as a chapter; the first of many instalments in another profitable series. Visually engaging and occasionally fun, but not compulsory viewing.
There is plenty of supernatural tomfoolery involved in Fallen as well, though it’s more of the stony-faced Twilight variety than it is of the more entertaining bedknobs and broomsticks fun. A sullen teenager is sent to what is essentially a reform school for kids whose powers need management, along with their attitudes. She struggles to fit in, and some of the social challenges are even more complicated – as they are when students can teleport or read your mind or whatever – than they would be at a normal high school. She further complicates matters by beginning to develop relationships with two separate alpha males – with predictable results. The major problem (one of a large number) is that there is a charisma vacuum that extends beyond the characters to the script and setting. Joely Richardson is about the biggest name on offer, but even her usual reliability falters under the burden of the gray vapidity of the whole enterprise.
Of all the people to get the tricky balance in this niche right, Tim Burton might not be at the top of the list. He’s clearly a visionary and often a pacesetter, but his back catalogue is uneven at best. Here, his adaptation of the Ransom Riggs Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children books plays like X-Men re-imagined by Roald Dahl, with the weirdness and angst of the former and the humour and poignancy of the stories of the latter. A boy named Jake (Asa Butterfield, embellishing his reputation with every role) discovers a secret world in which Miss Peregrine (the mysteriously inscrutable Eva Green) cares for a gaggle of outcasts, each with their own kooky magical abilities. As is the case with all the best children’s tales, the purity of the situation is destroyed by unbelief and cynicism, but it is the wonderful heart at the core of the tale – Miss Peregrine’s reasons for doing what she does and the way she achieves her goals – that gives the story staying power far beyond the beautiful imagery and on-point special effects. Sad, happy, funny, tragic and a number of points in between.