I sat with ambivalence, waiting for the curtains to open and the film adaptation of Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to start. Like any reader, adaptations tend to let me down. But at the roundtable interviews with Riggs after watching the film, which, by the way was delightful, the author pointed out something that eased my mind. In response to “How do you feel when your baby has to be changed…for a screenplay,” Riggs stated, “I just try and remove myself as the author and say, ‘Am I enjoying this as a movie?’ And, yes, absolutely, I think it works so well.”
As a reader, you must do just that- remove yourself as the reader and enjoy the movie- if it’s good. And this adaptation is so good, I strongly agree with Richard Lawson that it’s “Tim Burton’s best film in years”. The visuals are absolutely stunning. Each location perfectly captures the mood of the scenes, from bright and boring Florida, to dark and mysterious Wales. When you first see the children’s home on screen, it’s almost exactly how you would picture it from reading the book, and there’s a good reason for that. Riggs was inspired by a Belgian castle, and the actual castle used in the film (yes- it’s a real Belgian castle!) was, as Riggs claimed, “like five miles away from the house that I used for the book trailer.”
Riggs in front of the Belgian castle used in the movie.
While many elements of the book were changed, the overall feel of the book is not lost in the movie. There’s the constant theme of being just a bit weirder than everyone around you, the fear of hidden dangers (that come in the form of tall, thin Burton-esque creatures with pointy teeth and no eyes), and of course time-travel.
Something so compelling about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is that it takes place during World War II, and while the war is a huge determinant of the film’s plot, it doesn’t take over. The effects of Nazism, the destructive nature of battle, the displacement caused by war, and the incessant foreboding set the tone. But the film is about Miss Peregrine, and the peculiar children that she cares for and loves so much. It’s also about friendship and devotion. It’s a reminder that different is good and we must #StayPeculiar. Eva Green as Miss Peregrine is just perfect, although I wish she had more screen time!
Seeing the movie was fun, but meeting Ransom Riggs, Costume Designer Colleen Atwood, and four of the key cast members, Asa Butterfly (Jake), Ella Purnell (Emma), Lauren McCrostie (Olive), and Finlay MacMillan (Enoch), was exciting.
Besides changing my view on watching the movie adaptation of his book (it’s different but not bad different), Riggs had some great stuff to say, and he’s such a high-energy, fun guy to interview.
Blogger: What was it like visiting the set of the films? Was it like kind of surreal seeing your book being brought to life?
Ransom Riggs: Surreal is the correct word. It was really surreal, and I got to visit the set a number of times over the course of filming, and the shoot was long. It was like nine months. And they shot more or less in sequence, in order in the film, which is pretty rare for Hollywood…But, they started in Florida. They moved to the coast of England, and they shot in studios, and then they did Belgium, because the house was in Belgium. And that was a very special and surreal thing because they actually shot in a real house. Miss Peregrine’s house is a real place in Belgium…And just being able to walk through a real house that had been decorated by the set designers and festooned with props and all of the detail, there was so much detail in the movie that you can’t even see as a viewer because it like exists around the edges of the monkey woman’s tail has like a million individual hairs that someone put in there by hand. It was so much.
Blogger: What are the three things that you really love, things [that made you go] like, hey, that was awesome? I love how you did that.
Ransom Riggs: Raising the ship was the coolest thing I think I have ever seen on a film. Did you guys see it in 3D?
Ransom Riggs: It really works. It’s funny. You sort of don’t realize the movie’s in 3D like while they’re in Florida because it’s just Jacob like in a house or whatever. And then you get to Wales, and it’s like, whoa, cool. It comes to life in an extra dimension…That was amazing, just the parts where he’s exploring the house, and it’s coming to life.
And honestly, [Burton] gets the relationship between Jacob and his grandfather so right, and it becomes like the emotional core, this engine that drives the whole movie, in much the way I intended that relationship to work in the book. And I was really excited to see. It hits all these marks that are not easy to hit because it’s an unusual relationship, you know, like a boy who’s best friends with his grandpa, and then, yes.
In regards to changing details of the books, Riggs commented, “it helps when the person changing it is a director you’ve looked up to for 25 years. So, you know, if it had been anyone else, I might have been more nervous.” Tim Burton for the win!
Just as mind-blowing as Burton’s eye for detail with sets and locations are Colleen Atwood’s costumes. I mean, just look at Miss Peregrine’s outfit, which Atwood wanted to “have some kind of quality that was birdlike… without being too aggressively birdlike.”
As readers know, Riggs drew much of his inspiration for the book from vintage photos. The question is, how did these photos influence Atwood?
Colleen Atwood: I think what happened is it sort of didn’t really affect me…in the sense okay, I saw the pictures, now, we have Horace and he’s wearing this and his character is based on a dandy, but it doesn’t have to be that kind of costume, more than, like, what am I going to do here.
The most liked pictures is the twins’ characters, because that’s just so bizarre…Tim was playing with the eyebrows for hours, like, this one? He really had fun with them…
But, I mean the picture was just so weird and to change it, it didn’t really work to try to change it too much. So, his eyebrows and some of his touches are I think is how Tim does his work.
Atwood, who’s weathered in the Burton world, exposed some truths about the director: “…as much as everybody thinks he’s something else, he’s a pretty regular guy. He’s a great dad. He loves his kids. He likes a soccer game, you know, like, he’s kind of got a whole other side to him going on behind the, behind the persona of Tim Burton that might surprise people.”
When the four (rather peculiar) actors walked in, I was immediately struck by how young they were. You tend to forget that actors are acting when watching a good movie. I forgot they were playing out such serious situations (WWII, invisible monsters and a murderous Sam Jackson), because the second they walked in the room they were just a group of charismatic, excited teens! McCrostie even proclaimed: “This is bizarre. I’ve never had a microphone before.” Me neither!
What struck me most was how naturally the actors vibed with one another.
Blogger: If you could switch any peculiarities with any other cast members, which one would you choose?
Finlay MacMillan: I’m taking fire before anyone takes it.
Lauren McCrostie: I’m taking the bees.
Finlay MacMillan: I knew you were going to take the bees.
Ella Purnell: I wanted the bees.
Lauren McCrostie: This is a competition and I will win.
Asa Butterfield: What does that leave you with? Super strength. That’s pretty cool.
Lauren McCrostie: Invisible, I want invisible. Yes, forgot — you forgot about Millard. You didn’t see Millard.
Colleen Atwood’s costume sketches of Hugh, who’s filled with bees, and Millard, who’s clearly invisible.
Blogger: Were there any struggles with portraying that? Did you struggle with any of that?
Ella Purnell: Yes, I mean, I guess the hardest part was the floating in the harness, because I can’t float.
Lauren McCrostie: … I was constantly like, oh, no. I want to be really near the fire like method acting. And then, we had an assistant director, and she’s like, no, Lauren. Seriously, no. No. Like, no.
Finlay MacMillan: I couldn’t really dig up any dead bodies either…I just had to sort of pretend I had telekinesis and I was speaking to these little dolls. But, in my mind I did believe I was doing it, so I was sort of.
Asa Butterfield: Exactly. So, I could just make it up in my head. I could be seeing like ponies, and rainbows, and terrifying stuff. Seriously.
Of course, all the actors read, and loved, the books. Butterfield commented that “having the pictures there just made it…kind of originally [sic] and allowed you to really picture it in your head the way that he wanted you to picture it. I think that’s what’s really special about the book.”
Despite the over-the-top plot, Burton is able to ground us in reality; be it in the present (when we’re there) or in the past, in a way that feels authentic.
For any hard-core skeptical fans out there, Riggs hopes you feel like he does:
…Even though, you know, Tim and Jane [Goldman, screenwriter] elaborated on my story, [I hope] that [the fans] feel like the added parts and the parts that have been changed a bit are still keeping with the spirit of the book, because I do. And when it comes to the third act, which almost covers what’s in my book, and then it keeps going… I feel like I would have written that. So, I hope that readers feel that way too.
The film hits theaters this Friday, September 30th. Get excited and watch the trailer here:
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, hosted by 20th Century Fox, in theaters Friday.
From visionary director Tim Burton, and based upon the best-selling novel, comes an unforgettable motion picture experience. When Jake discovers clues to a mystery that spans alternate realities and times, he uncovers a secret refuge known as Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As he learns about the residents and their unusual abilities, Jake realizes that safety is an illusion, and danger lurks in the form of powerful, hidden enemies. Jake must figure out who is real, who can be trusted, and who he really is.
Seek the Peculiar. Get tickets to see Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, in theaters Friday fox.co/PeculiarTix.