It seemed like a match made in movie heaven. Take a beloved series of magical, best-selling, books about weird ‘n’ wondrous kids and hand off the movie version to the master of the weird ‘n’ wonderful, Tim Burton. What could possibly wrong?
Well, based on the evidence of the finished film, pretty much everything except for the production crew. It looks great, but it starts slow, creeps along, then starts burping, back-firing, and shuddering until it falls apart right before your eyes.
The normally charismatic Asa Butterfield (Hugo) plays, apparently, a mentally, emotionally, and verbally constipated young man with cliché-itis. That is an affliction that causes one to blurt out things that only dumb movie characters say whenever something clever, intelligent, insightful, or even recognizably human would be preferable.
He stumbles across Eva Green’s title abode within a time loop – a magically fixed day to protect its specially-powered occupants from cruel humans and ex-peculiars, led by Samuel L. Jackson, who have decided, in their infinite wisdom, that eating the kids’ eyes will make them immortal.
Believe it or not, the plot is not the problem. The plot works extremely well in the books. But in Jane Goldman’s spluttering script (and probably in the studio’s editing room), poor pacing, disingenuous dialog, spreading story holes, and erratic, ultimately dissolving, tone add up to frustration and disappointment.
Rules are made, then thrown away or changed repeatedly. Characters act seriously, then don’t, then do, then don’t. Major cast members are misused or simply disappear. Multiple mind-blowing things are revealed, then fumbled or ignored. Many climatic moments, which should have resulted in audience exultation, fall painfully flat. I hurt my neck from the jaw drops and double takes the misfiring film elicited from me.
Ultimately, I was left with pitiful sadness. It could have, and should have, been great. All the ingredients for a masterpiece (or, at least, a cracking good rip-off of Harry Potter) were right there on the screen. But the once-great chef was clearly having a bad day, and I left with a bad taste in my mind.
What a shame.