Finding wonder in the macabre

Updated: 2016-11-10 06:53

By Xu Fan(China Daily)

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Tim Burton's new film reflects his enthusiasm for monsters and fantasy, Xu Fan reports.

Monsters feeding on human eyeballs? If a child has a father like Tim Burton, that may be the bedtime story.

Scary but interesting - that's how Hollywood's "King of Quirk" defines the scene that the director features in his latest film, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

"I always find poetic and emotional moments in horror films," Burton says on the Beijing stop of the film's promotional tour. The film will open on the Chinese mainland on Dec 2 - about six weeks later than the US release.

From Edward Scissorhands and Planet of the Apes to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the prestigious auteur is known in Hollywood as a master of dark, gothic and eccentric hits, and the new film continues his trademark style.

For fantasy-film fans, the visual feast has already won acclaim from overseas viewers. The movie site gives the film 7 points out of 10.

Finding wonder in the macabre

The movie is adapted from US author Ransom Riggs' debut novel of the same name, which ruled The New York Times' children's chapter list in 2012.

Something of a young-adult version of X-Men, the 127-minute film centers on a teenager who stumbles upon a group of children possessing paranormal abilities on a Welsh island in 1943. The boy helps his new friends to fight against eyeball-eating demons.

Again relying on his extraordinary imagination, Burton visualizes the fantastic settings in the novel on the big screen.

In a trailer tailored for the Chinese market, viewers can watch Miss Peregrine, the title role who protects the children from monster-eating demons, transform into a bird; a teenager lighter than air float on top of a tree; and a young girl eat chicken using teeth in the back of her head.

Miss Peregrine has dark moments. Jake, the teenage protagonist, sees his grandfather murdered with his eye sockets emptied. Monsters hunt down "extraordinary" people for their eyeballs.

But Burton believes such moments, with a blend of humor and emotion, still appeal to kids.

He says dark sides have long driven fairy tales and folk legends in many countries' literary histories.

Many of the world's favorite fairy tales, such as Cinderella, The Frog Prince, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, were not written as the happy-ending stories favored by Disney, but with touches of horror in the original texts by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and others.

"I never consider myself as a dark person. Despite the fact that some of my movies may have dark things, I always want to mix humor and emotion, sadness and happiness, magic and science ... that's how I feel about life," he says.

In an era when most Hollywood big-budget productions rely heavily on digital technology to create spectacular sets, Burton does not seem so fascinated by computer-generated imagery.

Burton wanted a setting that felt real in the cinematic world, and the production team scouted many locations for Miss Peregrine's home until a castle in Belgium got the green light from the director.

"The first time I saw that empty house, it looked like a real home for peculiar children," recalls Burton.

"I also want the children to be as simple and real as possible. They have peculiar powers, but they're just children at heart."

The maverick director reveals that most of his inspiration came from daydreams.

"I'm very lucky, as I can dream when I am awake. I can see interesting things in a strange way," he says.

The whimsical side of the books he read in his childhood, such as those starring such ghouls Frankenstein and the Werewolf, has been another source for inspiration.

"When I was a child, I found monster films to be beautiful, emotional and poetic, although some people think they are horrific," he says

Beginning his career as an animator for Disney, Burton established his own style with the 1984 live-action short Frankenweenie.

Interestingly, he was fired by Disney as the animation giant regarded the tale as too dark and horrific for children.

But Burton has never stopped exploring.

Now he is seen as an iconic figure who has reinvented genre films in Hollywood over the past 30 years.

"Whether filming or doing something else, the most important thing for me is to create things," he says.

The 58-year-old director jokes that his secret has been to remain 13 years old mentally.

"Children always see things as new, as most things are new to them. It's important for us to look at things through a child's eyes," he explains.

Asked how he balances the studios' commercial demands and his pursuits, Burton says he's lucky that he can be himself.

Burton says he visited China once before, many years ago, and met some artists.

"I'm happy to be here again to experience the culture," he says.

"I've been very inspired."

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 Finding wonder in the macabre

Tim Burton’s latest film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, continues his trademark dark, gothic and eccentric style. Photos Provided To China Daily

 Finding wonder in the macabre

Eva Green is a master of misfits in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Finding wonder in the macabre

The visual feast of the film has won acclaim from overseas viewers.

(China Daily 11/10/2016 page20)