J. M. Barrie’s classic tale of “Peter Pan” has already seen multiple adaptations since the character’s first appearance all the way back in 1902, including the beloved animated Disney film from 1953 and Steven Spielberg’s vastly-underrated “Hook” from 1991, a film that you could refer to as a sequel to the original story. When one remembers these takes on the boy who never grows old, what’s most often recalled is the sense of adventure, that spark of magic that brings the whole tale to life as Peter and The Lost Boys take on their nemesis, the villainous Captain Hook. Now, for instance, imagine a version of Barrie’s story that was lacking in that sense of magic, a film that, while it tried to do something new by telling us the origins of the characters, just couldn’t capture the wonder that this exquisite tale is known for. Picture this, and you can begin to imagine just what kind of experience you’ll have with Joe Wright’s attempted prequel, “Pan.”
The film begins in London during World War II, where we meet young Peter (Levi Miller), an orphan at a home for boys. He and his friend have noticed that a few of the other boys have gone missing recently, which causes them to keep watch late one night in order to see if they can discover what’s going on. Never in their wildest dreams did they imagine that their caretakers were giving the boys to pirates, who snatch them up into their flying pirate ship to whisk them away to Neverland. That very night, Peter gets taken to this magical land, where he is immediately put to work mining for fairy dust for the pirate leader, Captain Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). After causing a ruckus, Peter discovers that he has the ability to fly, a power that makes Blackbeard nervous, for it has been prophesized that he will be defeated by a boy that has such a skill. With the help of a mining supervisor (Adeel Akhtar), Peter, along with fellow miner James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), is able to escape to a forest where supposed savages live. However, they just might be the key not only to helping to defeat Captain Blackbeard, but also to helping Peter learn about his past.
A prequel to “Peter Pan” sounds like it would be a fantastic idea if done correctly. Where did Peter originally come from? How did he first meet his eventual nemesis Captain James Hook? There’s an entire world of possibility to be explored, with so many questions that have probably been through the minds of several kids and adults alike who have seen other versions of the tale. This is what makes it so sad to have to say that the Joe Wright-directed and Jason Fuchs-scripted “Pan” doesn’t seem to understand what makes these characters and this setting work so well in the first place.
For starters, Fuchs’ script presents a dreadfully dull scenario that merely has the characters running from one action scene to the next, while slowly getting filled in on bits of the past as they go along. There’s no doubt that the design seen throughout the film is mostly very imaginative, but for every imaginative scene contained within, there seems to be another that will leave you scratching your head. Take for instance the scene in which the kids are first abducted to be taken to Neverland. In the course of this scene, we are forced to watch a lengthy and entirely unnecessary sequence that has British airplanes attacking a flying pirate ship (apparently this was somehow the first time they were noticed, despite having picked up kids several times before).
Another scene has Blackbeard, his crew, and the miners all singing Nirvana’s masterpiece “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (and later The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”), as if the target demographic is going to appreciate their usage (and that’s not even to point out how they don’t fit well into the film). I guess they thought they could be cool like “Moulin Rouge” by using anachronistic music in an attempt to liven things up a bit, but in that instance, using such songs had been appropriate. Here it just leaves you shaking your head in confusion.
Indeed the film is directed mostly towards kids, but it’s hard to believe that even they wouldn’t find the whole project to be a tremendous bore, what with the stretched narrative and the unengaging characters. Speaking of which, it’s a shame too because young Levi Miller is rather good here. He’s full of energy as young Peter, and does a fine job when it comes to the emotional demands of the role, making me hope that he’ll have better luck in future projects. Garrett Hedlund does an admirable job, but he seems to be around merely for comedic relief, as opposed to have an actual purpose as a character in the film. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Hugh Jackman seems content to ham it up as much as possible in every scene, leaving us with more of a cartoon than a character, while Rooney Mara, who plays Peter’s friend Tiger Lily, just comes across as completely stranded in this mess of fantastical set pieces.
To add to its woes, the entire film comes hurtling towards its conclusion in an overly-long mess of CGI that looks like it got butchered back in the editing room. How this, in addition to all of its other issues, weren’t noticed during the production is a rather big mystery, for it’s rather plain to see that the film is mostly uninspired and is missing that spark of magic that made the other versions so accessible to both kids and adults. “Pan” never seems to want us to truly enter its magical realm, always keeping us at arm’s length as it hurtles forward, hardly even giving a thought to who these characters are. This is an idea that could have worked really well with a little thought put into other areas as well, but without that sense of wonder and the adventurous spirit, there was little doubt that it would never take off, even with the happiest of thoughts.
“Pan” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.4:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. The extraordinary sets and multitudes of CGI work come through bright and clear with a picture that is beautifully sharp and not the least bit fuzzy. The 5.1 Dolby Atmos audio is likewise outstanding, giving you all of the dialogue, music, and sound effects in great quality. Overall, the film has been given exceptional treatment that brings out the best in both areas.
Commentary with Director Joe Wright: A commentary track in which the director doesn’t really have a lot to say. That is, not anything that’s particularly informative.
Never Grow Up: The Legend of Pan (11 Minutes): A featurette that explores the history of “Peter Pan” and how “Pan” expanded upon the world and characters.
The Boy Who Would Be Pan (6 Minutes): A featurette that looks at the character of Peter Pan and actor Levi Miller, the young man chosen to take on the iconic role.
The Scoundrels of Neverland (6 Minutes): A featurette that focuses on Captain Blackbeard and his crew.
Wondrous Realms (5 Minutes): A very superficial look at the film’s different locations.
Joe Wright’s “Pan” is lacking in the fun, excitement, and magic that made earlier adaptations of “Peter Pan” so endearing and memorable, leaving behind a troubled prequel that even kids will more than likely find to be a tremendous bore. With Jason Fuchs’ uninspired script, it’s a wonder that this project ever made it off the ground at all, but the result is hardly surprising when he seems to have missed everything that made Barrie’s world such a joy in the first place, easily earning this a place in the pile of Pans that are best forgotten.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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