Miramax // 2004 // 101 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // April 9th, 2007
Unlock your imagination.
Finding Neverland was released just in time for the holiday season in 2004, where it took advantage of a magical tale and a couple of really good performances to secure seven Oscar nominations, winning one for Best Score. So as Miramax slowly rolls more and more of their catalog onto the next generation platform that is Blu-ray, how does the film look in high definition?
Adapted from Allan Knee's play by David Magee and directed by Marc Forster (Stranger Than Fiction), Finding Neverland stars Johnny Depp (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) as James Matthew Barrie, a successful playwright in 19th century England, who is smarting from the lukewarm reception of his latest play. He encounters a widow named Sylvia Davies (Kate Winslet, Titanic), who has several children, including young Peter (Freddie Highmore, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Barrie uses the experiences they share together to help put together his most ambitious story yet.
But the friendship isn't just the stereotypical British strawberries and cream. Sylvia's mother (Julie Christie, Troy) and James' wife Mary (Radha Mitchell, Silent Hill) are concerned with the amount of time that James spends with Sylvia and her kids, and there is even talk about the nature of James' relationship with the kids. James has to overcome public sentiment and impression, and still finds time to be with the Davies family, and balances this with his ongoing creation of his play, a novel enterprise that would be later named Peter Pan.
Well, Finding Neverland isn't the most emotionally manipulative, predictable and sugary sweet film that one could see in recent years, huh? To be fair, the story about the inspiration for Peter Pan, however loosely based on fact, isn't that bad. I think what helps the film not be as telegraphed as similar heartwarmers is that Forster does the effective job of showing off the frame of mind between childish believer and cynical grownup. And it also helps the balance between childhood joy and adulthood, well, whatever that adulthood has. I'm not too sure how accurate the town response was about the nature of the relationship between Barrie and the children, but it doesn't seem to get a lot of screen time as anything more than an antagonist.
In terms of performances, Highmore is a fresh breath of air from the normal effective child actors. He doesn't show off the hound dog face or cat's eyes that automatically make you go "Aww" as a reflex. He has some quality dialogue that he delivers well, and in between this and his other work with Depp, hopefully he can evolve his excellent acting talent. As for Depp, his role as the near-Scottish Barrie is exceptional. He disappears into the role from the jump, and your familiarity with Depp the actor pokes its head up when his facial mannerisms ring familiar. Otherwise, he handles the role amazingly, and with great performances in an increasingly eclectic mix of roles, has to be considered as the next great American actor on a very short list.
The film itself is presented on high definition in a 1080p MPEG-2 encoded transfer that is marginally better than its standard definition predecessor. Black levels are great, but the level of depth in an image just doesn't wow you like other next-generation titles do. The 2.35:1 anamorphic presentation retains quite a bit of grain as it should, but it became distracting at times. The uncompressed PCM soundtrack is a little bit better, showing off some clarity and a dynamic range that is of good quality, but for this film, seems to be a bit on the nonplussed side. However, if uncompressed soundtracks are the norm in the Blu-ray world, keep them coming.
The extras are ported over from the SD version, starting with a commentary with Forster, Magee and producer Richard Gladstein. The commentary is OK, nothing terribly informative, but in a nod to the convenient, a subtitle track is included that you can select while you watch the film, assuming you feel like multi-tasking. The outtakes reel is nice for the sake of seeing Depp break character, and the making of featurettes are nothing terribly new. There is an HD exclusive feature that lets you look at three scenes that demonstrate how good this new technology looks and sounds, but this isn't the disc for it. If I were pulling the strings, a biographical look at Barrie would have been a nice touch for this disc.
Is it a little snobbish for me to say that Dustin Hoffman's role in this film is a little bit unnecessary? OK, let me clear it up, I think the New York charm brought to this London production, even if Hoffman effects a minor accent, is a little bit out of place. I have no qualms with the performance, but the casting choice remains a sore spot for someone whose mother's side of the family comes from across the pond.
Finding Neverland is a nice film about reclaiming the innocence of childhood. The performances are all noteworthy and the story that inspired it remains a childhood staple. However, when it comes to upgrading to this next-generation video, it's not worth too much of your time. There are better discs out there that serve as reference material.
Not guilty for the cinematic merits, guilty for the crime of double-dipping without any real cause.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Filmmaker Commentary
* Production Featurettes
* Deleted Scenes
* Original DVD Verdict Review
* Official Site
* The James Barrie Society