Vivendi Visual Entertainment // 2011 // 169 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Steve Power (Retired) // March 19th, 2012
Before Peter became Pan...Before Hook became Captain...They discovered Neverland! British network, Sky Movies and SyFy take you back to the beginning of the legend, but is it a trip worth taking?
Journey with the mischievous street urchin, Peter and his gang of young misfits as they are mysteriously transported to the magical realm of Neverland! Discover the origins of some of history's most beloved characters in this epic prequel to the classic tale of Peter Pan.
Where to begin? Not content with simply retelling the Peter Pan story, Neverland goes way beyond pirates and flying boys. The screenplay tosses in an Indian tribe, complete with rebellious Chieftain's Daughter (Q'orianka Kilcher, The New World), Queen Elizabeth's chief Alchemist (Charles Dance, Ironclad), Narnia-style portal hopping, the Philosopher's Stone, warrior pixies, man-eating scorpion spiders, giant ten-legged crocodiles, and a group of "Oliver Twistian" street thieves led by a Fagin-esque Jimmy Hook (Ryhs Ifans, Pirate Radio). Needless to say, Neverland's screenplay attempts to make the most of the mini-series runtime, and in doing so, it throws in everything but the proverbial kitchen sink.
With a movie packed so tightly, the runtime flies by. Some of the revelations make for some heady stuff that really adds significantly to the tale of Peter (Charlie Rowe, Never Let Me Go), while more of it is the sort of eye-rolling cheese you would expect from a SyFy miniseries, and easily could have been jettisoned to save on diluting the emotional core, and on runtime to boot. I for one could have easily done without the Avatar-esque plot concerning the mysterious mineral generated by Tinkerbell and her lot and a bunch of pirates razing her Na'vi-esque hometree to the ground.
The biggest problem is ambition. In trying to squeeze in everything, nothing really gets the lion's share of the telling, and some characters get muscled out in favor of more twists and turns in Peter's tale. Tinkerbell (voiced by Keira Knightly) in particular feels shoehorned in, and Peter's relationship with the Lost Boys is wasted in favor of adding dimensions to his relationship with Hook. Additional supporting characters like Anna Friel's (Limitless) crazed pirate captain and Bob Hoskins' reprisal as First Mate, Smee, are strong starters, but are also ultimately weighed down by the action beats and revelations, and made all but pointless by the final act. At least there's a big rousing set piece in there, though even that falls kind of flat when Peter and Hook have their final stand off.
Production wise, for a flick shot mostly on green screen soundstages, Neverland actually looks pretty good, and the costumes and effects are more or less solid, with CG backdrops that are well designed and, in some cases, actually pretty realistic. The CG creatures however are a mixed bag, with the ten-legged crocodiles coming in at about a "network TV" level, while other stuff looks laughably bad. Again, Ambition is a problem, as the low rent affair attempts to provide some big budget ideas.
Then there's the disc itself, which isn't too bad outside of the sorry slate of fluffy, full on marketing mode interviews and featurettes included.
Whatever shortcomings the narrative has are mostly alleviated by the quality of the performances on display. Rhys Ifans does very well as Hook, giving the character a bit of depth and more than enough emotion to sell him. Charlie Rowe's Peter is world weary and sly, but again, Rowe's maturity as an actor also helps him in the scenes where he and Hook have to play off of one another, and things get intense. Anna Friel's Elizabeth Bonnay is a scenery chewing crazy person, and she dives into the role well, and it was great to see Q'orianka Kilcher pop up again, though she was given significantly less to do than she was in Malik's Pocahontas epic a few years back.
The other big strength lies in the tone. Neverland isn't afraid to go dark, and there's some pretty captivating stuff in those darker passages of the film. It hearkens back, sometimes a little too much, to the darker family fare of the '80s, but it adds some appeal without feeling too forced.
Technically, the disc is also pretty sound. There's an otherworldly haze to the look of the film, kind of like the Lothlorien or Rivendell scenes in The Lord of the Rings, and that helps give Neverland a really welcoming look. The 1080p transfer is more or less spot on, if a little soft, though I did notice some flicker in a few of the CG backdrops from time to time. The blooming colors are very well captured however, and overall this one is pretty pleasing to the eye. The sound mix is solid, if nothing exemplary. There's some action out of the rear speakers, and the sound stage is pretty full, but the DTS-HD mix never really provides an earth-shaking experience you might expect from the action on screen, and the score...really kind of sucks.
Neverland is really more dodgy than anything, but when it all clicks, there's something charming about it that makes it an endearing way to pass the time. The disc is hardly textbook, but the picture quality does the production some favors, even if the extras fall short.
Not guilty. Only just.
Review content copyright © 2012 Steve Power; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 169 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery
* Official Site