Judge Brett Cullum will never grow up. Not him!
Our review of Neverland (Blu-ray), published March 19th, 2012, is also available.
never grow up
The Darling children's adventures with Peter Pan have been recreated endlessly in cartoons, plays, movies, and, of course, books. I'd pretty much given up on the story, thinking I had seen every variation possible presented again and again. And yet along comes maverick filmmaker Damion Dietz (Fag Hag) to show us a whole new world with fairies you can believe in. Dietz takes the original novel and places all the action in the real world. Neverland is an amusement park where Peter and his gang of Lost Boys live, hiding from the adult world in little more than a hole located under the train tracks of a popular ride. They are raver runaways who seek only to get high, endlessly twirl around carousels, and eat cotton candy. Tinker Bell is a punkish drug dealer, who wears silk wings and has lights pulsating in her hair. Hook is the head janitor of the park, who moonlights as an S&M pirate leather daddy with a preference for young, beautiful boys to tie up and torture. Tiger Lily is the drag queen leader of a Native American showgirl revue, complete with buff Indians in loincloths that barely hang off their chiseled abs. All your favorites from the story are here, but spun into modern images of decadence and decay. This ain't Disney, kids.
Neverland takes on the struggle of youth culture against adult perversity, and spins it into an epic emotional battle within our hero's mind. At the start of the film, Peter intrudes on the Darling children while searching for the keys to his car—a black, sleek model cunningly named "My Shadow." Wendy, John, and Michael are the adopted progeny of wealthy parents who acquired them as much to look hip as out of any desire to have offspring. Often Wendy, the oldest, is left in charge, despite her protests. She meets Peter, and is instantly drawn to his radical irresponsibility. He offers to take her to Neverland, despite the protests of an angry, churlish Tinker Bell, who is on a mean streak thanks to a healthy dose of crystallized amphetamines she calls "fairy dust." Wendy agrees to go with Peter, but asks if she can bring her two brothers along for company. And so the wealthy but unhappy Darling children descend into a world of drag queens, roller coasters, neon, and dangerous sexuality. It's a journey that will culminate in Wendy and Peter squaring off on growing up versus staying in a state of eternal adolescence.
Though many people identify Damion Dietz as a gay filmmaker, Neverland incorporates a pansexuality that prevents it from easily being labeled as a "gay film." While his other efforts, including Fag Hag and Beverly Kills, do indeed play better to a gay audience, Neverland seems to easily cross boundaries to include just about everything. He never takes the easy way out by merely recasting everyone as one identity or another, but allows them all to blur the lines as the characters see fit. This is a crew of lost children who don't identify themselves in the convenient political terms of the day.
Now…Hook and his pirates? They are something sly and interesting to behold. The hirsute men are easily identifiable as leather bears, in stark contrast to the kids, who reek of a specifically defined sexuality. The drag queen Tiger Lily warns the raver kids that if they stay in the park long enough they will end up in the clutches of Hook and his crew at some point. There is no escaping the sexually jaded when you spend enough time in a world of libertines. All movies are at some point autobiographical, which is telling when you consider that Dietz both directed and wrote the screenplay for this feature. I wonder if he took this traditional children's tale and used it as an editorial on his own sexuality. Had he reached a point in his life where the free, easy, indefinable adolescent bonds of young club kids divided him against the lure of possibly slipping into a more specific world of sadomasochism found in leather clubs, with rigidly defined "boy" and "master" roles? Yet by throwing this debate on the table, I may be misleading you into thinking Neverland is a highly sexualized experience.
There is also a bright innocence to the proceedings. No sex or nudity is shown, nor is any of the violence played out on the screen. Though the situations drip with the promise of both, Neverland instead opts to explore the internal struggles of Wendy Darling and Peter Pan. Wendy is responsible and level-headed, and Peter is a dreamer. She loves his fanciful dreams, and he hungers for her stability. They both yearn for what the other has found, and therein lies the real drama of the story.
The acting comes off well, though most of the cast is inexperienced. Melany Bell makes her acting debut as Wendy Darling, and she's quite good. She has to carry the emotional weight of the story, and she does so admirably. Rick Sparks (a Dietz veteran, from Beverly Kills) plays Peter Pan with a decidedly more feral hipster take than Mary Martin could ever hope for. Kari Wahlgren (a noted voice actress) is amazingly good as Tink; she steals any scene she's in with her fairy dust fueled rage and malice toward the stability Wendy represents. Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation) appears in top hat and geek glasses as John Darling for all the Trekkies.
The DVD presentation of Neverland is as decidedly low tech as the movie. Visually the movie is a treat, with many sequences surpassing the budgetary limitations of an independent feature. Too bad the DVD is not an anamorphic widescreen transfer, and often appears grainy. The sound mix is clear, but not exactly impressive. The sole extras are a great trailer and some selected stills of the cast. I really longed for a commentary, but there's not one here.
Neverland is one of the most daring, original experiments I've seen. It takes a familiar childhood favorite and filters it through a kinky lens to turn it into a sly modern fairy tale. It is a sumptuous production despite the budget. I hope Dietz gets a Baz Luhrman (Moulin Rogue)-size project sometime soon, because he shows extreme promise with visuals. Neverland does so much with so little, and it's dazzling. Basically, all he did was take the book and throw it up there on screen with his own revisions. Amazingly, it comes off as adult and well thought out. With a hefty sprinkling of fairy dust, the movie soars across dark new terrain.
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