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Monday, October 12, 2015

Pan

Another origin story that no one wanted...


By this point, I think we can safely say that J.M Barrie's immortal fairy tale has been pretty well mined by the great Hollywood machine. Along with the classic Disney animated film from way back in 1953, we've had a silent adaptation in the early '20s, spin-offs in the form of the Tinkerbell series and sequels, including Stephen Spielberg's largely derided Hook. We've even had a look at the life of its author in the decent but underwhelming Finding Neverland - which itself came out just a year after P.J. Hogan's fairly straightforward adaptation.

It's understandable, of course, as Peter Pan is that classic a story - and I haven't even gotten into the many, many reinterpretations on stage and TV and in novels and comic books, including my own favourite "cover", Peter David's wonderful novel, Tigerheart - but with so much baggage, it's hard not to come to a new version without at least some trepidation. Unfortunately for Pan - in essence, Peter's "origin story" of how he came to live in Neverland in the first place - such trepidations proved to be very well founded.

Pan is a bad movie, but it's not just your garden variety bad movie. No, Pan is the sort of bad movie that is so utterly pointless, so fundamentally misjudged that it's good points - of which there are actually quite a few - not only don't improve the bad parts but are brought down by them; to the point that they actually add to rather than subtract from the frustration of watching the film. It's a pretty classic example of the whole being significantly less than the sum of its parts, in other words, that is made all the worse by the fact that it constantly alludes to the brilliant fairy tale that inspired it but which it resolutely fails to live up to.


But first, before getting into all that it gets so very, very wrong, here are a few points that Pan gets very right indeed. Pan himself is played beautifully by young Australian newcomer Levi Miller who transcends a dodgy cawk-eny accent ("is this Caneeeda?") with spirit, vulnerability and a surprising amount of confidence for someone so young. Similarly good are the always excellent Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily (yes, this is typical Hollywood "whitewashing" but considering how un-PC everything about Neverland's natives are, it kind of fits in with everything else) and Hugh Jackman hamming it up and then hamming it up some more as the film's massively entertaining but quite underused main baddie, Captain Blackbeard.

Yup, Blackbeard. Captain Hook at this stage is no pirate at all, but a swashbuckling adventurer played by Garett Hedlund with the voice of Daniel Day Lewis and the wardrobe sense and personality of a bunch of Harrison Ford characters (not only does he dress like Indiana Jones and have the same moral compass as Han Solo from the first Star Wars movie, there's even a scene of him hanging from a ledge that was composed to look just like the poster for Blade Runner!) who is also reluctant buddies with young Peter.

It's weird as hell, but that's generally the case with everything that actually works about the film. Blackbeard, in particular, is a mad, mad pantomime villain who spin-kicks kids to their doom and leads his minions in giant singalongs to, get this, Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit and - oh, yes! - The Ramones' Blitzkrieg Bop! Hey! Ho! Let's go! And this is all matched by the film's positively psychedelic colour pallet and a generally mad aesthetic adopted by director Joe Wright (Hanna, Atonement) where more is always more and throwing in anything less than everything and the kitchen sink at the screen would be a profound waste. He even makes solid use of 3D technology to ensure that your brain is bombarded in the maximum amount of dimensions.      

Such a pity then that all this tasty lunacy amounts to absolutely nothing as the film sinks under sometimes shaky CGI, rote action scenes, one-dimensional characters, tooth-rattlingly terrible dialogue and a plot that is tiresome, cliched and utterly fails to understand the point of the Peter Pan story in the first place.

All that beautiful madness, that visual loveliness and, I almost forgot to mention, a pretty terrific score that does most of the film's emotional heavy lifting, are wasted on a generic origin story that goes something like this: Peter is a young orphan who is dropped off at an orphanage by his mother when he's a baby but his quite horrible childhood in the orphanage, with its goblin-like nuns,  is cut short when he is whisked away to Neverland by a group of pirates who set him to work mining for fairy dust - but it's not long before he finds out that his mother was more than she seemed and that he may just be the Promised One, destined to free the fairy kingdom from the evil clutches of head pirate, Captain Blackbeard.

It's yet another messianic tale but it's one that tries to squeeze itself into an existing story that really has little place for it. Peter Pan has always been about the gulf between kids and grownups and in their respective perceptions of the world but these ideas are nowhere to be found here as they are swallowed up by the "Chosen One" nonsense, even as the light and breezy tone of most Peter Pan tellings and retellings are shunted aside for a plodding pace and overly busy and bombastic action scenes.

It's also arguably too mean spirited for its own good, with none of the charm or magic of Peter Pan at its best. And then there's the "comic relief", which comes from the teeth-grindingly awful Sam Smiegel, as played with neither wit nor panache by Adeel Akhtar, which ensures that its resolutely as unfunny as it is no fun whatsoever. And that's really the worst part: for all of its flashiness and even for all its good points, the film simply is no fun at all.

And, really, when there are so many good versions of Peter Pan out there, why one earth would anyone bother with this?


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