Peter (Levi Miller) is a mischievous 12-year-old boy with an irrepressible rebellious streak, but in the bleak London orphanage where he has lived his whole life those qualities do not exactly fly. Then one incredible night, Peter is whisked away from the orphanage and spirited off to a fantastical world of pirates, warriors and fairies called Neverland. There, he finds amazing adventures and fights life-or-death battles while trying to uncover the secret of his mother, who left him at the orphanage so long ago, and his rightful place in this magical land. Teamed with the warrior Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) and a new friend named James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), Peter must defeat the ruthless pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) to save Neverland and discover his true destiny—to become the hero who will forever be known as Peter Pan.
Have you ever wanted to see a movie that received a terrible rap from critics, put off seeing it due to the reviews, only to eventually see it and find that it was nowhere near as bad as the reviews stated? Having seen it twice now, I can tell you that 'Pan' is worlds better than Rotten Tomatoes would have you believe. Surprisingly, it also gets better with a second viewing – especially with this fantastic high-def Blu-ray presentation.
If you've read my semi-controversial review of 'Hook,' then you already know that I'm a grand fan of Peter Pan tales (with the exception of the 2003 rendition of 'Peter Pan'). There's a greatness to J.M. Barrie's timeless tale. As a child, it filled my mind with a wonder so powerful that it never left. When I first saw 'Pan' in theaters, because of that nostalgic love and my deep admiration for director Joe Wright, I came in with huge expectations. I left the theater pleased, but not wholly satisfied. Watching it a second time on Blu-ray, and knowing what I was getting into, I not only enjoyed it quite a bit more, but found the complete satisfaction that I expected and missed the first time.
Through creative writing, 'Pan' gives solid answers to the questions that Peter Pan fans have had in the back of their minds. Where did Peter come from? How did he get to Neverland? Why is it that he can fly while none of the other Lost Boys can? For the most part, this is the core of 'Pan.' We get all of those answers and more through this fun, family-friendly origins story.
'Pan' kicks off with a quick teasing introduction that shows Peter's mother (Amanda Seyfried) mysteriously abandoning her baby at a London orphanage and telling the infant that they'll reunite before long. Cut to 12 years later. World War II is raging through Europe. Peter (Levi Miller) remains in the cruel orphanage that's ran by corrupt and spiteful nuns that rival those in the original 'Problem Child.' Every so often, Peter and the other children awaken to find that some of their fellow orphan friends have been adopted in the night. Suspecting the evil nuns of being up to something, the two hide away late one night to see what really happens to the kids. Just as they suspected, the nuns are in on a crooked deal that allows the pirates of Neverland to purchase the children for slave labor. And this is where the fun begins.
There are a lot of thing in 'Pan' that don't work too well. We'll get to that in a minute. But director Joe Wright is no chump. If you've seen any of his previous films – especially 'Atonement,' 'Hanna' and 'Anna Karenina' – then you know that he's extremely creative when it comes to concepting and visual design. It's during Peter's pirate kidnapping that Wright's trademark style first kicks in. Like a spectacular staged play or a Cirque du Soleil performance, pirates drop from wonderfully lit pillars of light through the ceiling with bungee-like ropes and snatch the children up in single quick fluid movements. After boarding the pirate's flying ship, they begin their departure for the Second Star to the Right, but catch the attention of the British Air Force. Mistaken for an secretive German war plane, the pirates engage in a high-speed dogfight over London. The result is an exhilarating action scene that's only made better with a 3D presentation.
After arriving in the slave mines of Neverland, we meet the film's villain, Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). The merciless bad guy is much more evil than Captain Hook has even been portrayed. His slaves serve one purpose: to mine for the crystalized remnants of pixie dust. When Blackbeard first learned the value of pixie dust, all Neverland pixies vanished. Knowing that he would kill them all, they went into hiding. The only people aware of their whereabouts are a band of savages that live deep within the jungle and roguely combat again Blackbeard and his pirate army.
Believing that newcomer Peter might be the prophesied messiah of Neverland, fellow slave miner James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) partners with Peter for a daring escape that will connect them with the so-called savages led by Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara).
There are many elements in 'Pan' that work extremely well. But on the flipside, there are also a couple that don't work at all. Fortunately, those that do work – the fun screenplay, the chemistry between the leading actors, Joe Wright's wonderful direction and brilliant design (including two pieces of amazingly animated backstory storytelling) – work exceptionally well and are strong enough to overshadow those that don't work. My theory on the film's failures stem from the fact that this is Wright's first studio picture. I believe that he had a much grander, ambitious and artistic vision in mind, but that the studio jumped in and meddled with his creativity. The two elements that don't work so well are: music and CG effects. Much like Steven Spielberg's 'Hook,' 'Pan' benefits from wonderfully large and gorgeous set pieces. Unfortunately, there's also an overabundance of CG effects that ultimately end up clashing with the practical ones. Perhaps this was always Wright's intention, but the CG animation definitely isn't the greatest when paired with the practical.
When it comes to the musical issues, it's not the scoring that I'm referring to. John Powell's score is great and only made greater through the Blu-ray's stunning Dolby Atmos mix. The music that I'm referring to is of the unfitting and inconsistent variety. I'm fine when filmmakers decide to throw seemingly unfitting music into their films – like what Quentin Tarantino did by adding rap into the soundtrack for 'Django Unchained.' I'm all for it. Surprise me. Make something work that otherwise wouldn't work – but what's done with music here is not only unfitting and unexplainable, but it's also entirely inconsistent.
Once in Neverland, Peter and the other miners stop working so that Blackbeard can introduce himself to the newcomers. The thousands of slave miners and pirates begin chanting the lyrics to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." When I first saw 'Pan,' I was initally caught off-guard, but thought to myself, If they're going to make this a quasi-musical picture that's creatively in the vein of 'A Knight's Tale,' then I'm on-board. Like I said, I'm always up for a good director proving me wrong. And if any director was going to do that, it would be Joe Wright. But he didn't. Instead, it's only done on two occasions, then left by the wayside. Shortly after the Nirvana song, The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" is performed in the same chant-fashion by the miners - and then it ends. We don't get another musical variation ever again. It's as if they filmed the entire movie with contemporary musical selections, only to have the studio give the concept the axe in post-production and realize that they couldn't cut around those two tracks. It's not like there weren't other chances to add more music either. Two other scenes with the savages offer up similar settings and potential moments for pop music renditions, but the music is completely average, unforgettable and inconsistent with the first two uses.
Is 'Pan' as unforgettable and timeless as Disney's animated 'Peter Pan' or Spielberg's 'Hook?' No – but it's definitely not bad. Don't let the negative critical response fool you. Aside from my overly-critical critic friends, everyone else that I know who saw 'Pan' enjoyed it as thoroughly as I now do.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Wanrer Bros. has give 'Pan' the full combo pack release. The 2D set comes with a BD-50 Blu-ray disc, a DVD copy of the film and redemption code for a Digital HD copy of the film. A cardboard slipcase is also included. The only things to play before the main menu is a disclaimer, a trailer for 'Iron Giant' and WB's Digital HD promo reel. Warner Bros. also released 'Pan' in a 3D combo pack, but that version was not sent out for review.
'Pan' arrives on Blu-ray with a flawless, gorgeous 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode transfer. Although shot digitally, it gives off a wonderfully cinematic vibe. There's a nice depth to the image, although some elements that were obviously designed for eye-popping 3D don't visually work quite so well in 2D.
An immaculate amount of detail can be seen at all times, showing off the wonderful craftsmanship of the set and costume designs. Rich textures and facial characteristics, such as dirt, smudges and pores, can always easily be seen. During the first animated storytelling sequences, the rich details make the "whittled wood" appearance makes the effect look more like practical animation than what it really is - computer animation.
One of the knock-out visual elements in 'Pan' is the colorization. The movie opens with a black & white sequence that shows Peter's mom dropping him off at the orphanage. The slightest amount of red can be seen in this scene which, otherwise, features a gorgeous grayscale. When we leap forward 12 years to war-riddled London, color is introduced, but in a very saturated and lifeless way. It isn't until the journey to Neverland that the colors start explode on the screen and fleshtones become natural and realistic. We get vibrant glimpses of them, but the mines return us to an earthly lifeless palette. Once free from Blackbeard and his pirate force, the remainder of the film is filled with striking and beautiful colors. Covering the entire spectrum, it's visually delightful and extremely pleasing.
'Pan' hits Blu-ray with a Dolby Atmos track and a stellar base 7.1 Dolby TrueHD track. Even if you don't have an Atmos system, you'll still praise this perfect mix.
It's reported that the film's delayed opening was caused by the original composer's score not working with Wright's final cut, causing another composer to be brought on to re-score the entire picture. If that was truly the case, then it was worth it. John Powell's score contains loud adventurous themes when needed, but also carries extremely subtle and highly effective background music throughout. Because of the dynamic mixing of the subtle moments, they stood out with my Blu-ray viewing, whereas they didn't even catch my attention when I screened 'Pan' in theaters.
The effects mixing is also top notch, delivering wonderfully immersive and layered sounds. The 1930s streets of London are filled with imaging off-screen cars and the clacking high heel footsteps of Peter's mother echoing off the building exteriors. The orphanage mess hall is chock full of chatter and clinking silverware that emits from all around the room. Air raid sirens blare from all about during the German aerial invasions. LFE arises when called for. The dogfight warrants whizzing bullets that seamlessly flow through the room. When the camera follows a falling bomb to the ground, the sound of rushing wind blows by. Neverland's forest brings bugs, chirping and rustling leaves. No matter the location, the layers upon layers of effects make for a great listening experience.
Each of the following special features feels like a chapter from a single larger feature that was needlessly split up to make the disc appear to have a higher quantity of overall special features.
There's a conundrum when it comes to movies that only get better with repeat viewings. After all, how are you supposed to get to those repeat viewings if you didn't love it in the first place? Between that and the unearned lambasting that 'Pan' received during its theatrical release, it's going to be difficult to get others to agree with my positive opinion of it – but this wouldn't be the first iteration of Peter Pan that caused some negative feedback to come my way in the forums. Joe Wright's 'Pan' isn't perfect, it carries a couple undeniable flaws, but the positives highly outweigh the negatives. Wright's creative style and direction excel in ways that the vast majority of family movies do not. Combined with the perfect five-star video and audio presentations, this is a Blu-ray disc that demands to be experienced in the loudest and biggest of home theaters. Many moments throughout the movie will make for great demo material. The downside to this disc are the special features. Less effort was put into them than Warner Bros. put into marketing 'Pan''s theatrical release. The dull commentary track is plagued with silence and the four featurettes are mostly throw-aways. Having said that, the movie itself and its brilliant presentation earn my recommendation.