There have been so many incarnations of Peter Pan and how he came to be on the ageless planet of Neverland that I guess it was only a matter of time before the SyFy Channel came up with their own version.
Writer/director Nick Willing has made a living out of reimagining old fairy tales into low-budget TV mini-series. Before he got a hold of Peter Pan's story for 'Neverland' he directed a trippy version of 'Alice in Wonderland' simply called 'Alice,' and a hipper looking 'Wizard of Oz' origin story called 'Tin Man' starring Zooey Deschanel. This time around Willing has cast Anna Friel ('Pushing Daisies') as a ruthless pirate captain; Rhys Ifans ('Anonymous') as James Hook, who has yet to become the fearsome nemesis of Peter Pan. Speaking of Pan, Charlie Rowe ('Never Let Me Go') has been cast as young Peter, who still hasn't found his true, legendary potential. Willing somehow even gets Bob Hoskins to reprise his Smee role, and Keira Knightley to provide the voice for Tinker Bell.
'Neverland' is an origin story about how everyone in the story that we're familiar with got to Neverland. There's much more science fiction involved this time around. There isn't a simple fairy-dusted flight to Neverland, instead magical orbs transport whomever disturbs them to the distant planet. That's where Peter and Hook come in.
In this version of the story, which I find somewhat fascinating, Peter and James Hook are friends in London. Peter runs a gang of pickpockets, while Hook manages them. Peter and Hook have become very good at what they do and now a big job has landed in their laps. A mysterious group has hired Hook to steal a glass orb from a local jewelry shop, but fearing that Hook was leaving him out of the score and trying his best to impress his boss, Peter decides to take the job and do it on his own. The resulting kerfuffle between Hook and Peter's gang at the jewelry store transports them all through the orb to Neverland.
They aren't the first people to use the orb. Captain Elizabeth Bonny (Friel) and her entire crew of blood-thirsty pirates was pulled into the orb 200 years ago, but they haven't aged. No one ages in Neverland. Yes, there are Indians also, who came to Neverland the same way. Once all the pieces are set in motion you can tell how they're going to build toward the Peter Pan storyline we're familiar with. Somehow James Hook and Peter are going to have a falling out, Hook is going to take over Bonny's crew, get his hand cut off, and enter into an eternal struggle trying to kill Peter whenever he can.
My wife, a huge Peter Pan fan, liked the origin story that was created in 'Neverland,' as did I. I felt the story was strong, but the writing and acting were far too weak. When your script makes Bob Hoskins look like he's never acted before in his life you know there's something wrong. Anna Friel, who I normally enjoy watching, is wretched here. This is something that is par for the course when you're talking about a Willing adadption. He just doesn't know how to direct actors to get their best possible work out of them.
While the acting and writing is about as wooden and clichéd as it comes there's some fun possibilities to be had with 'Neverland.' It's got its ideas on the right course, but suffers from the ineptness of its director. Honsetly, there's a great big-budget 'Peter Pan' movie to be made out of this origin story, it's just not this one.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This SyFy release is distributed by Vivendi Entertainment. All 169 minutes (two parts) are pressed onto a 50GB Blu-ray Disc. The movie is packaged into a standard Blu-ray keepcase and is afforded a slipcover which folds out on the front cover to reveal some still shots from the movie. Velcro holds the flap in place. Inside the case are three postcards that come with the movie. Hook, Peter, and Bonny are the characters featured on the cards.
Vivendi has given 'Neverland' a 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer which is framed with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. As far as fine detail goes, the transfer succeeds. Facial details are always noticeable, like Friel's freckles and Rowe's boyish baby face. Textures, like Bonny's lacy frocks and Peter's dirty clothes come across extremely life-like.
Colors are bright and vivid. The luxurious, fantastical surroundings of Neverland are contrasted by the dank, gloomy browns and grays of real world London. When the characters reach Neverland there's a never ending amount of bursting primary and secondary colors which really shine. Blacks suffer a bit through. Crushing is a common occurrence and, like many made-for-TV movies the blacks take on a bluish tinge, never approaching real, true black.
As with many SyFy movies the low-budget special effects really take a hit here. Some of them are really cheesy looking and seeing them in crystal clear HD only hurts them further. The spider scorpion is a good example of how awful some of the special effects can look at times in this show. I wasn't blown away by this video presentation, but compared to many other SyFy monster movies it comes off much better.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is pretty remarkable, especially when you compare it to the ho-hum video presentation. I found this surprising because I half expected that the audio would have the same lackluster feel as the other Willing Blu-ray releases like 'Alice' and 'Tin Man.' Thankfully, there's been more thought put into this mix creating a lively, engulfing mix from start to finish.
Dialogue is always clear, which is nice. (Especially because Friel's awful accent would be hard to distinguish if the dialogue was muddied.) Ambient sound is the real winner here. From cannon blasts to entire forests engulfed in flames, the rear channels have their work cut out for them. LFE is booming and absolute. Whenever a cannon fires a nice, steady rumble is produced. The one complaint I did have with the mix is the "tinkling" sound produced by Tinker Bell's wings. It's so high-pitched that it almost sounds like a phantom squeal inside your ears. It's grating to listen to whenever she flies into the scene and it's a very prominent sound.
Besides that one caveat, the rest of this mix is great, especially for a made-for-TV movie like this one. I was very impressed.
I admit it, I didn't have high hopes for a SyFy original movie take on Peter Pan and his first adventure in Neverland, but I was pleased to see it wasn't nearly as bad as I expected it to be. While the bad acting and hackneyed dialogue pulled me completely out of the story on numerous occasions, the strength of the overall origin story is what kept me going. It's one of the more interesting Peter Pan origin stories that I've seen. I still can't recommend that people go out and buy it sight unseen, but it's definitely worth a look if you have even the slightest interest.