Pan, which has been in the planning for some years, is a massive production from Warner Brothers and arrives on screen with an estimated $150 million budget. The director is the British Joe Wright who has an estimable career in arts and letters with adaptations of Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Anna Karenina (2012) to his name, while his highly acclaimed Atonement (2007) won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Wright had previously ventured into genre material with Hanna (2011) with Saorise Ronan as a genetically-engineered assassin.
I kept wondering who Joe Wright and Warner Brothers thought they were making Pan for. If it was child audiences, most of them stayed away in droves; if it was fantasy and effects audiences, the story seemed too simplistic for most of them; if it was fans of the original, they heaped ridicule on the production. (To date, the film has barely earned back a mere 10% of its production cost). The problem for me is that it is a slim story that has been vastly over-produced. I started to switch off during the scenes set in London no matter what it was, whether the boys dormitory, the camera moving through the streets, the mother superiors hall of records or the sailing ship in the sky and Peter going flying off into space on the end of a rope, all of it seemed to be obtrusively arranged to pop out at us in 3D. The absolute worst of these is where the ship flies away amidst a mid-air dogfight amid Spitfires and exploding barrage balloons what seems particularly absurd about this sequence is that the film has updated the setting of the story some forty years after J.M. Barrie wrote it solely for the coolness of staging a WWII dogfight. It is a film that is going to seem awfully annoying to watch on dvd/tv in that so much of it is arranged around these pop-up effects.
The film settles down somewhat once it enters Never Never Land where at least Hugh Jackman gives a theatrical performance that distracts from everything else whenever he is around. Nevertheless, Joe Wright and the effects team are constantly creating massive effects set-pieces Peter and Hook scaling falling gondolas to hijack a ship; the ship crashing through the jungle; their being pursued by giant cartoonish birds; the trampoline fight scenes amongst the tribe; the village invaded in a shootout with the pirates (where for some reason the tribespeople keep exploding into coloured smoke whenever they are killed); giant-sized crocodiles doing leaps through the air above the coracle. The most spectacular of these are the scenes in the secret fairy cavern where we get two rival sailing ships flying through the air, crashing and smashing through the stalactites as various parties fight around the rigging. It is an extended sequence that has some of the biggest wow factor of any fantastic film I have seen this year.
On the other hand, you might well ask yourself how much all of this has to do with Peter Pan. J.M. Barrie seemed to conceive a character who could believe he could fly and never grew up. It was an impossibly ideal vision of youth rejecting adulthood. Would J.M. Barrie have envisioned a Peter Pan that was intended as pure spectacle with exploding sailing ships crashing through caves or dodging Spitfire dogfights? Methinks not. Many other aspects of the story also get drastically rewritten. Barrie conceived fairy dust as the essence of something magical; now it is something crystalline that is in short supply and has to be mined by enslaved orphans. Peter is now given a backstory where he is revealed as half-fairy and in the films most creaky plot device has a prophecy as a Chosen One written for him. Perhaps the most ridiculous and completely random thing is having the abducted slave children singing a version of Nirvanas Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991) as the ship arrives.
If nothing else, the casting works well. An unrecognisable Hugh Jackman has a great deal of fun as Blackbeard, while Levi Miller gets the essence of Peter Pan just right. Garrett Hedlund gives a grizzedly handsome Hook where he seems to have set out to do his best Harrison Ford imitation. On the other hand, this is a clearly a Captain Hook who has been heavily rewritten so as to be cast with a good-looking lead. It seems a hard stretch of the imagination to go from the cocky adventurer we have here to the blackhearted villain that we have in all other versions a character that traditionally more resembles Hugh Jackmans Blackbeard than the one Garrett Hedlund plays. Not to mention that this is a story that seems to have conveniently left out the most crucial aspect of the origin story, which is how Hook lost his hand and turned into the villainous pirate who loathes Peter with all he has.
Other adaptations of Peter Pan include:- the classic Disney animated version Peter Pan (1953); Peter Pan (1955), a live tv play; Peter Pan (1976), a tv movie version with Mia Farrow!!! playing Peter; the animated tv series Peter Pan and the Pirates (1990); Peter Pan (tv movie, 2000); and the big-budget live-action Peter Pan (2003). There was also the fascinating but little-seen Neverland (2003), which gave Peter Pan a modernised interpretation with Peter a kid suffering from bipolar disorder; and the tv mini-series Neverland (2011), which offered a science-fictional rationalisation set on an alien planet. Other variations of the story include:- Steven Spielbergs live-action sequel Hook (1991), which concerns itself with a grownup Peters return to Never-Never Land; Disneys animated theatrical sequel Return to Never Land (2002) and the series of Tinkerbell dvd-released films with TinkerBell (2008), Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure (2009), Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue (2010), Tinker Bell: Secret of the Wings (2012), The Pirate Fairy (2014) and Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast (2014). Finding Neverland (2004) was a biopic about J.M. Barrie, and offered a heavily fictionalised account of the writing of Peter Pan.
(Nominee for Best Special Effects and Best Production Design at this sites Best of 2015 Awards).