(On DVD, January 2017) There have been many attempts to tell stories around J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in the past decades (the fatally flawed Pan “reimagining”, the dull Finding Neverland biopic, all the way back to 1991’s Hook, presenting itself as a sequel), but I don’t think there’s been as pure a telling of the story itself as the 2003 version of Peter Pan. Strong special effects, decent actors, lush visuals and decent direction by P.J. Hogan all work well in presenting the myth with the latest technical polish. The story’s edges haven’t been polished to Disney perfection and that’s quite all right—the original novel is not without its darker moments. Now, Peter Pan has never been anywhere close to the top of my favourite stories, but this film does a fairly good job at re-creating what makes it special. In-between Jason Isaacs, Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Olivia Williams and Ludivine Sagnier, there’s plenty of acting power here to support the visual effects. In many ways, there isn’t anything else to say—if you want to see a faithful adaptation of the novel, this is still your best bet.
(Second viewing, On TV, December 2016) I remember two or three jokes from my first viewing of Hook more than twenty years ago, but not a whole lot more. I have noted a certain polarization of opinion about the film—a lot of regular people like it, while critics don’t. I watched the film in regular-person mode, and wasn’t displeased from the experience: Despite claims of this being a sequel to the original Pan, Hook is very much a retelling … so closely so that it gives rise to some vexing issues (as in: “why bother?”) There is a very late-eighties quality to the way the action is staged in Neverland, prisoner of limited soundstage sets and the special effects technology of the time. As a take on the Peter Pan mythos, it’s decent without being exceptional or revolutionary—it’s still miles better than the 2016 Pan, although not quite as successful as 2003’s Peter Pan. Julia Roberts isn’t bad as Tinkerbell, although her unrequited romance is good for a few raised eyebrows. Robin Williams is OK as Peter, but it’s hard to avoid thinking that another actor may have been better-suited for the role. Meanwhile, Dustin Hoffman seems as if he’s having a lot of fun in the titular role. While Steven Spielberg directs, there is little here to reflect his legendary touch. It does strike me that Hook fits almost perfectly with the latest Disney craze of remaking its classic animated movies as live action. Perhaps contemporary opinion about the film will be more forgiving than the critical roasting it got at the time. Until that reconsecration, the result is perfectly watchable and squarely in the middle of the various takes on Peter Pan.
(On Cable TV, July 2016) We did not need Pan. Not now, when Hollywood studios addicted to the mirage of guaranteed profits are busy trying to take a hundred years of pop culture and hammering it into their three-act paradigm. Here we have Peter Pan reimagined (gag, spit, eye roll) in a sequel in which nothing of particular importance happens except remind us of other better takes on the same story. Director Joe Wright is too much of a professional to make an entirely boring film, and so the poor souls forced to watch the film will be able to, at least, enjoy a Spitfire-versus-galleon fight (don’t ask), colourful visuals and a tribal rendition of Nirvana’s “Smell Like Teen Spirit” that is so misguided and out-of-place as to defy any reason. I highlight this as one of Pan’s better moments because by the end of the film, it’s obvious that bad is better than boring. The script tortures the Peter Pan myth until it can be treated like one of so many disposable fantasy films, dispensing colourful visuals over a story so familiar as to inspire annoyance. Known actors such as Hugh Jackman, Amanda Seyfried and Rooney Mara do their best with badly written characters, to no avail. Pan was a box-office failure and a critical disappointment, and it’s not hard to see why: far from being colourful and original, it feels incoherent and disjointed, rushing through the motions of a CGI-heavy fantasy adventure while never having anything of its own to bring forward. It’s more tedious than anything else, and it’s depressing to wonder what other movie could have been green-lit for this amount of money.