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Miramax Pictures presents
"Every fairy tale needs its hero."
DVD ReviewJust as the real-life Christopher Robin was none to happy about appearing in his father's popular stories about a silly old bear, Zach Riley (Aaron Eckhart) has spent much of his life ignoring the legacy left to him by his late father (Nick Nolte), the author of a bestselling Harry Potter-esque children's fantasy about a kingdom known as Neverwas, who committed suicide when Zach was a young boy.
Decades later, Zach, now a respected psychiatrist, leaves a cushy university job to work at an under funded, dilapidated hospital in his hometown—the same hospital where his father was treated years before writing Neverwas. While delving into old files and forgotten memories of his strained relationship with his dad, Zach meets a patient named Gabriel (Ian McKellen) who recognizes him from the Neverwas stories⏼not as a character in a book, but as a real hero who is destined to free the kingdom from the grip of an evil sorcerer.
Neverwas wants us to question whether Gabriel really isn't crazy, metering out the backstory of how Zach's father came to write the Neverwas book in flashbacks (flashbacks which give the surprisingly affecting Nick Nolte sadly little to do), but it muddies up the works with a lot of dull peripheral characters. Jessica Lange is overwrought in a few brief scenes as Zach's mother, Alan Cumming and Vera Farmiga appear as patients in the hospital and get a few meaningless story threads that go nowhere, and Brittany Murphy plays Zach love interest, who has all the substance of a stock film cliché, despite her weird obsession with the Neverwas book. All the wasted energy seriously detracts from a few strong therapy sessions between the bland Eckhart and McKellen, who manages to create a truly sympathetic character with very little to go on.
Another casualty of the Miramax acquisition engine, writer/director Joshua Michael Stern's film, which is very pretty to look at, drenched in golden tones and overblown lighting, played only a few festivals in 2004 and never saw a proper theatrical release, despite a host of recognizable stars. It's easy to see the qualities that attracted the studio—the magical and psychological elements of The Fisher King coupled with the sentimentality of the hit Finding Neverland—but it's easier still to see why the movie ultimately sat on the shelf for a few years before sneaking out on DVD. Though occasionally affecting, particularly the bittersweet ending, and undeniably well produced (save another blast of garish aural wallpaper from mysteriously beloved film composer Phillip Glass), it never quite gets around to crafting compelling characters or fully fleshing out the father/son relationship at its core. Tonally, it at times seems like it wants to be a family film, but includes some dark elements of mental illness and drug abuse that push it into rather dark territory, despite the fantastical overtones.
There is a good movie in here somewhere, but I sort of think Terry Gilliam already made it. Nevertheless, if the concept intrigues you, you probably won't feel like you wasted your time.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: Cinematography is the film's strong suit, and Neverwas looks pretty sharp on DVD, with a color palette rich in golden hues and strong detail.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 surround mix is pretty subdued, but not inappropriately so. The front channels do most of the work, but the rears do provide support for the overwrought score and atmospheric effects like rain.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Review: Aside from some nicely-rendered animated menus, Neverwas is sans extras.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsIt's not hard to see why Neverwas skipped theaters on its way to DVD—despite a cast full of familiar names, the story is a tough sell and the movie suffers from a wandering screenplay and uneven tone. Still, it's well-acted and lovingly shot, and not a bad candidate for a rental.
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