Miramax Pictures presents
Finding Neverland (2004)
Peter Llewelyn Davies: This is absurd. It's just a dog.
Sir James Matthew Barrie: 'Just' a dog? 'Just'? Porthos, don't listen to him. Porthos dreams of being a bear and you want to dash those dreams by saying he's 'just' a dog. What a horrible, candle-snuffing word. That's like saying 'he can't climb that mountain, he's just a man' or 'that's not a diamond, it's just a rock.' 'Just'.- Freddie Highmore, Johnny Depp
Stars: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet
Other Stars: Freddie Highmore, Nick Roud, Luke Spill, Joe Prospero, Julie Christie, Radha Mitchell, Dustin Hoffman, Ian Hart, Kelly MacDonald, Mackenzie Cook, Eileen Essell, Jimmy Gardner, Angus Barnett, Toby Jones, Oliver Fox, Kate Maberly, Tim Potter, Catherine Cusack, Kali Peacock, Robert Oates, Jonathan Cullen
Director: Marc Forster
MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic elements, brief language
Run Time: 01h:40m:57s
Release Date: 2005-03-22
DVD ReviewSir James Matthew Barrie must be looking down on Earth right now with a large, magical smile. Roughly 100 years after his immortal stage play about a boy who never grows up first took life on the London stage, the cinema brought new life to this boy in a beautiful and faithful adaptation of J.M. Barrie's masterpiece, Peter Pan. Then, in the following year, another stage play, this time about the author's life, found its way into multiplexes across the world—creating one of the best films of 2004.
Finding Neverland, based on The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee, is inspired by the true story of J.M. Barrie and the Davies family. Following the flop of his most recent play, Barrie (Johnny Depp) is faced with both personal and professional crises. His wife, Mary (Radha Mitchell), is emotionally removed, straining their already teetering marriage even further. Additionally, the theater owner, Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman), is demanding a new play in order to compensate for the previous one's disaster—leaving James little time to summon inspiration. But as fate would have it, while working in the park with his dog, James meets the Davies family.
Four little boys capture James' heart almost immediately—and they are likely to do the same to every person sitting in the audience, too. In the blink of an eye, three of the boys have immersed James in their games of make-believe. Like the fine storyteller that he is, James goes even further than the boys are willing to go. In the film's first great scene, he converts his dog, Porthos, into a dancing bear for the boys. It's a magical scene that capture perfectly the story's theme about growing up, allowing even the most embittered cynic in the audience to fall into the world of children—where imagining hard enough can make almost anything true. Yet, while a weathered film buff such as myself falls prey to J.M. Barrie's fantasy, the young Davies boy, Peter (Freddie Highmore), is initially unimpressed.
As time progresses, James becomes a friend of the whole Davies family. The boys' widowed mother, Sylvia (Kate Winslet), welcomes him into her home as if he were an uncle to the boys. Soon enough, James is spending so much time with the family that it creates a tension around all of them. The Davies family is ostracized by the whole of London, rumors run rampant about James' failing marriage, and Sylvia's shrewd mother, Mrs. Emma du Maurier (Julie Christie), is good and determined to put an end to all the nonsensical games James plays with the boys. Even worse, Sylvia is clearly suffering from some kind of severe bronchial affliction, causing her already grieving son, Peter, to grow up even faster. All of this culminates in yielding for J.M. Barrie, the playwright, one of the most beloved stories ever produced.
The script, by David Magee, perfectly balances the adult drama with the imagination of children to create one of the more moving motion pictures in years. The serious scenes concerning Sylvia's health and James' marriage are written with a great deal of intelligence, but never border on pretense. As respectable as that is, however, the greater achievement may be in how the story fleshes out the imagination of children for the whole audience to see. Somehow, Magee has written a script that can switch between adult drama and childhood fantasy with ease, making this is ideal for family viewing. The little boy in me sprang to life about ten minutes into the movie, causing my eyes to water up and stay that way until the end, when tears streamed down my cheeks uncontrollably. Undoubtedly, Jan A.P. Kaczmarek's score heightens the emotional impact of the visual images.
The direction, by Marc Forster, is truly remarkable. Using crosscutting techniques, he seamlessly crosses over the line between the real and the imagined. One of the most stunning scenes in the film is when James takes the boys for a ride on a pirate ship. Sometimes we see the reality—that is, the boys, Sylvia, and James standing next to a pond—while at others we see the sea. And not just any sea, but a highly mechanized sea that's design is so ingenious I cannot summon the words to describe it, for anything I write will not do it justice. Standing alongside the fantasy sequences is Forster's subtle attention to detail, such as the carpet being worn out in the theater due to J.M.'s incessant pacing. Furthermore, Forster's direction gets remarkable performances from the entire cast.
As enjoyable as he was in Pirates of the Caribbean, Johnny Depp's work here is far superior—it might be his best performance thus far, in fact. His boyish looks are perfect for J.M. Barrie, allowing us to truly believe that this man presented in the film created Peter Pan. Depp's performance has all the fun of a rambunctiously creative man, but there's also a solemn integrity that his voice brings to the part. In scenes where it would be tempting to over-act, Depp takes a more passive approach that works marvelously. Accompanying this exceptional piece of acting is Kate Winslet's turn as Sylvia, which is every bit as good as her work in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. There's a maternal tone in her voice that brings an earthy quality to the film, which I doubt any other actress could muster. Also impressive are the four boys—especially Freddie Highmore's somber, yet charmed performance—who are almost as adorable and accomplished as the two girls from In America.
In an age of hyperkinetic editing and pacing, Finding Neverland returns to an old-fashioned style of storytelling. It's never dull and there's an abundance of fresh air in every frame. Not since It's a Wonderful Life has there been a film that captures the true beauty of living like this. I don't know if all the events depicted here are historically true...but they should be.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, this anamorphic transfer is a highly successful presentation of the film. Contrast is excellent and blacks are impeccable. Detail is strong and depth is noteworthy, helping to create a film-like look. The colors are vibrant, especially the reds during the theater scenes, and camera moves are rendered quite well. There are some occasional instances of mosquito noise that are mildly distracting, but otherwise this is a first rate transfer.
Image Transfer Grade: A
|English, French, Spanish||yes|
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix is an engrossing experience, using the surround speakers effectively for the score and scenes with large crowds. Sound separation is effective across the front sound stage, making for a wide dispersal of the audio and sound effects that is never distracting. Directionality is also used well, though it isn't quite as frequent as one might suspect. Dialogue is always audible and the whole mix is nicely balanced for an effective experience. There also are French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks available, too.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Dear Frankie, National Treasure
3 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Marc Forster, Richard Gladstein, David Magee
Layers Switch: 01h:01m:06s
- Outtakes—a gage reel of various flubs and joked made by actors during the production.
The Finding Neverland extras begin with an audio commentary by director Marc Forster, producer Richard Gladstein, and writer David Magee. The three men feed off one another nicely, giving interesting details about the production and their thoughts about the film. They discuss how they arrived at the movie's title and certain effects that they were unsatisfied with (such as the rain effect used during the play's performance). All aspects of the production are at least touched upon here, if not given significant insight, making for a fine commentary track.
Following that is the documentary The Magic of Finding Neverland (16m:05s). It has cast and crew interviews, clips from the movie, and behind-the-scenes footage, but it's really a disappointing feature. It mostly consists of different highlights from Johnny Depp's career, as well as Kate Winslet's, not directly related to this feature. Toward the end of it, however, there is some attention given to J.M. Barrie that partly makes up for the unsatisfactory beginning.
There are two featurettes, Creating Neverland (03m:04s) and On the Red Carpet (02m:24s). Creating Neverland focuses on the production's visual effects, giving a brief look into the processes used to achieve some of the more stunning scenes in the movie. It's so brief that it feels like a bit of a tease, but some of the stuff shown is worth seeing. On the Red Carpet goes through the different premieres and even includes an interview with Hilary Clinton! There's nothing really unusual said here, but it's kind of fun to listen to the different movie stars and politicians chime in with their two cents.
Next are three deleted scenes. Pretend You Still Care, Only Grown-ups Can Have Children, and Depending on J.M. Barrie can be viewed separately or all together for a combined running time of 2m:33s. The second scene is a funny extra bit, but all three were wisely cut from the final product. Our three feature commentators return again to give us their thoughts about each scene. Mostly they just talk about what the scene was supposed to be about and why they ultimately chose to cut it.
Finally, there is a gag reel of Outtakes (05m:32s) that is mostly lifeless but for an incident concerning the dog who plays Porthos.
The extras are sort of like cotton candy, enjoyable but not filling. Apart from the commentary, none of them relay much information about the film.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsA contemporary classic, Finding Neverland is not likely to leave a single eye dry. Featuring stunning performances and beautiful visuals, the film finds a new home on DVD that does a topnotch job of re-creating the theatrical experience. The image and sound transfers are well done and the supplemental materials make for a fine set, worthy of purchase.
Nate Meyers 2005-03-21