Thursday, July 31, 2008

P.J. Hogan's Boy Who Never Grew Up

When I discovered a live-action rendition of the classic story of Peter Pan would be hitting the silver screen, I’m sure some of my joy spilled a little everywhere I went. Why had I been so excited? Well, the answer should be obvious to you. But that’s not the reason. No. It sprung from the fact that this had never been done before. Yes. It had not. No live-action version of Peter Pan exists other than this 2003 movie and the silent version in 1924. [Barrie detested the silent one. He’s a bit too hard on it, if you ask me, but then he does have very valid points as well. I’ll address these when I post about it.*] But, again, Hogan made the only live-action Pan to date. People often challenge me with “What about Mary Martin?” No, Mary Martin’s version is a filming of the stage play. It is not a “movie” with theatrical release. And some would-be snarks suggest Spielberg’s Hook counts as the first live-action Pan. If you are one of them, I strongly urge you to rethink. Even if I could fathom it, it is not an adaption of the original story anyway, so it doesn’t count on that stipulation alone. How is it possible that no movie of Peter Pan had been made in 99 years? I mean, seriously, how?

Another part of my excitement came from the fact that everything I read in the years leading up to its release in terms of pre-production, production, interviews, press releases, etc., Hogan (and other actors) promised that it would remain faithful to the story. Hogan said himself, as I recall, that since it had never been brought to the silver screen, he would do it faithfully and do it justice.

And how do I feel about Hogan’s production? It’s 60% perfect, 40% atrocity.
Let me start with the good parts.

First of all, Jeremy Sumpter. He did an incredible job of being the eternal boy. I sincerely think Barrie would have been proud of his performance. He embodied everything about Pan - including the devil in him that Barrie so wanted him to have in the statue in Kensington Gardens. But it’s not just the script that provided the diabolical side of the boy, Sumpter brought it on with his wonderful expressions and acting. I can’t think of anyone who can make faces (in the good sense) better than Sumpter. He has said how much he enjoyed being Peter Pan and it shows. Adorable one minute, sorrowful the next and tricky in a flash. Bravo, Jeremy! Truth be told, there are two line readings that make me nuts. One of them I dislike because it is not at all how I always imagined Peter saying it. Not that I am solely correct, of course. But Sumpter’s interpretation is so different from mine that I had to put down my aversion and applaud it. Wendy asks Peter his name. In my mind, Peter would proudly and brightly respond, “Peter Pan!” with a “and YOU’RE NOT” subtext. (Chevy Chase similarity noted.) In the movie, he backs away from her, with a pause between “Peter……Pan” making Peter cautious at her approach. A cool way of reading it, I admit. The other line I just don’t understand. When Wendy withdraws under her covers, Peter must lure her back out. He’s trying to woo her, in a sense, so what he says should be enticing. Barrie says that Peter tells her “One girl is more use than twenty boys.” But the movie Pan says, “Onegirlisworthmorethantwentyboys.” No enticement, no sweetness. Just onebigword forced out his mouth. I’m not sure if Jeremy made these decisions or Hogan. But it matters little, for the rest of what he gave us IS Peter Pan. It should also be noted that Jeremy is the first boy to play Peter Pan on screen and be seen doing it (as opposed to Bobby Driscoll who voiced Disney’s).

The other actors all did a great job, too. Bravo to Jason Isaacs for making a refined but frightening Captain James Hook. No foppish, bumbling, comedic villain here. And the hook is on the correct hand. Honest, to all the actors a resounding BRAVO!

The set design, the mood, the tone, the colors, the lighting…beautiful. Perfectly matches the book in my mind. Bravo to the team. And James Newton Howard’s score - I can’t get enough of it.

Before I talk about what I deem horrendous, let me talk about the changes that I liked. Most especially the character of Aunt Millicent. Hogan’s invention actually fixes Barrie’s work. In the story the Darlings are concerned over how to meet expenses, yet they have a maid. A maid whose sole function is to almost catch the children with Peter Pan in the nursery. To add that bit of tension. Seriously, no other purpose. Hogan picked up on that, creating George Darling’s sister Millicent, played wonderfully and to the hilt by Lynn Redgrave. Not only is the scene more dramatic now that the dreaded Aunt Millicent will catch them, but she provides the nudge that perhaps Wendy should leave the nursery and grow up. She also nudges George, forcing confidence into him to be a smash hit at the party they attend with his co-workers so as to get a promotion. A brilliant tweak. I liked Aunt Millicent so much that if I ever made my own movie, I would ask Hogan for permission to use her.

The Black Castle. It’s not in the book…but I love it to pieces. One of the things Barrie envisioned for a movie of his work is expanding it in the visual sense. To be able to do and show material and places that could not be done on stage. So erecting a creepy castle around the kidnapping of Tiger Lily (which in this version included John and Michael as well) did wonders for the tale. Just the sort thing TO add. Bravo.

Though it veered, dare I say greatly, from Barrie I even liked making Wendy more strong-willed and disenchanted with her matronly duties. Craving adventure. I know a certain Miss Richards who would clap at this idea as well. I even could deal with the omission of the medicine scene for the clever race to retrieve the note from the teacher’s messenger. Again, it expanded the staging.

The saving of Tinker Bell is incredibly moving and powerful. I'd wondered how to do it for a movie without asking the audience to clap...and Hogan made it very special. Just as I would have imagined doing it, but he took it a step further by including Mr. and Mrs. Darling and Aunt Millicent in the mix. It's truly touching, uplifting and beautiful.

Hogan also makes a logical conclusion. If happy thoughts make one fly, then unhappy thoughts will make one drop. He establishes this idea early on in their arrival in the Neverland. He uses it at full power when Pan battles Hook in the final showdown. A shift is made in line delivery. Hook feeds Peter lines that really belong to Wendy. Hook presents the horror of the future, when Wendy will have forgotten all about him and is married to another man. Pan falls from the sky. It works effectively enough.

However, during that scene something is happening that made my skin crawl in the theater, and still does to this day. In Hogan’s version, Hook learns to fly. Why? It bears repeating. WHY? After all that talk about being accurate, finally realizing Barrie’s masterpiece in “reality” and then Hogan has Hook FLY? I can see if this had been the umpteenth movie made of Peter Pan. Wanting to change it up a bit so this version stands out among the others. But there ARE no others. WHY, Hogan? I don’t even think Hook would WANT to fly. And adults aren’t “supposed to,” am I right? If that didn’t ruin the movie (the one that had promised to be faithful) for me this next alteration did.

When Peter is defeated (for the time being) laying on the deck of the Jolly Roger, Wendy prevents Hook from plunging his claw into the boy, saying she wants to give him a thimble. Now, as we all should know, a thimble to Peter is a kiss and vice-versa. So…she gives him a kiss. Not a peck. Not a smack. A kiss. A full blown, face-sucking kiss. First of all, I do not need to see 13 year old kids sucking face. Second of all, it…are you ready…invigorates Peter Pan. He turns bright pink, his whole body, PINK. He lets out some sort of sonic boom cry and BOLTS into the sky, happy as hell and energized to whip the pants off Hook. No. No. NO. Sexuality would destroy Pan, not rejuvenate him. Why, Hogan?

I have a few minor bones to pick, such as the fact that Smee has a watch. I get it, the Captain smashing it with his hook is cute and it lends itself to his speech about the crocodile being after him. But that is the whole point…the only way to tell time in the Neverland is via the clock in the croc. I also abhor the notion of “Swiss Army Hook” by which I mean Hook having many hooks to choose from. I’m under the impression that this bloodthirsty pirate would relish a rusty, scratched, worn, severely evil looking hook. I didn’t like the parrot, either. I won’t go on with these, they’re minor. For each one of these, there are marvelous moments, such as Peter’s dejection at seeing Hook’s demise and the make-your-head-spin disorientation of rippling the stars on the way to the Neverland.

But the last bit that truly bothered me is that no last bit came. The scene when Wendy grew up and Peter Pan finally comes back for her again, only to take Jane, her daughter, instead. I read about the auditions for Jane, I knew the scene would be coming. Bart (who sweetly attended on Xmas Night much to his utter contempt for the idea), in fact, had been waiting for this scene. It’s his favorite of the whole book. It’s what he came to see, really, what he wanted to see most. But no. In the theatrical release, we hear a voice over from Wendy (which is when we learn that the female narrator is in fact her) saying, “But I was not to see Peter Pan again…” Excuse me? Wendy goes back to the Neverland many times! But alas, they even left out the scene with Jane. Argh! It does appear on the DVD as a deleted scene (among other scenes that should not have been deleted in my opinion because they are all beautifully done and retain some of Barrie’s best bits). It’s a gut wrenching scene. Truly. Even unfinished. There’s no music (which makes it more devastating) and the harnesses to make Peter and Jane fly are clearly visible. Still, it’s damn powerful and again Sumpter delivers. Too bad they cut it.

So there you have it. When it’s good, it’s perfect. When it’s bad, it’s unforgivable.
The 2003 Peter Pan is the best Peter Pan movie ever.
Because it is the only one. (Excluding the silent film, of course.)
One last thing. Why did they release it in 2003? It didn’t do as well as it might have up against the final part of Jackson’s Tolkien epic. Also, just one more year and a couple days and it could have been released 100 years to the day of the play's premiere. Hollywood inexplicably avoided making a Peter Pan movie for 99 years…what’s one more to celebrate the Centennial of Barrie’s masterpiece? I’m truly baffled.

But thank goodness that it DOES have much to love.
And thank goodness we have a Peter Pan, Wendy and Hook that do justice to these complex characters.

* The image I chose is my first exposure to the movie visually. I wondered greatly at what a dragon statue had to do with anything, but it only fueled my excitement at the time. The dragon is, of course, part of the Black Castle.
* As I state in "The Silent Boy Who Never Grew Up." I unintentionally over accentuated Barrie's feelings on the movie over the course of the years. Please see that post for more.

Bloody Smashing Performance, eh what?
A Million Thanks for Aunt Millicent
H-OO-k Tat-OO

Hogan's "Indians"

Japan's Boy Who Never Grew Up
Disney's Boy Who Never Grew Up
The Silent Boy Who Never Grew Up
Fox's Boy Who Never Grew Up


Moira Lewelyn said...

First off all, I want to say that I admire your blog, truly. It's nice to meet a fellow Neverlander ^^
Secondly, it's past one in the morning here, so my apologies if my comment seems slightly confused...

You said that "the only way to tell time in the Neverland is via the clock in the croc." but I recall a mention of Hook's watch in the novel? It struck me since I always thought any kind of ticking would freak James out... (I confess that I have been influenced by Spielberg's "Hook" and the Disney animated version)

Just a thought, I'm really not sure about this so I'll check later when my brain is actually functioning.

Oh one thing: how could you not mention Olivia William's magnificent take on Mrs Darling? She was so perfect my mouth hung open when she first came on screen...

Peter said...

Thank you for reading my site. I'm glad you enjoy it.

I double checked, and you do have me bested, in a way. I hunted through the book, and toward the end there is a mention of a watch hanging on the wall by a nail in Hook’s cabin. I'll get to why this slipped by me in a moment. As per the Hogan movie, it still does not make sense why there would be a collection of smashed watches. I mean, why would Smee still have a watch/clock by this time? (Pun noted.)

As for how I missed it, eventually Hook stopped being on my radar when it came time to research and write my novel. [Hook does not factor in to it as per his demise.] So a minor bit like that went out of my memory. (Too much like Peter Pan, I suppose.) Thanks for bringing it to my attention. And yes, it is curious that Hook would have a watch! Perhaps he disabled the ticking mechanism? Also, it is true of the Neverland itself - that there is no way to tell time. (Outside if Hook's cabin.)

And yes, Olivia Williams is the Mary Darling of our dreams. I agree her performance certainly helps make the film as great as it is. :) Rachel Hurd-Wood is also a wonderful Wendy. I just felt that I'd babbled way too much in the post as it is...
[Like now...] ;)

Moira Lewelyn said...

Oh good, I thought I was making things up...
I have to admit that I only noticed this detail a couple of weeks ago, and I do agree about the fact that the only way to tell the time on the Never Land is via the crocodile (I love the fact that Peter "brings back" the right time for Wendy ^^)

So Hook does not appear in your novel? (I have only just found out about it and thus have not been able to read it yet. I will, in time)
I guess it's right, though I can't get enough of Jas Hook (and would probably do my thesis on him if I ever had the courage to study for more than 3 years)


Peter said...

Well, since my novel takes place after the events of Peter and Wendy, Hook is already dead. ;)

Moira Lewelyn said...

I know, I know... I just haven't given up hope ^^

"Thus perished James Hook", what if Barrie turned his head just in time not to see Hook escape?

Nah I know he is dead as can be, I read Barrie's speech about him and he confirmed it, but still...

Anon said...

Sorry this is so late in getting to you, but it just occurred to me:

It seems the reason Hogan got rid of "When Wendy Grew Up" was for consistency's sake--granted, the grown Wendy has a daughter and presumably a husband, but once they introduced the idea that Hook (a grownup) can fly, there's no reason a grownup Wendy can't, unless it's that she doesn't want to and being a grownup has a will too strong for Peter....

I just don't like it when they change canon to make things consistent with some new idea--like in "Peter Pan in Scarlet."

Peter Von Brown said...

Anon -

Interesting theory. And a good thought in general (as far as over-analyzing [not meant as a bad thing] goes.)

But as I recall, they gave the reason for not including it on the DVD. First, the inclusion of Tinker Bell in the scene (the deleted scene) is because her revival in the film had been one of the most powerful parts of the film. Second, the (film) kiss shared between Peter & Wendy, as they saw it, could not be undermined by having it so it "meant nothing" to Pan by simply (heartlessly?) taking another girl (regardless of it being Wendy's daughter) instead. In other words, they felt including When Wendy Grew Up detracted from the 'power' and 'tenderness' of their kiss scene.

Which, of course (at least to me) misses and negates one of the most salient aspects/themes of Barrie's story.

Anon said...

Well, the fact of Tinker Bell being included doesn't really explain why they cut that scene out, but you're right--the other reason still cuts out the heart of Barrie because it's inconsistent with what they wanted to add to it.... XP

Besides, if they want to talk about heartlessness, how about Peter NEVER GOING TO SEE WENDY AGAIN?