Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Silent Boy Who Never Grew Up

I’ve been saying that Barrie hated the silent movie. It’s not wrong, per se, but delving into it again, I’ve found that I may have over accentuated Barrie’s feelings. Seems I combined the elements involved with his dislike of the Kensington Gardens statue. I’m sorry if I misled anyone, for Barrie did find pleasure in some of it. When Betty Bronson, the actress who played Peter Pan, visited Barrie two years later in London he told her she’d impressed him. And he did have the final say on the pick for Peter.

However, my believing that he greatly disliked it comes from the fact that most of what he envisioned had been ignored. Barrie resisted quite a few offers to film the story. He wanted Charlie Chaplin to produce a movie and star as Pan. He wrote a grand screenplay. For Barrie it proved an opportunity to truly work outside the confines of the stage play. He wrote entire new scenes, such as beginning with Peter Pan merrily ride a goat around. An extended flying sequence:

The flight to the Never, Never Land has now begun. We see the truants flying over the Thames and the Houses of Parliament. Then an ordinary sitting of the House of Commons, faithfully reproduced. A policeman rushes in to the august Chamber and interrupts proceedings with startling news of what is happening in the air. All rush out to see, the Speaker, who is easily identified by his wig, being first. They get to the Terrace of the House and excitedly watch the flying group disappear.

Then the children flying over the Atlantic. The moon comes out. Wendy tires, Peter supports her.

Then they near New York. The Statue of Liberty becomes prominent.

So all in all, he relished the ability to show expanses of the Neverland like, well, never before. The man knew exactly what he wanted. He had such a vision of it! It sounds wonderful. Quite the imaginative power went into his screenplay, meticulously detailed. But to a fault. It can certainly be construed as crossing the line into “control freak.” So, when he finally acquiesced to the Lasky Company to make the movie, all of his additions and specific instructions did not prove entirely feasible. Or director Herbert Brenon exercised his right to, well, direct. Or both. Either way, most of Barrie’s creation never made it past the pages he wrote them on. Many were outright ignored and contradicted, such as close-ups of Tinker Bell. Not exactly encouraging for him. And his first pick never panned out. Also, although there are some wonderful exterior shots, for the most part it merely filmed the stage. So naturally I assessed that he’d be disenchanted with the results.

Let me talk about those results.
As a general critique the expressions and gestures are way over exaggerated. But then, this effect is from the style of the time. Actors had to compensate for lack of sound to convey their emotions and carry the story. Especially when the words put up on screen are condensed from the original script.
What caught my attention:
> Mrs. Darling sees a glimpse of Peter. We know she does from the novel and the play, but to include it is a nice touch.

> A well done exterior of Peter sneaking along the house and peering inside.

> The dog costume, up close, is quite unnerving. It may have worked on stage, but on film it just proved too freaky looking. I don’t mean to suggest that they should have used a real dog. Nor that they should have constructed a dog. Merely pointing out how it can be jarring. (Barrie said: NOTE about Nana. -- She should be generally played by a human being in a skin exactly like that of some real Newfoundland dog which is available, so that in certain scenes -- as in the street scenes -- this dog can be substituted for the actor.)

> A marvelous scene in the movie is Nana coming to Mr. and Mrs. Darling at their fancy dinner party. The other dinner guests follow them to the nursery and see the children fly away.

> The creation of the Wendy House is quite a remarkable effect for the time period.
As is Tinker Bell in her boudoir.

> A great shot of a real ship on real water. And a fantastic crane shot of pirates coming ashore.

> I liked the slides and mushroom chairs in the Underground House.

> Quite a stunning view of the mermaids on the beach. At least two dozen of them, also done with a type of crane shot. Curiously, they included a Mermaid Queen.

> The interior of Hook’s cabin also provided a welcome addition.

> And the hook is on the correct hand.

And now for what I did not like.
> I found it strange that no kind of special effect represented the fairy dust being blown on the Darlings. Not that I expected superimposed animation. But to have nothing, not even simple glitter? I felt cheated.

> There is an entire scene watching Captain Hook get the idea to put a clock in the crocodile. Barrie does not directly suggest that he put it there himself. Just that by chance it swallowed it. Later, Peter bravely takes the clock out of the crocodile. He does so rather than imitating the tick-tock himself as in the novel. It should be noted that In Barrie’s screenplay, Peter is seen making plans with the crocodile – that Peter will deliver the rest of Hook if he follows.

> They changed it from “English gentleman” to “American gentleman.” When the Jolly Roger’s skull and crossbones are taken down, it is replaced with an American flag. I realize Hollywood made it, but it seems a crime to alter it. (They did the same on Broadway.)

> During the exchange between Mrs. Darling and Peter Pan about adopting him, it now reads: Would you send me to school? And then to an office? - and soon I shall be president? I’m sorry...what?

You may or may not recall my praise for Tinker Bell’s resurrection in the Hogan film. They did not fair(y) so well here. They still ask for the audience to clap their hands. (Barrie did, too, actually.)

On the whole, a valiant effort. The performances are good, albeit emphasized. It utilizes the film’s expanding quality to produce some wonderful scenes. When one considers what they accomplished in 1924, cinema’s infancy, one cannot help but praise the work. Still, it would have been great to see it fully realized the way Barrie envisioned. Then again, one could argue he went a bit overboard. The enthusiasm of being able to bring in the new material outweighed the editing process. Perhaps I wished for a better medium between the two.

Japan's Boy Who Never Grew Up
P.J. Hogan's Boy Who Never Grew Up
Disney's Boy Who Never Grew Up
Fox's Boy Who Never Grew Up

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