I had zero expectations going into NEVERLAND, SyFy’s big miniseries event for 2011, so the program easily exceeded what I was hoping to see. Unlike TIN MAN and ALICE, which interested me but never really engaged me, I was instantly caught up in the various worlds of NEVERLAND, and I am eagerly looking forward to watching Part 2.
NEVERLAND is a prequel to the beloved classic children’s story Peter Pan, and purports to explain what Neverland is, and how Peter and the Lost Boys, Capt. Hook and the pirates, the Indians, fairies and everything else all came to live there. Surprisingly, writer/director Nick Willing (who also wrote and directed ALICE and directed TIN MAN) has come up with a surprisingly cohesive explanation for it all that is also fun to watch.
Willing suggests that Neverland is, in fact, a planet of great cosmic significance (I won’t ruin it here), and its placement in the universe is responsible for its denizens never growing a day older. The key to traveling to Neverland is an orb powered by cosmic energy, and over the centuries various people who have come in contact with the orb have been teleported to Neverland, which explains how pirates can exist alongside American Indians and Victorian street urchins. The rivalry between Peter (Charlie Rowe) and Hook (Rhys Ifans) is slowly being nurtured – so slowly, in fact, that Hook isn’t even a pirate captain yet. That honor goes to a completely new character, Elizabeth Bonny (Anna Friel, late of the lamented PUSHING DAISIES) — no doubt modeled on the real-life Capt. Anne Bonny.
The characters are pretty interesting, even if the set-up – “Jimmy” Hook as the Fagin to a bunch of juvenile pickpockets – has been done to death. There’s something about Hook that remains mysterious, and I really enjoyed Ifans’ portrayal. Rowe’s Peter is written as a bit of an overambitious screw-up, whose reach far exceeds his grasp and ends up getting his mates dumped in on an alien planet and, in one case, killed. So while Peter starts out with dreams of nothing more than running the gang with Jimmy, he begins to understand the burdens of being a leader. Bonny is written as a standard pirate captain, which I suppose is a good thing; she doesn’t go easy on the boys just because they’re kids. And she does have a good head on her shoulders, as when she realizes that returning her crew of buccaneers to a world that passed them by hundreds of years ago would be a death sentence. It’s worth noting that Bob Hoskins is playing the pirate boatswain Smee – a role he also portrayed in Steven Spielberg’s Hook, the crappy 1991 sequel to Peter Pan. I suppose if somebody takes another crack at a live-action Peter Pan, Hoskins should complete the trifecta and play Smee again.
The script is fairly clever, and peppered with some nice scenes – my favorite being the line of chanting Indians who save Peter and Fox from the tree fairies. But a few early scenes lay on the foreshadowing too thick – how many times was Peter told he has to “grow up”? Willing’s direction could have used a little more pep, as the narrative energy waned in the second hour – but then again, it is hard to juggle the illusion of multiple worlds while pausing the action every few minutes to hawk french fries. And Tinkerbell had almost nothing to do for the initial two hours, so one wonders why they went to the trouble of hiring Keira Knightley to give her a voice.
As I said, I’m looking forward to Part 2, which looks to be packed with a lot more action, and we will (hopefully) see the characters morph into the familiar figures we all know and love. And, hopefully, Tink gets into the action!