Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace

Does the original trilogy justice in terms of heart, action, and fun —Marty Mapes (review...)

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Garnering Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and four other categories, Finding Neverland is a Miramax crowd-pleaser that stole the hearts of the Academy. And I do mean stole.

Fresh Squeezed Emotion

Everyone praises Depp on the DVD for Neverland
Everyone praises Depp on the DVD for Neverland

For better or worse, Finding Neverland is not so much a biography as a sweet, emotional drama. The main character did create Peter Pan, but that is not important. Any man with the same disposition would have made an equally good protagonist. Some facts of Barrie’s life come out in the details, as well as some fiction, but his renown has little to do with either Johnny Depp’s performance or Director Marc Forster’s focus.

Barrie loves kids, and at the park where he writes, he is more interested in amusing the kids than in ogling their mothers. Through repeated sightings he becomes familiar with the Davies family — three boys and a single mother (Kate Winslet), whose husband died of cancer. Slowly, Barrie grows away from his wife and into the role of father for the Davies children. His love for the kids inspires him to write Peter Pan, which saves his flagging career as a playwright.

The movie glosses over some of the unpleasant facts of Barrie’s life. The movie makes Mary such a cold and aloof woman that we cheer their divorce. It also makes the boys’ mother more sympathetic than she perhaps deserves. But Forster and screenwriter David Magee (basedon a play by Allan Knee) are unapologetic. If they can wring a tear or a cheer from you by twisting the facts, then they’ll do so gladly.

Audiences, including me, liked the film. But the gushy sentimentality is not honestly won. The movie wrings its approval from its audience, rather than earning it through sincerity and hard work. Granted, there are some very good performances, particularly from Depp and a young actor by the name of Freddie Highmore who plays the youngest Davies boy. But the emotional moments are calculated, planned, and scripted so that one feels more propagandized than moved. Still, the movie earns a cautious recommendation because it is so successful at what it does.

DVD Extras

The DVD has several extra features, but none are entertaining or informative enough to add much value to the disc. On the Red Carpet is total fluff, with footage from four film festivals. The silliest footage is a just-after-the-film audience reaction from Hillary Clinton saying she loved the movie. The Magic of Neverland is little better; instead of audiences praising Depp, this has his fellow castmates praising him. It’s interesting to learn that the real Barrie left the rights to Peter Pan to a children’s hospital, but that may be the only factoid you’ll hear in these ten minutes.

The outtakes aren’t bad. Depp keeps his accent, even when the scene has gone awry. But there’s only a couple minutes’ worth, and there’s nothing hilarious. Director Marc Forster says on the deleted scenes commentary that Depp correctly predicted two of the scenes would be deleted (there are three on the DVD).

Audio Commentary

The most notable thing about the audio commentary is that screenwriter David Magee’s phone rings and producer Richard Gladstein’s cell phone rings twice. Either director Marc Forster is not in such demand, or perhaps he is just much more polite. Recording a DVD commentary track is of minor importance to any filmmaker’s career, but that’s the last thing you want to learn after spending 90 minutes listening to one. It’s an insult.

Like many commentary tracks, the best stuff is right at the beginning, while the three participants are fresh. Oddly, all three speakers preferred the title “Neverland” (or was it “Never Land,” as on the slates?). Someone with more power that the screenwriter, director, and a producer combined must have insisted. Do you suppose his last name is Weinstein?

Magee and Forster point out the odd fact from the real J.M. Barrie’s life. They acknowledge the difficulty of needing us to root for divorce, praising Radha Mitchell for taking on the thankless role of Barrie’s wife. Quite often someone will praise a specific idea, a prop or an emotional approach, and point out that it came from Depp. In fact, there is a lot of praising of the cast and crew.

But even before the phones ring, the commentary loses its momentum and degenerates into the typical pattern of praise and filler.

Picture and Sound

I only watched the disc on a laptop computer, so I have no comment about picture or sound. But the film is presented in it’s original widescreen (2.35:1) aspect ratio. A full-screen version is also available. Sound is encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1.