Dir: PJ Hogan. 2003. US. 104 minutes
This umpteenth revisiting of the familiar children's story, first mounted on the London stage a century ago, is always thoroughly competent, even generally engaging, but rarely soars. Universal, happy to have hijacked the property's profile from Disney, has obviously expended a great deal of time and money on the impressive special effects, and the performances are, for the most part, completely satisfactory. But while the film's target younger audience will be consistently entertained and occasionally delighted, they won't be enraptured and their parents even less so.
Another problem lies with the American male lead, Jeremy Sumpter, whose Peter remains curiously un-charismatic throughout. It also remains to be seen whether moms and dads will appreciate the heightened sexual undertone that Australian director PJ Hogan (Muriel's Wedding) has injected into this version of the well-worn tale. Box office prospects, at home and abroad, appear solid but unspectacular.
The filmmakers claim that this is the first complete adaptation of the classic story about Wendy and Captain Hook and the boy who refuses to grow up since the silent film era. As such, it is filled with the flotsam and jetsam that was once said to crowd children's minds - pirates and Indians and crocodiles - though one wonders to what extent this is still the case.
The story has of course always been about the reluctance of youngsters to move from childhood to young adulthood, but this time out, the film-makers have chosen, probably in a nod to today's increasingly sophisticated kids, to accentuate the sexual aspect of this transition. It's never quite overt, but it's unmissable nevertheless. Strangely, the film's most brilliantly created space is the Victorian London of its frame-tale rather than Neverland, which seems visually over-busy rather than enchanting and magical. The many fight scenes are mildly involving but somewhat perfunctory.
A voiceover, revealed at the end as Wendy's, gives an infrequent but welcome insight into her inner feelings. Hogan has chosen to have Captain Hook played by the same actor (Isaacs) who plays Wendy's father, on the grounds that early productions of the play did so, and the choice makes for an interesting Oedipal frisson that would otherwise be lacking. It helps that Jason Isaacs is terrific both as the obsequious bank clerk father and as the hirsute Hook, all preening prosthesis and syrupy self-pity. The script assists here as well, giving Hook delicious lines like "Pan cannot love. That is part of the riddle of his being."
Hurd-Wood is a real find as Wendy and has a presence and intensity that will carry her far in the movies, though Sumpter, who remains distant and seems more petulant teenager than rebellious child who wants only to have fun, disappoints. British veteran Briers is especially good as Hook's ironising sidekick Smee, and Redgrave is convincing as Wendy's stern Aunt Millicent, but the addition of this new character to the story seems superfluous. The mischievous fairy Tinker Belle is perkily played by Ludovine Saignier, but since we never get close enough to really see, it's not until the credits roll that audiences will recognise her.
Prod cos: Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Revolution Studios
US dist: Universal Pictures
Int'l dist: Columbia TriStar (most terrs: also UIP in UK, Australia, New Zealand, S Africa)
Executive producers: Mohamed Al-Fayed, Gail Lyon, Jocelyn Moorhouse
Producers: Lucy Fisher, Douglas Wick, Patrick McCormick
Screenplay: PJ Hogan, Michael Goldenberg
Cinematography: Donald McAlpine
Editing: Garth Craven, Michael Kahn, Paul Rubell
Production design: Roger Ford
Music: James Newton Howard
Main cast: Jason Isaacs, Olivia Williams, Lynn Redgrave, Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Richard Briers