Directed by: P.J. Hogan
Written by:P.J. Hogan, Michael Goldenberg
Starring: Jason Isaacs, Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Lynn Redgrave, Olivia Williams, Richard Briers
Released: December 18, 2003
Grade: C+

Shot at our very own Movie World (on the Gold Coast), Peter Pan isn’t the glowing advertising for Queensland moviemaking that I expected it to be.  At a total cost of roughly $100m, it looks phoney and relies too heavily on visual effects.  It was always going to be difficult turning the fanciful novel into live action and in my opinion, the task has been too heavy a burden for Australian director P.J. Hogan to carry.

Hogan’s film begins with a very short introduction.  Wendy (Hurd-Wood) and her two brothers, John and Michael, love having fun and telling stories.  Wendy is the eldest and her father has decided that all this nonsense has to stop.  It’s time to grow up.

With her parents away, she is visited on her window ledge by a flying boy.  Peter Pan (Sumpter) promises to take her away to Neverland – a place where she doesn’t have to grow up.  She can meet new people, go on amazing adventures and “never have to worry about grown-up things again.”  Wendy, John and Michael are soon wisked away by Peter to enjoy this new world of freedom.

The subject of the adventure on Neverland is the notorious Captain Hook (Isaacs).  Pan once sliced off his hand in a dramatic sword battle and it has been replaced with a metal hook – hence the name.  With Pan enjoying himself with his new friends (particularly Wendy), Hook sees the distraction as a weakness.  Revenge will be bittersweet for Captain Hook and his band of merry pirates…

The first hour of Peter Pan is the most disappointing.  The editing is inconsistent and at times it’s hard to discern what is actually going on in the scene.  It also feels rushed in that there are many fast-paced action scenes without sufficient time to introduce their purpose.  For example, I didn’t know why Wendy was so keen to leave her home for Neverland.  Surely this couldn’t all be because of one tiny argument with her father?  You’d never think such poor editing would come from three time Academy Award winning editor Michael Kahn (Saving Private Ryan) but I’m sure he’s not entirely at fault.  He can only work with the footage that has already been shot.

The music score is too sweet and the art direction rather ordinary.  There are many scenes shot in a forest but it looks so much like a tiny film set.  Is there any logistical reason why they wouldn’t shoot outdoors?  The colourings too seem askew and on more that one occasion I was questioning the strength of the lighting too.  I very much enjoyed P.J. Hogan’s last two released features, Muriel’s Wedding and My Best Friends Wedding but this isn’t up to his high standards and I do hope that he sees that.

Working with a young cast will invariably have its problems and yes, they are exposed here.  Rachel Hurd-Wood is great as Wendy but Jeremy Sumpter is too rigid in the delivery of his lines and the supporting cast are even worse.  Jason Isaacs doesn’t do much for me either as Captain Hook.  Compare his performance with that of Dustin Hoffman’s in 1991’s Hook and you’ll see where I’m coming from.

Having not yet been released anywhere else but Australia, it’ll be interesting to see over the coming weeks whether Peter Pan finds an audience.  There’s a great trailer (beautifully using the music of Coldplay) but word will spread fast if audiences share my criticisms.  It’s disheartening but the truth can’t be hidden.  This isn’t up to scratch.