Saturday, February 5, 2011

FINDING NEVERLAND: Blu-ray (Miramax 2004) Buena Vista Home Video

There is much to recommend the heart of a man who firmly believes in the joyous essence of childhood optimism and even more to say about a film that would audaciously attempt to capture the spirit of just such a man in Technicolor. Marc Forster’s semi-biographical Finding Neverland (2004) is a poignant, affecting and affectionate tribute to the man responsible for one of the twentieth century’s most resilient childhood fairytales; J.M Barrie and his Peter Pan.

David Magee's screenplay ambitiously endeavours to reconcile Barrie's own ethereal playfulness - his very human free-spirited perspectives on life and love with that ever-constricting rigidity that was Edwardian society. As such, the action in Finding Neverland is quietly sustained and restrained, rather than leaping in strengthening bounds towards its inevitable conclusion. The melodrama is more 'mellow' than dramatic and the performances throughout are of the 'little gem' vintage that seems to suit this narrative quite well.

The real curiosity of Finding Neverland is that the true essence of its suspension in disbelief is never quite realized upon a first viewing and, with repeat viewings, seems to considerably fade rather than endear itself to the mind's eye. If there is a single criticism to be administered on the film it is perhaps that such a fine ensemble of actors are given precious little to strain their acting chops. Nevertheless, each sails through the conventional plot with all their faculties recreationally on display.

The movie's magic is therefore not to be found in expensive special effects or grand gestures of epic romance, but rather in those nugget-like moments of human introspection that prove to be truly affecting. The best that can therefore be said of the film as a whole is that it never veers dangerously into the realm of maudlin tripe, though it frequently dangles the hanky before its audience, encouraging a very good cry indeed.

Plot wise: Sir James Matthew Barrie (Johnny Depp) is a moderately successful Scottish playwright and author. Lately, however, he feels as though he has been robbed of his muse. It's not hard to understand why. Barrie’s strained marriage to Mary Ansell (Radha Mitchell) has taken a turn for the worse. Mary's aspirations for dignified acceptance from her peers is repeatedly thwarted by her husband's benign, though distracting lapses into creativity that she finds embarrassing. It has not helped matters that Barrie's latest stage work has been an unqualified flop, much to the chagrin of his understanding producer, Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman).

However, things are about to look up for Barrie, who accidentally stumbles upon a foursome of forlorn brothers; Jack (Joe Prospero), George (Nick Roud), Michael (Luke Spill) and Peter (Freddie Highmore). The boys’ father has recently died, leaving their mother, Sylvia Llewellyn Davies (Kate Winslet) quite overwrought with responsibility.

An enduring friendship develops between Barrie and the Davies' children. He delights in their camaraderie and frequently stops in to visit and share his stories. However, Barrie’s affection for the young men quickly migrates over to Sylvia who is receptive yet pure in her thoughts toward their family’s unexpected benefactor. Naturally, Barrie’s absence from his own home stirs Mary’s heart to jealousy, prompting unkind words from both Sylvia’s mother, Emma du Maurier (Julie Christie) and the uppity busy-bodies and gossips who suggest that the author is having a very public and scandalous affair with the widow.

Sylvia develops an undisclosed illness that gradually transforms this once vibrant woman into a shrinking invalid. Barrie, who has tapped the Davies boy's interest with his latest venture - Peter Pan - pleads with Charles Frohman for a chance to produce it for the London stage. Given Barrie's previous flop, Frohman is understandably sceptical. His faith in Barrie's friendship finally convinces the producer to invest in the project and, on opening night with children brought in to attend from the local orphanage, Peter Pan is a rousing smash success.

Too weak to attend the show, Sylvia is later treated to a private abridged version of the play in her home. She dies a few weeks later, leaving behind a will that stipulates her children will be reared by both her mother and Barrie; a wish that each congenially agrees to.

Finding Neverland is an understated drawing room drama that is uncharacteristically refreshing. As Barrie does in his play with the character of Tinker Bell, director Forster opens a window for his audience; this one into an enchanted private world where its reclusive author quickly discovers, as does the audience, that the greatest joys in life are often gleaned from its’ most painful sorrows. Is this perfect entertainment? Hardly, but it is a meaningful way to spend a quiet evening at home.

Buena Vista's Blu-Ray is a modest improvement on the previously issued DVD from Alliance Home Video. While fine details take a quantum leap forward, the rather bizarre stylization of colours that on the DVD looked fairly attractive, appear quite artificial on the Blu-Ray. Greens in grass and trees, as example, appear to be of one flat forest green hue. Flesh tones, are nicely rendered. Contrast levels are nicely rendered.

Many scenes appear softly focused. Some of the darker sequences in the film also appear to suffer from a minor 'soft' look that I don't believe is part of Roberto Schaefer's cinematography. The audio is 5.1 uncompressed offering that is surprisingly aggressive for a movie primarily driven by dialogue. Extras are all direct imports from the DVD and include several production featurettes, an audio commentary and deleted scenes.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO

3.5

EXTRAS

3

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