Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 11, 2004 4:08 pm 
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Cocky boy cuts treacle, almost

P.J.Hogan’s Peter Pan largely saves the Victorian tale from its treacle. To start with he departs from the plays and uses a real boy for his Peter Pan. Jeremy Sumpter may be no great actor (as yet) but in a way all he has to do is be a boy. His Peter Pan is sweet, impish, pleased with himself, seemingly drawn to the idea of seducing away a pretty girl (Wendy). And because he’s a cocky kid, there’s a whisper of pubescent sexuality behind the proceedings that they have previously lacked. Peter sweeps away this pretty girl (the luscious, hitherto undiscovered Rachel Hurd-Wood) to Neverland, and Peter and Wendy actually kiss. True to form, this Peter Pan avoids feeling just as he avoids adulthood, but he and his Lost Boys posse crack and turn back to children in those moments when they weaken and miss their mothers. Wendy loves Peter. Peter wants to keep her. But he won’t grow up just to stay with her. He chooses to remain an eternal child, alone in fantasyland. Hogan’s treatment of the story is closer to J.M. Barrie’s novel than to his play.

It’s a scary myth, isn’t it? A boy who never wants to grow up and have adult feelings, and yet seduces a young girl? An evil pirate with a hook for a hand who takes an unseemly interest in a young boy and girl? This mauve Victorian puer eternus myth with an escapist romance attached seems like an unhealthy syndrome to the post-Freudian sensibility. Even the glorification of innocence and naivety seems risky. Though in 2004 kids may rule as a consumer force, we want them to grow up fast so they can get a scholarship to M.I.T. Eternal childhood looks a bit dangerous from here. It’s also a denial of parents. The Darling kids dump their mom and dad to fly off to Neverland. There’s solid subversion amid the treacle. But Hogan’s version makes ideas clear that have been lost in that treacle: when Peter Pan flies away it’s sad. He’s lost, and his decision not to grow up is an escape from most of what matters.

Following tradition the same actor, Jason Isaacs, plays both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. Kids build their myths at home: why not have dad also appear as the evil enemy? It adds a little spice to cast Ludivine Sagnier, the bad girl in Ozon’s Swimming Pool, as Tinker Bell, here shortened efficiently to Tink.

What about all the special effects, though? The flying is fluid and swift and that’s fine. But the filmmakers were naïve if they thought digital tricks could save or transform the story -- or that such tricks are what J.M. Barrie meant if he’d only known. Luckily for the most part the digital bells and whistles are swallowed up in the lush cinematography of Donald McAlpine, who shot Baz Luhrmann’s visually over-the-top Moulin Rouge. The blatantly unreal imagery, like the spunky male Pan, is a treacle-cutter. It’s the annoying conventional music and the now traditional booms and crashes every three minutes that drag down the movie. Hogan escaped convention in his casting by avoiding corny star turns. But the movie doesn’t have the narrative continuity it should nor does it have tremendous emotional power, even if it happily lacks the sentimentality and simpering sweetness of earlier versions.

There'd be much here to provoke thought, if the noise didn’t make thought so difficult.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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