Finding Neverland review by Mike Long

Well, it's that time of year again, when I finally get around to watching the Oscar-nominated films, which are now being released to DVD. Unlike many film-fans, I don't feel the need to rush out and see the Academy Award nominees before the Oscars are handed out. Therefore, I'm often in the dark when I watch the broadcast. So, this year I start playing catch-up with a film that only scored one Oscar, but definitely won my admiration, Finding Neverland.

Finding Neverland tells the story of Sir James Matthew (J.M.) Barrie, the author of "Peter Pan". As the film opens, playwright Barrie (Johnny Depp) has just suffered a critical failure, and is quite down, despite the reassurances of his mentor, Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman). Barrie's woes aren't helped by the tension at home with his wife, Mary (Radha Mitchell). One day, Barrie goes to the park to think and meets the Llewelyn Davies family -- mother Sylvia (Kate Winslet), and her four sons, George (Nick Roud), Jack (Joe Prospero), Peter (Freddie Highmore), and Michael (Luke Spill). Barrie spends the day entertaining Sylvia and her boys and soon strikes a friendship with the family, as Slyvia's husband has died and the family is quite low. As Barrie gets to know the Llewelyn Davies, and witnesses their daily lives, he begins to get an idea for a new play. He's especially inspired young Peter, a boy who refuses to indulge in imagination. As Barrie spends more and more time with Sylvia, the distance between he and Mary increases, and gossip begins to spread about their relationship. But, Barrie has gained a great affection for the family and realizes that "Peter Pan" will be a truly special work.

I'm typically not a fan of biographies or period pieces, but Finding Neverland is a magical movie which brings enough whimsy and imagination to the story to transcend the genre. The film works thanks to the tight script by David Magee, fluid direction from Marc Forster, and the marvelous cast. Magee's script dispenses with a lot of unnecessary details and cuts right to the heart of the matter. We meet Barrie, learn of his bleak situation, he then meets the Llewelyn Davies' family, and the story is off and running. The lack of details can be distracting at time (it takes a while to learn why James and Mary aren't happy), but the story incorporates enough emotional scenes to help overlook these flaws. Director Forster does a wonderful job of separating the real-life scenes with the moments in which Barrie's imagination overtakes the action. These scenes, most notably the one involving the pirate ship, are truly magical. The superb cast helps to bring Finding Neverland to a higher level. The always impressive Johnny Depp loses himself in the role of J.M. Barrie and makes us believe in the character. We forget about the handsome movie star and only see the timid, imaginative man. Kate Winslet also drops her glamorous facade to become a sincere, needy woman. The most impressive actor in the film is Freddie Highmore, who plays the serious Peter. This young man really brings believability to the role and we yearn for him to enjoy his childhood.

Now, I can't discuss Finding Neverland without mentioning the liberties that the script has taken with the story of J.M. Barrie's life. In short, most of Finding Neverland is wildly inaccurate and has been modified to heighten the dramatic effect of the film. Does this make Finding Neverland any less of a movie? Not really. The film itself is still very entertaining, moving, and well-made, but some audience members (ie: my wife) will feel cheated. And it would have been nice if the extra features on the DVD (see below) would have noted the changes made in Barrie's life. Nitpicking aside, Finding Neverland is a fine film and another triumph for Depp.

Finding Neverland flies onto DVD courtesy of Miramax Home Entertainment. The film is coming to DVD in two separate versions, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is somewhat sharp and clear, but it certainly shows some flaws. The picture shows a noticeable amount of grain, which varies from scene to scene, that is distracting at times. Artifacting of the image is also prominent at times, giving the picture a shimmery look in some scenes. The colors are good and the framing appears to be accurate, however the flaws are surprising for a recent theatrical release. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which fits the film very nicely. The dialogue is always sharp and clear, and the sound effects and music work quite well. The audio comes to life during the scenes in the playhouse and when Barrie's imagination kicks into gear, and the surround sound and subwoofer action really adds to these scenes.

The Finding Neverland DVD carries a few extras. We start with an audio commentary featuring director Marc Forster, producer Richard Gladstein, and writer David Magee. This is a fine commentary, as the trio speaks to the film's story, the actors and the production. We get many details about where the film was shot, how the budget effected shooting, and what it was like to work with the likes of Depp and Hoffman. Forster and Magee touch on the "reality" of the story and discuss why they felt the changes needed to be made, but don't go into too much detail about Barrie's real life. "The Magic of Finding Neverland" is a 16-minute making-of featurette which mainly focuses on the actors (mostly Depp) and doesn't talk about the liberties taken with Barrie's story. The special effects of the film are examined in "Creating Neverland" (3 minutes). We get clips of the film's premiere with the 2-minute "On the Red Carpet". The DVD contains 3 "Deleted Scenes" which can be viewed with or without commentary from Forster, Gladstein, and Magee. These scenes comprise 2 1/2 minutes of footage. Finally, we have 5 minutes of "Outtakes" featuring the infamous "Fart Machine" scene.

8 out of 10 Jackasses

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