***½/**** Image B Sound A Extras C
starring Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, Levi Miller
screenplay by Jason Fuchs
directed by Joe Wright
by Walter Chaw Paired with Hanna, his take on the Little Red Riding Hood story, Joe Wright's Pan suggests that the director's closest career analogue is that of J.J. Abrams. Wright's askew take on Anna Karenina hints at a sympathetic penchant for ebullient reinterpretation--no less so his adaptations of Atonement (by an author essentially making a career of taking a piss) and Pride & Prejudice, which, in its sparseness and emotional economy, could stand alongside Andrea Arnold's magnificent Wuthering Heights. Hanna, his best film, achieves at least a portion of its greatness through its bull-headed perversity. No premise is too fanciful to be presented seriously by Wright. In Pan, when we're introduced to the pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), a Fury Road's collection of orphan miners sing-chants "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in obeisance to their monstrous overlord. It's something born of Brian Helgeland's anachronistic A Knight's Tale and of Terry Gilliam in its antic set design and costuming and of David Lynch, even, in a sequence where Blackbeard dons a mask aboard his flying ship to breathe deep something that resembles the Spice. There's another sequence in which a pirate ship, a 16th-century galleon, engages in midair with a trio of British Hawker Hurricanes (I think) defending Mother England against the German blitz before breaking through the clouds for a brief, weightless moment.
It's high fantasy, in other words, as orphan Peter (Levi Miller, up to the challenge) discovers that he's The One after being kidnapped by Blackbeard to work in the pixie-dust mines of Neverland. He's not just Neo, he's also Oedipus, the fulfiller of a prophecy to return to murder his "father" (Blackbeard, ostensibly) after a time in exile. Jackman is exceptional in his interrogation of Peter. For all the praise (some of it ironic, I have to believe) Eddie Redmayne's bee-stung performance in Jupiter Rising has received, here's the real villain performance of the year. Jackman plays it absolutely straight and in that there's a delightful, surprising weight to his relationship with Peter, augmented just right by an animated flashback to a fight with Peter's lost mother (Amanda Seyfried). It's in the mines (the dust keeps Blackbeard young, eternally--a Lady Bathory notion that tickles) that Peter meets Hook (Garrett Hedlund), who, at this moment in his career, is sort of a swashbuckler in the Indiana Jones mold. He even loses his hat in one telling moment near the end, once he's finished playing out the motions of another Harrison Ford icon, Han Solo.
There's a hopeless squareness to Pan that could be distracting. None of its jokes land. The tone of it is too peculiar and attempts to lighten it through dialogue are doomed and awkward. Better is the film's visual humour: Tiger Lilly (Rooney Mara) peering through slats in a freshly-bisected board; Blackbeard birthing himself through a diaphanous screen meant to evoke the Peter Pan story's shadow plays; a demonic nun, Mother Barnabas (Kathy Burke), all of bestial movement and appetite and grunt and growl. Pan can be read as a death dream where children killed by a German bomb--shown in loving Pearl Harbor high-to-low tracking shot--enact a fantasy of salvation at the moment of their expiration. (The picture's early scenes in the orphanage are not unlike Guillermo Del Toro's The Devil's Backbone.) It can be read as a critique of the Industrial Revolution in Blackbeard's destruction of the "Lake District," or a similar critique of Imperialism and crimes against native cultures--though that one tends towards an ugly paternalism. It is, in any analysis, a visually-striking phantasmagoria that doesn't shirk from a sense of danger in the occasional murder or noble sacrifice. Pan is the movie Hook should have been: frightening, weird, packed with psychosexual disturbance and a payload of pregnant subtext. It does it all, too, without a surplus of ugliness. It reminds me most of Sylvain Chomet's The Triplets of Belleville. It's great.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Warner hastens Pan to Blu-ray in an uneven 2.40:1, 1080p transfer. The first third is dreary and desaturated to two tones like early Technicolor--which I recognize as a feature, not a bug, a Wizard of Oz-style method of marking the transition to psychedelic Neverland (in his yak-track, director Joe Wright says he initially considered starting the movie in black-and-white), but something gets lost in the translation to home screens, if in fact an overzealous DI isn't to blame. Flat, noisy, and vaguely posterized, the opening scenes look like they're being squeezed through the limited bandwidth of cable; I can't imagine suffering the Blu-ray 3D version, sold separately. I'm curious to know which of the film's two credited DPs--Seamus McGarvey or John Mathieson--shot its first section, as the BD presentation of McGarvey's 2014 Godzilla was similarly problematic. Once the picture gets to Neverland the image is comparatively impeccable, with fine detail resolving better in general and a deep, rich black finally asserting itself (to the tippy-toe of crush at times) along with all the colours of the rainbow. For the green alone, this is a gorgeous demonstration disc.
The attendant Dolby Atmos mix--I accessed the 7.1 Dolby TrueHD core of it--is typical of the format in making full, spectacular use of the soundstage. Given the seamless sidewall imaging of planes, flying ships, and flamethrowers, I can't fathom additional or overhead speakers adding much to the experience in the confines of my living room, especially when the LFE channel is plumbing these depths. (And the boats give good groan.) Voices are crisp and resonant, though Garrett Hedlund's dialogue is dogged by an ADR tenor. Although I'm happy to see the re-emergence of the feature-length commentary, I confess I threw in the towel early on in Wright's sleepy, spotty yakker; unsurprisingly, he cops to a Blitz fetish. Wright seems more engaged, if no less stilted, in prodco Mob House's four Disney-esque making-of segments. The first and longest of them, "Never Grow Up: The Legend of Pan" (11 mins.), tantalizes the possibility that Neverland is a coping mechanism for the film's Peter and a product of his imagination. (That's certainly producer Paul Webster's take on the J.M. Barrie source material.) Here, Wright rationalizes his casting of a paleface in the role of Tiger Lily by calling Pan's tribal natives "indigenous people of the globe" comprising every race, including movie stars. Personally, I wanted to hear more from "Peter Pan" historian Piers Cluter Robinson, because how often do you have one of those around?
"The Boy Who Would Be Pan" (6 mins.) is a hagiography for young newcomer Levi Miller, who gets hugs from Rooney Mara and high-fives from Hugh Jackman in B-roll. "The Scoundrels of Neverland" (6 mins.) spotlights Blackbeard and his crew; oddly, their onscreen antics struck me as much funnier removed from the context of Pan proper. Lastly, "Wonderous [sic] Realms" (5 mins.) is a fairly useless virtual tour of the sets--the only time those ever work is when there's a modicum of interactivity. Naturally, all of these featurettes are in HD, yet for some reason the startup trailer for the upcoming "Signature Edition" of The Iron Giant is not. The BD comes with DVD and digital copies of the film.