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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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Pan, Review: Flying Pantasy

Pan, Review: Flying Pantasy

Once you pick up a hundred year-old children’s story and decide to invent its unwritten prequel, 3D and CGI are obvious choices. Yes, you could go overboard on both counts, but so long as you have packed it with a generous dose of thrills, and given it break-neck pace, you can make a fantasy both exciting and interesting. Pan offers above par performances, not so common in fairy-tales, mounts a huge canvas and makes sweeping brush-strokes. There are issues about the time-line, use of modern music and a few loopholes in the plot. When you are suspending 90% of your disbelief to go with the flow, this 10% should not come in the way of enjoying the tale. Pan is white, various shades of grey, myriad hues in between, and black. It is on land, in the air, in the water and in the kingdom of fairies. It is story of a pre-teenager called Peter, who was to be Pan.

Peter (Levi Miller) is a young boy who is left on the steps of an orphanage by his mother Mary (Amanda Seyfried). The orphanage is under the care of the cruel Mother Barnabas (Kathy Burke), in London. Barnabas sells off his pal, Nibs (Lewis MacDougall) and several other children to pirates. Peter manages to rescue Nibs, but is captured himself and taken to Neverland, a magical realm beyond space and time, where he is forced to become a slave labourer, and mine for fairy dust, on behalf of the ruthless pirate, Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). While at Neverland,  Peter befriends another miner, James Hook (Garrett Hedlund). After insulting Blackbeard's men, Peter is forced to walk the plank and fall off to his death, but he survives, by suddenly flying above the water. Blackbeard then confides with him about an old prophecy that a boy who could fly would one day kill him.

Peter joins Hook and his accomplice, Sam Smiegel ‘Smee' (Adeel Akhtar), in stealing one of Blackbeard's flying boats, and escaping into the forest, where they are found and nearly executed by the natives, led by Chief Great Little Panther (Jack Charles), before his daughter, Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), notices Peter's pan flute pendant, left to him by Mary, and said to belong to their people's greatest hero, the legendary Pan.

Actor-writer Jason Fuchs (Ice Age: Continental Drift) has the full license to write what he likes, since there is no reference point. It is almost an original script. Every imaginable stock ploy is tried. Abandoned baby, a ruthless orphanage manager, selling-off of children into forced labour, a pirate who wants to become richer and even immortal, a doomed romance, a love child that will avenge his parents’ death (Lord Krishna, in the Indian epic, Mahabharat), an unexpected betrayal, an unlikely collaborator, a gypsy kingdom where the benevolent Chief and his daughter resist their tyrannical opponent, flying ships, mermaids rescuing humans from crocodiles, minuscule fairies flitting around, a pendant that holds the key to the treasure, and more.

To his credit, though, that he manages to make most of these situations, and his characters appear not so beaten or stale. Names like Tiger Lily, Blackbeard, Jolly Roger, TinkerBell, Great Little Panther, Nibs, Barnabas and Sam Smiegel (cannot but be derived from Sam Spiegel (Hollywood's most iconoclastic producer, the Miracle Worker,  who went from penniless refugee to showbiz legend, producing The African Queen, On the Waterfront, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Lawrence of Arabia) are names that make you chuckle every time they are mentioned. For laughs, Blackbeard’s beard is black and real, but his head-hair is false, and he gets scandalized when he is caught with his…wig down. There is little justification for Blackbeard to ‘buy’ child labour and whisk them away thousands of miles on an air-sip merely to add to his mining force. It seems that he possesses super-powers, but is never shown using it, which makes the entire good v/s evil battle redundant. Rebels put up a sorry excuse of a fight against Blackbeard, making you wonder why did he not find and eliminate them earlier, given his resources and super-human gifts.

Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, The Soloist) is married to Anoushka Shankar, from who he has a 4 ½ year-old boy. While making Pan, he said, “I tried to access the version of myself, pre-adolescence. And that kid called himself The Great Kazaam and he was a magician. My son was suffering from night terrors. He’s scared of the shadows — really scared of them, as I was when I was kid. I wanted to not just tell him that he’ll be okay but show him it would, and that he’s powerful enough to overcome it. It’s why I still get moved when I see Peter Pan triumph. It’s my son triumphing. And it’s me.” Pan seems to be the visual interpretation of R. Kelly’s cult track, ‘I believe I can fly’. While watching the film, you do get moved when Peter triumphs in the end, after so many false starts.

Since the film is based on a 1902-1911 creation, its prequel should have been set in an even earlier time slot, not in the World War, as it is. Blackbeard arriving to sounds of Nirvana’s 1991 ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is another anachronism that came in courtesy Hugh Jackman, who played it during rehearsals. Casting choices of four main characters and the process itself has been strange, even bizarre. For the role of Peter, director Wright auditioned over 4,000 kids. “I’d had a very high bar set with (Atonement’s) Saoirse Ronan.” When he settled for Levi Miller, it was partly because, “He’s the most polite 12-year-old I’ve ever met. When I met him, he got up and offered me his chair.” It’s a remarkable piece of casting. Getting Hugh Jackman to do villainy of the most vile kind was another tour de force. Eyebrows were raised when Rooney Mara was cast as the Tiger Lily, since her father was played by aboriginal actor, but Wright says that the characters were never given a regional or skin-tone identity by J.M. Barrie. Moreover, he met actresses from China, India (Who? Does anybody know?) Japan, Russia, Africa and Iran. But it was Rooney who felt the most like a warrior princess. And where did he pick Adeel Akhtar from?

Australian boy wonder Levi Miller, now 13 and first seen in a bit role in A Heartbeat Away, is a natural. Another Australian, Hugh Jackman (X-Men, Australia, Les Misérables), who turned 47 today (12 October 2015) shows us the facet of his personality that will make you wonder whether it was his twin brother who we saw in Les Misérables. Blackbeard is a bit like X-Men, perhaps, but only a bit. Garrett Hedlund (Country Strong, Tron Legacy, Inside Llewyn Davis, On the Road, Unbroken) comes in late in the film, and makes his presence felt. Rooney Mara (The Social Network, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), sister of Kate Mara, lives up to the role of a warrior princess. Adeel Akhtar  (Traitor, Four Lions, The Dictator) is a discovery. It looks like he made the right decision by not pursuing a career in law. Debutant Lewis MacDougall is British, and makes a good pal.  

Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!, Mean Girls, Les Misérables) has a small role, and when she reappears, courtesy heavy CGI, you have to strain your eyes to discern her face. Real-life aboriginal Jack Charles (The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Bedevil, Tom White), popularly called the grandfather of indigenous Australian theatre, is unfortunately type-cast, with stock dialogue to mouth. Kathy Burke generates the loathing she is required to.

Music is loud, and at times distracting. CGI is high-grade, but overdone, as in the fairy swarm towards the end. Yet the film is constantly flowing; the camera is the most mobile you might have seen in recent times, and the unfolding of events keeps you hooked (pun not intended). Pan is not really a children’s film, but it could be any child’s Pantasy.

Rating: ***

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8e_KsZ5ZqCs

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Peter Pan was part of a story within a story in Scottish author J.M. Barrie’s 1902 novel, The Little White Bird. In the book, Peter flows from his nursery to London’s Kensington Gardens, where he spends time with fairies and birds, and rides a goat. In Barrie’s 1904 play, Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, Peter had a friend named Tinker Bell. But there was no Captain Hook, who came in later. In the final version, he featured a pirate ship and Captain Hook came to life. The role soon expanded and became a full-fledged nemesis for Peter Pan.

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


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