Archive for Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Review: ‘Finding Neverland’ doesn’t quite fly

March 30, 2005


"Finding Neverland" -- a drama whose high-caliber cast practically screams distinguished -- is among the first of several high-profile Academy Award nominees hitting DVD in the coming weeks, including "Sideways" (April 4) and "Hotel Rwanda" (April 12).

Like its award-worthy cinematic counterparts, "Neverland," which earned seven nods and won a single Oscar for its score, is certainly worth watching, particularly for the breakout performance of a young Freddie Highmore. The talented preteen not only holds his own among reliably excellent actors such as Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet and Julie Christie, but also has the power to make even the driest eyes well with tears.

It's too bad the DVD of "Finding Neverland" isn't nearly as respectable as the film itself. Packaged on a single disc, it includes a few special features, most of which aren't particularly special. They include: a 16-minute making-of documentary; a look at the movie's visual effects; an outtake reel; three deleted scenes; footage from "Neverland's" red carpet premieres; and a commentary track by director Marc Forster, screenwriter David Magee and producer Richard Gladstein.

Buena Vista Home Video, the studio behind this release, commits the cardinal sin of stuffing that making-of doc with excessive gushing about how wonderful all of the film's stars are and how touching the story is. If that doesn't nauseate most viewers, the self-promotional shout-out to Disney's cartoon version of "Peter Pan" -- which the documentary's narrator refers to as the "most beloved" version of the fairy-believer's tale -- is guaranteed to garner a gag.

It's a shame, and not a little ironic, that a movie celebrating the power of the imagination is presented on a DVD completely devoid of imagination. So find "Neverland" at the video store if you want to enjoy the loveliness of the film. But keep in mind that it will take more than pixie dust to turn this DVD's extras into something magical.

Most unexpected bonus: As Forster and Co. discuss the movie's final, weepy scene during the commentary track, don't be surprised if you hear a phone ring. And then another. Apparently Gladstein and Magee both forgot to turn off their cell phones during the discussion. Which raises the question: If we have to turn off our cell phones when we see movies in the theater, shouldn't producers and writers turn theirs off when they're in the middle of recording commentary?

Most entertaining bonus: The five-minute outtake reel is the best extra on the "Neverland" DVD because it allows us to see real, uncontrived footage of the cast in action. And it elicits some genuine laughs, particularly when Depp and Forster make use of a fart machine to crack up the young boys during a dinner scene. The only person who keeps a completely straight face throughout the giggling: Julie Christie.

Most pointless bonus: All three of the deleted scenes clock in at around one minute or less and offer little new or interesting details about the movie's characters. In other words, they were clearly deleted for the right reasons.

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