"Neverland Part 1"
Writer: Nick Willing
Director: Nick Willing
If "Neverland" seems vaguely similar to previous Syfy miniseries, "Alice" and "Tin Man;" then you aren't just imagining the connection. All three were reimaginings of classic stories by writer and director, Nick Willing. But if you're asking why "Neverland" was even made, that's harder to answer.
"Neverland" is ostensibly a prequel to J. M. Barrie's novel, Peter Pan. But I believe that Barrie would recognize little of his work in this miniseries. "Neverland" does have a strange way of sucking the magic out of the original story. Did you know that Neverland gets most of its mojo from its location at the center of the universe? Well, thanks to this miniseries, now you do!
We also find that Peter Pan (Charlie Rowe) was once Oliver Twist. Which is to say that Peter was the leader of a gang of thieves — a group of "Lost Boys," if you will — who are under the tutelage of a man named Fagin... I mean Hook... Jimmy Hook; as portrayed by "Amazing Spider-Man" costar, Rhys Ifans. The surrogate father and son relationship between Hook and Peter is actually one of the few interesting things about "Neverland." Credit for that largely has to go to Ifans, who brings a lot of humanity to Hook despite some really campy moments in the second hour. Rowe is actually pretty good as Peter too.
However, the bond between Peter and Hook is unconvincingly shattered before the end as Willing seems to be in a hurry to make sure that they had at least one sword fight against each other in part one.
As it turns out, Hook is desperate to get back into London's high society. Finally given a chance to regain his social position in return for a robbery, Hook forbids his young charges from accompanying him. Naturally, Peter, his best friend Fox (Lorn Macdonald) and the rest of the Lost Boys get to the store ahead of Hook and rob it despite Hook's wishes; causing Hook to unleash this groaner on Peter: "You've got a lot of growing up to do."
Soon enough, Hook and the Lost Boys are catapulted into Neverland; which is an actual planet according to this tale. Peter finds his way there hours later, arriving just in time to see Hook and the Lost Boys get taken away by pirates under the command of Captain Elizabeth Bonny (Anna Friel). On the ship, Mr. Smee (Bob Hoskins) wants to eat the boys and it falls upon Hook to defend his lads with a sword. Again, it is a nice touch that Hook cares so deeply about his charges. But that doesn't stop him from quickly falling into bed with the mad Captain Bonny.
Meanwhile, Peter and Fox fall into the care of a tribe of Native Americans; who oppose Bonny's pirates and guard the magic dust that can be used for flight. There is a neat idea introduced here that the immortality provided by Neverland is its own kind of curse. As explained by the natives, some of the babies and children brought with them have been trapped at that age for decades.
Peter and Fox eventually stage a disastrous rescue attempt for their friends on the pirate ship; which forces a very unconvincing split between Peter and Hook. Eventually, Peter goes off with Aaya (Q'orianka Kilcher); one of the daughters of the tribe on a quest to find out more about Neverland and secure a way back home. And of the entire cast, Kilcher is by far the weakest link. Kilcher repeats her lines as if she's reading from a teleprompter and she is amazingly wooden in the part. It's like she won her role in a contest as opposed to any merit or talent. Other than Kilcher, the cast is not a big problem in this miniseries. Which makes the decision to place her in a pivotal role even more puzzling.
The bulk of the second hour finds Peter and Aaya getting the origins of Neverland from Professor Fludd (Charles Dance), another man from our world who has ideas of his own about exploiting the unique circumstances there. Fludd's plan is actually very intriguing: he wants to bring all of Earth's brightest thinkers and inventors to Neverland to provide them with an endless lifetime of discovery. Unfortunately, this is never really explored before Flood's plan burns to the ground around them.
As much as I enjoyed Friel in "Pushing Daisies," Captain Bonny is not nearly as much fun as the miniseries seems to believe that she is. Bonny's relationship with Hook is tough to buy and even Ifans can't make Hook's decisions believable. Hook doesn't even have a character arc, he basically falls into whatever role the writer wants him to play.
Another flaw of "Neverland" is that it is long... really long. It was difficult enough to sit through the first part and I don't know how Willing can possibly get another two hours out of this. The bulk of "Neverland" feels like needless padding. The miniseries also wastes Keira Knightley's turn as Tinker Bell's voice with very few lines and a fairy design that doesn't even look like Knightley!
"Neverland" isn't all bad, but neither is it really good in any significant way. I'm curious to see if Willing can turn "Neverland" around in the second part, but I wouldn't place a bet on it.
Crave Online Rating: 5.5 out of 10.