Wednesday, October 14, 2015

PAN (2015) is a mess- but damn it's fun

I am lucky enough to call author, critic and podcast host Lesley Coffin friend.  She is not only a great person she is a great person to discuss films with. I love to go to a movie with her because I know there is a good chance we'll be arguing about what ever we saw for several hours after the screening. I also love to get the skinny on the films I haven't seen when she let's slip during our conversations before screenings.

Such was the case when we were standing in the cold rain during the New York Film Festival for two hours waiting to get into see the press screening of STEVE JOBS.  As we were standing shivering in the blowing mist some one mentioned they were going to the premiere of PAN. Lesley asked them to let her know what they thought.

"Why?" they asked.

"Because I'm mixed on the film" she said

"Mixed how?" I asked

"The film is a mess, " she said "But I enjoyed it a great deal"

"So what's the problem?" I asked

"Because I think the film worked for me despite it's flaws because I used to watch old pirate movies and adventure films with my grandfather and this film reminded me of those films."

"But you liked the film..."


'So whats the problem?"

"Because its not very good. I don't know if I can recommend the film because it's such a mess"

"But you enjoyed it?"

"Yes, a great deal."

"So what's the problem? Any film you can enjoy despite it's flaws is something special."

Lesley wasn't sure what she should do. I know she pondered it for a while  but what she eventually did was write a review that is entitled "I Loved Pan. But it's got big problems" (Go read it, I'll wait)

Having seen the film earlier tonight I can honestly say that she hit the feeling right on the head- the film is a mess but I loved it and I would gladly curl up on a couch and watch it over and over again.

The film is nominally a new prequel to J.M.Barrie's PETER PAN stories. The film is supposed to explain how Peter came to Neverland and set in motion all of the events that would eventually send him on a collision course with Captain Hook...

...actually any battles with Hook happen after the film. Here Hook is a friend. The film takes Peter from London of the Second World War to Neverland and into a battle with Blackbeard, a pirate who is strip mining the island for faerie dust in order to remain young. Along the way he meets Hook, Smee, Princess Tigerlily and tries desperately to find his mother and heritage.

The film was structured to be the first of a series of films. Sadly that isn't to be because the film has completely found it's audience and is rapidly on the way to being considered one of the all time flops (which is probably for the best since any film that followed would have to take the rocky course of bringing us closer to the original stories. Its a course that is part of the film frequently falters)

I really liked this movie a great deal. Lesley had it right and the film is very nostalgic. Its the sort of swashbuckling film that was churned out in Hollywood in the 30's and 40's and the rest of the world in the 50's and 60's. Its a film that just tells it's story with a go for broke attitude that can't help but carry you along. Sequences like Peter, Smee and Hook escaping from the mines and stealing a ship are just grand old school adventure. The final ship to ship battle is exactly the sort of thing that Douglas Fairbanks would have done had he had computers.

The film benefits from having great characters. Tigerlily is a kickass warrior with a soft side, Hook is a wonderful rogue (even if his accent is annoying as all hell). Peter is a hero you can believe in and Blackbeard is just a glorious villain. Frankly Hugh Jackman is the best thing in the film. He's so good you'll wish he was in another film. On the other hand I'm just glad that he exists even in a film like this because he's so cool that the world is better for his existing.

The look of the film is amazing. I love the flying ships and weird costumes and wild vistas. Its just amazing. I the notion of pirate ships floating over London...

...and that brings up my first problem with the film- it anachronistic in the extreme. The film resets the film thirty and forty years after the original stories were set. While I knew that the film messed with the original stories I assumed there was a logical reason. Here there is no reason other than to have the RAF strafe the ship that is carrying Peter and the orphans to Neverland. While its a visually cool scene it serves no purpose other than to be a five minute cool sequence.

Once I truly accepted that the film was in its own world I was fine, so much so that I didn't mind the lost boys singing Looks Like Teen Spirit and Blitzkrieg Bop. (It works in context even if it makes no logical sense)

And that is another problem with the film, it frequently makes no logical sense. Things frequently happen in the film for no reason other than it leads to a cool sequence (the RAF) or it's there to simply link the film to the stories. Do we really need the crocodile leaping over the boat? Not really, Nor do we really need the Mermaids (yes I know they save Peter but the sequence is kind of extraneous).  The film frequently had me groaning whenever we got references to the stories such as Hook's hook, the mermaids, the crocodile, ect. I wouldn't have cared but the film puts them out front whether they belong there or not.

For me the film suffers because I don't think the film completely gets the tone right. Is this a "family" film ala the Disney live action films of the late 70's or is this a big budget modern day adventure. I'm not sure the filmmakers ever figured that out. For all the great adult action sequences like the RAF or the escape to the ship, there are others, like some of the silliness when Blackbeard's men battle in the native village where the film seems firmly aimed at five year olds with slapstick mayhem designed to be funny instead of scary. They simply should have bit the bullet and went adult and all would have been better for it.

My last  dig at the film is that there neither enough flying by Peter, (yes I know a plot point he has to find the ability to fly- but he should have flown sooner) nor is there a climatic sword fight between Peter and Blackbeard. For a film so full of swords Peter and Blackbeard should have crossed swords.

And at this point you're going- "he hated it. He's just torn it to shreds, it's a bad film."


If you take it on it's own terms this is a grand adventure. As I said its go great characters, great action and frequently a great sense of self that few films ever have. This is not by any real stretch of imagination a great film, but at the same time I would gladly curl up on a couch and watch this film on a rainy Sunday or slow Wednesday  quicker than I would any number of better made films. As I said to Lesley two weeks ago in the rain, any film that over comes is flaws to be truly entertaining is something special.

PAN for all it's flaws is something special.

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