Joe Wright (“Anna Karenina,” “Atonement”) has applied his renowned theatrical flair to “Pan” (October 9), setting it during World War II and melding it with bits of Harry Potter, “Oliver!” and Steven Spielberg. But judging from the 20 minutes of footage screened on Friday, it’s fantastical as well, with flying Pirate ships and oceans in the sky. It’s sure to be one of the buzzy Oscar craft contenders for cinematography (Seamus McGarvey and John Mathieson), production design (Aline Bonetto) and costume design (Jacqueline Durran, who’s already won for “Anna Karenina”).
It’s an origin story about the boy who refuses to grow up in which “enemies become friends and friends become enemies.”
In Wright’s version (scripted by Jason Fuchs), however, Pan’s (Levi Miller) a mischievous 12-year-old orphan, who escapes to Neverland and helps lead a revolt as the chosen one against Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). He enslaves the Lost Boys and wages war with the natives, led by warrior Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara).
Wright explained that he made “Pan” for his young son, Zubin Shankar, whose love of trampolines inspired a ritualistic fight among the natives of Neverland involving Garrett Hedlund’s James Hook (think Indiana Jones before losing his hand and turning to the dark side).
“It’s a re-framing of the Peter Pan myth,” Wright added. “I pored over the novel and was surprised by how strange it was.” He told me afterward that it’s very Freudian, with Mrs. Darling describing how she rearranges the minds of her children.
Jackman, who’s always wanted to play a pirate, gets to chew up the scenery in grand fashion as Blackbeard, the antithesis of Wolverine. Wright quipped that “this hand sanitizing-thing has gotta stop,” so he couldn’t resist making him a germophobe. “He plays him very, very dark but always in a kind of English pantomime,” slightly winking to the audience.
Wright said the natives of Neverland are a global indigenous fabric, but with lots of Native American and Mongolian influence. “Pan” additionally marks Wright’s digital debut, which worked out fine except for his displeasure with the color red. He said it can’t compare with film. Although Wright limited the use of CG, he touted the work of Scanline VFX, Framestore, MPC and Rising Sun Pictures, particularly for the swashbuckling action in the sky.
But if “Pan” does well at the box office and spawns a sequel, Wright won’t be stepping immediately back into Neverland: he has immediate plans for more of his typical storytelling.