STARRING Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, Levi Miller
DIRECTED BY Joe Wright
NOT YET RATED
RELEASE DATE July 24
It’s easy to get lost in Neverland Forest. I know because I have. Inside Pan’s deciduous set in Cardington, England, nestled like a giant’s terrarium in a cavernous World War II-era hangar, the foliage is thick, the smell peaty, and massive tree trunks reach high toward the sloped roof. Those trunks may be fiberglass, and the peat trucked in, but this place feels alive.
“I’ve tried to build as much as possible,” says director Joe Wright. “Hence this ridiculously enormous forest. I tried to be as physical about it as possible, not to ground the fantasy but to bring it to life.” Wright isn’t your typical helmsman for a summer blockbuster like this—the English director is known for the stylish, literary-minded films Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and Anna Karenina, all adaptations more faithful and with a more elevated brow than Pan, which reimagines the J.M. Barrie tale as a rip-roaring three-act slice of big-budget entertainment. But Wright hopes to bring his artistic mindset as a director—and his tactile sensibilities as a child of puppeteers—to bear on his first major Hollywood outing. Yes, it’s an origin story, and yes, if you ask the producers about trilogy possibilities they all but cross themselves and mutter “God willing,” but Wright is doing all he can to avoid the current trend of turning well-known stories into CG dirges of moral and visual murk. “The usual way is blue and gray, and if it’s blue and gray and kind of hazy, then it looks ‘real,’” says Wright. “Whereas that’s not the idea for this movie. Neverland is vivid and bright and hyperreal. We want color.”
And color there will be, in the form of outlandishly attired pirates, tribesmen who explode into powdered pigment, an entire fight sequence on a trampoline, and, of course, an over-the-top villain of the mustache-twirling variety played by Hugh Jackman. No, not Captain Hook. “It all comes from one line in the book that says Hook used to work as a boatswain for Blackbeard,” says Jackman, who plays the dread pirate who has kidnapped hordes of orphans, including Peter (Levi Miller, an Australian newcomer who beat out thousands for the role), and forced them to work in his fairy-dust mines. Armed with a sword and a penchant for oratory, Jackman’s Blackbeard is a baddie of the old sort. “The villains that I like have an Anthony Hopkins quality, a slight twinkle in their eye,” says Jackman. “This is a man who loves to make speeches. He doesn’t want any of them to end.”
Hook, on the other hand, has had his rap sheet expunged and has been recast as a silver-tongued rogue played by Garrett Hedlund (TRON: Legacy). “He reveals himself to be mischievous, a little maniacal swashbuckling figure that comes to be allies with Peter,” says Hedlund. They’re joined by Tiger Lily, the sword-fighting native princess played by The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’s Rooney Mara. (Controversy bubbled over the casting of a white actress in a Native American role, but Wright says they’ve made changes from the book. “The natives, as we imagine them, are constructed from parts of all kinds of indigenous cultures. They’re the natives of Neverland, not Earth,” he says.) The entire cast got to sashay and parry their way through the production. “As actors, there was so much of a sense of child’s play,” says Hedlund. “Like a whole production of make-believe, and us getting to jump around these giant sets. It felt like you were just running out to the woods to play forts.”