Tuned In: Never mind on 'Neverland'
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If you yearn for the days of high-quality, big-budget, fantasy miniseries, skip Syfy's "Neverland."
A prequel to "Peter Pan," "Neverland" is strictly for the "Star Wars" fans who thought the introduction of Midi-chlorians to explain The Force was a good idea.
Airing at 9 p.m. today and Monday, this four-hour revisionist miniseries introduces Peter (Charlie Rowe) as leader of a band of London pickpockets circa 1906. The boys have a mentor, Jimmy Hook (Rhys Ifans), who will, of course, evolve into the villainous Capt. Hook of Peter Pan lore over the course of the miniseries.
"Neverland" is executive produced by Robert Halmi Sr. and just as he rewrote the Bible in NBC's atrocious 1999 miniseries "Noah's Ark," "Neverland" serves up a new backstory for the relationship between Peter and Capt. Hook.
The miniseries actually begins in Neverland and then jumps around a bit -- to a pirate ship with a female captain, Elizabeth Bonny (Anna Friel), in 1726 -- before Peter smacks a crystal ball that magically transports him, his friends and Hook to Neverland, which turns out to be a planet at the four corners of the universe where no one ever shows signs of aging.
Once in Neverland, they encounter a tribe of Indians, including Aaya (AKA Tiger Lily), played by a young actress named Q'Orianka Kilcher, whose stilted acting leaves much to be desired.
Other elements from the Peter Pan story also appear including Hook's flunkies, Smee (Bob Hoskins) and Starkey (Cas Anvar), a crocodile, a pocket watch, Tinkerbell (voice of Keira Knightley) and fairy dust, renamed "mineral dust," that allows Peter to fly.
The miniseries special effects are generally underwhelming (that's being generous), and as to its family friendly nature, parents should be aware that one child dies, another gets stabbed and a fairy is trampled underfoot.
But the program's greatest sin is that it's dull. Maybe there's enough story for a two-hour movie but stretched out to four hours, the seams begin to show.
At one point in tonight's first installment, Peter stumbles upon a city built in Neverland by Londoner Dr. Richard Fludd (Charles Dance), who says he intends to populate it with "the elite of our world: philosophers, artists, statesmen."
This elicits a bizarre, Tea Party-esque response from Bonny, who declares, "We don't want legions of pompous braggarts coming here with their fancy weapons, telling us how to live our lives!"
Really? A Peter Pan miniseries feels inclined to include an "elites vs. real 'Mericans" argument? Why would this ever seem like a good idea to writer/director Nick Willing, a veteran of Mr. Halmi's "Tin Man" and "Jason and the Argonauts"?
The problem with "Neverland" and so many Halmi productions is that they seem to be built with a focus on big, special effects-intensive scenes and scant attention paid to creating an engrossing, logical plot or whether there's enough story to sustain the miniseries over four hours.
"Neverland" has no deficit of special effects sequences -- fighting a giant spider, running from an overgrown, eight-legged white crocodile -- but it doesn't have much heart, nothing to inspire belief in fairies, which here in their pallid gray appearance look like they flew out of an overflowing ashtray.
Everything in "Neverland" is a quest as characters run from one large set piece to another without much character development except in minor strokes that are predictable and rudimentary.
First Published December 4, 2011 12:00 am