By Curt Wagner
12:39 PM CST, December 2, 2011
"Neverland" could use a little fairy dust. Instead of soaring, the prequel to the beloved story of Peter Pan lands with a thud.
The revisionist miniseries (8 p.m. Sunday and Monday, Syfy; 2 stars) introduces Peter (Charlie Rowe) as an Oliver Twist-like leader of a band of London pickpockets and Jimmy Hook (Rhys Ifans), as their Fagin-like mentor.
The Dickens rip-off opening segues into a sci-fi story as Jimmy, Peter and the Lost Boys are accidentally transported by a magical orb to Neverland, which turns out to be a planet at the four corners of the universe where no one shows signs of aging. They encounter a pirate ship captained by Elizabeth Bonny (Anna Friel), a tribe of Indians that includes Aaya (Q'Orianka Kilcher), a giant spider, a 10-legged crocodile, a wealthy mystery man named Dr. Richard Fludd (Charles Dance), Tinkerbell (Keira Knightly) and that fairy dust, which is called “mineral dust” here. (Ugh.)
Over the four hours—which could easily be edited to two—writer/director Nick Willing tediously shows us how Jimmy becomes Capt. Hook and Peter adds the Pan, and it feels pretty much like reading the list in the previous paragraph. Willing marches the actors from scene to scene with little motivation or emotion to tie them all together.
By rushing to explain history behind every aspect of “Peter Pan,” Willing fails to develop his characters enough to make us care about them. Knightly is wasted, Rowe barely registers and Ifans seems as bored as I was. Kilcher’s stilted line readings threaten to derail every scene she’s in. Only Friel, whom I’ve missed since “Pushing Daisies,” seems to be enjoying dressing up as a pirate.
Dance’s character seems added only to set up some laughable special effects (and to do more of that darned overexplaining). He disappeared just when I got interested in him.
By pulling the curtain back on the magic of Neverland, Willing has stripped all the fun from a marvelous classic.
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