Senior HTF Member
- Feb 24, 1999
Studio:MIRAMAX Year:2004 RunTime:101 minutes Aspect Ratio:16x9 encoded 2.35:1 (OAR)Audio:5.1 DD English, French & Spanish Subtitles:English, French, SpanishSpecialFeatures:Feature Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Out-takes, Making-of documentary, more… ReleaseDate:March 22, 2005
Finding Neverland is based on the early 20th Century life-story of struggling playwright James M. Barrie (played by Johnny Depp). James discovers widow Sylvia Davies (played by Kate Winslet) and the developing friendship with her and her children provides an escape (for better or worse) from his own marital difficulties and ultimately inspires him to write one of his most successful plays--“Peter Pan”.
Finding Neverland is an uncommon modern-day film experience; it’s charming, heart-warming, authentic, and manages to tug at your heart strings without becoming maudlin or uncomfortably sweet. It’s also a showcase for some outstanding performances by Depp, Winslet, and Freddie Highmore (playing the young boy “Peter”). Depp restrains himself in this moving, yet understated role. Kate Winslet is equally adept at revealing her character, and both actors deliver performances that are believable; their “big Hollywood” status doesn’t get in the way of the subtlety that they are able to convey (if you want to be convinced of just how brilliant an actress Winslet is, try watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind right after Finding Neverland--you'll find it hard to believe it's the same actress). Young Highmore (Peter) gives one of the best child-performances I’ve seen since Haley Osment in the Sixth Sense. His characterization is outstanding, and quite convincing. Even moments of “drama”, the proverbial Achilles-heel of modern writing/acting, are handled with grounding and sincerity. Of course, what’s great acting without great writing…David Magee is to be commended for his tempered craft at giving voice to this beautiful story.
As impressively as the story, writing, and acting come together, every detail of production serves to support the intent of this film. Sets are flawlessly executed…down to unmanicured grass in the city parks (lawn-mowing is a much more modern invention), unpaved roadways, high-gloss paint on the park-benches that has the appearance of old lead-based enamel…flawless. Costumes, interiors, and period furniture provide every pleasure of a period drama, though the film never loses the pure sense of wonder that it sets out to capture. And well worth appreciation, Finding Neverland has some of the most innocuous (effective) digital special effects I’ve seen. Digital effects are perfectly and seamlessly woven into the film’s fabric and never stand-out and draw attention to themselves and destroy the “trust” of the audience or the film’s picture-perfect period appearance. Bravo!
Better than what you might have been expecting from Miramax, Finding Neverland ratchets-up the image-quality meter just a tad from the usual DVD-picture-quality I’ve seen from them lately. There still are some minor problems with the image…and they are the usual Miramax fare, but much lessened from what you might be used to and my overall impression of the film was quite pleasing on my projection system.
Having not witnessed the projected 35mm print during its theatrical run, I can only surmise the intended look of the actual “film”. However, given that caveat I’m quite comfortable in saying that several aspects of this film appear very well served by this DVD. Colors have a striking range of hue, and vary scene-by-scene from deep sumptuous reds and greens to subtle, warmly-toned interiors to lush and saturated dream-sequences. This “range” of color suggests to me that the DVD is doing a fair job of representing the intended look of the film elements—something Miramax usually gets right. My viewing comrade noted that some scenes looked “too colorful”, however I suspect that these more brilliantly-saturated scenes are a device intended by the director to suggest an world that at times borders on becoming a dream—an illusion of the imagination.
Black level is deep and the dynamic range of the image feels confident and bold—more than what is normally experienced with “period” films of this nature. Compression seems to be handled reasonably well and I noticed no obvious macroblocking or color-banding artifacting. Some scenes appear remarkably clean while others (usually interior) scenes exhibit a fair degree of natural film-grain (usally a good sign that a DVD hasn't been air-brushed too excessively).
Viewed from an approximate 1.6 screen-width distance on my 106” screen, DVD images are forced to reveal their every nuance—like patients strapped-down under the bright light of a dentist's chair. Keep in mind that most viewers watch their monitors from more than 2 screen-widths away (typical “TV” viewing distance is usually more like 3 screen-widths or more in practice) and so chances are if you’re not watching “wide angle” or on a display that reveals very fine image resolution the anomalies in the DVD mastering may not present a problem for your viewing. The problems that I’m seeing are some minor edge-haloing, which more than producing an obvious “ringing” due to the soft-nature of the imagery, tends to exaggerate film-grain a bit and impart a digital signature to the image that’s subtle, yet erodes the film-like illusion of the DVD image on a wide-angle system. Image detail also appears slightly softened, though not as egregiously as many past Miramax transfers and despite what I presume to be some very slight softening (you wouldn’t confuse this with a Warner Brother’s DVD title, for instance), I’m actually pretty satisfied with the overall sense of “detail” and clarity. I’m not trying to be too critical here, and overall I’m quite pleased with the image of the DVD. I will repeat my never-ending wish that sometime soon Miramax would learn to master their DVDs in such a way that preserves the “film-like” illusion in a manner now commonplace with other major studios; if they could just lessen the sense of “digital glare”, however slight it may be, their DVDs would benefit greatly on revealing systems like front and rear-projection displays that are enjoyed by more and more enthusiasts.
Picture Quality: 3.5 / 5
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In the past I think I've been too ambiguous with my scoring or at least haven't applied it consistently from title to title, so I've endeavored to define my rating system more clearly to help make the scoring more meaningful (for all titles reviewed December 2004 and later):
SCORE Description 1-2 An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch. Think "Outland" or MGM's R1 "Jean De Florette" (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl, MPEG or PAL-NTSC conversion artifacts)-- truly horrid. 2-3 Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Cold Mountain or (the non-anamorphic) The Abyss 3-4 Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think Phantom Menace (great except for filtering and EE) the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring (also decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos) 4-5 A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW". Think The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the King, Shrek 2, or the Fifth Element Superbit (full “5” would be sans any edge-halo on 5th E.).
I’m very pleased with the 5.1 mix on this disc. As you probably suspect, it’s not a show-case for “surround” effects like your Black-Hawk-Down DVD, but I was pleasantly surprised with a moment or two that engaged the full 5.1 mix to good “environmental” effect producing a satisfying 360-degree sense of acoustic space. The front mains spread the score satisfyingly wide, and all dialog is clear without ever sounding bright or irritating. My friend’s dog was convinced more than once that there was some audible threat that needed to be avoided (like sounds of thunder in the soundtrack etc.) and it took an extra-doggie treat or two to keep things calm. Regardless of not being the poster-child for wiz-bang surround effects, the fidelity of audio mix for Finding Neverland is outstanding, presenting a spacious and atmospheric mix that should satisfy most audiophile viewers.
Sound Quality: 4 / 5
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We’ve got a nice little bundle of special-feature content for a single-disc set, and most of the bonus materials are genuinely interesting and should warrant the attention for serious fans and casual viewers alike.
[*]Feature Commentary: Director Marc Forster, producer Richard Gladstein, and writer David Magee team up for a very informative commentary experience. Their style is playful and informal, and quite a bit of behind-the-scenes information is brought to the surface in their banter. Everything from casting to sets, to deleted scenes to special effects is covered in their conversation. Fans of the film or any of these creative folks should take the time to listen to the commentary track…
[*]Deleted Scenes: There are three, all 4x3 lbxed, with or without optional commentary. Nothing momentous and the film was best served IMO by their excision, though I enjoyed watching them here.
[*]Outakes: The usual “blooper” reel that pops up from time to time on these DVDs…cute but not life-changing.
[*]The Magic of Finding Neverland: This 15-minute making-of documentary is outstanding; don’t let its brevity fool you. The behind the scenes info with the case and crew is illuminating, and many interesting facts about the making-of the film are covered. Even if you’re not a die-hard fan of the film or the actors/film crew, you’ll likely find this feature an interesting and well-spent 15 minutes of your time. Enjoy.
[*]Creating Neverland: This five-minute featurette covers the topic of digital special effects and details one in particular. I recommend everyone take the time to watch this…it’s interesting you might be surprised just what was real and what was digital illusion in the final film.
[*]On The Red Carpet: A 2.5 minute spot documenting the film’s Hollywood premiere. Some candid moments with the actors and even a quick-cameo with Hillary Clinton. I enjoyed this and 2.5 minutes isn’t too much of a risk if you’re curious.
Finding Neverland is a marvelous movie that captures the innocence and purity of a bygone age of movie-making. Though it has the appearance of a period-drama, it charms like a fairytale, which I think was precisely what Director Marc Forster had in mind. Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Freddie Highmore (and others) deliver some of the finest acting I’ve seen of late, and their performances are understated, solid, and quite moving; keep the tissues handy, I required more than one before the credits rolled. Picture quality is better than expected, though it has the usual Miramax quirks (slightly softened image/EE and a slight digital “glaze”) but in spite of its imperfections I found myself dazzled by the beauty of this film’s imagery on my front-projection display. The audio mix is appropriately understated, though very well-recorded, and bonus materials seem ample enough to satisfy the desires of most fans.
Having the opportunity to watch and review films like Finding Neverland is precisely what makes DVD reviewing so rewarding. If you haven’t seen this film, be sure to watch it now that it’s available on DVD. If you’re already in love with this film and you’ve been waiting for this release, the wait is over and most enthusiasts should be pleased.