We've been to big movie sets before -- huge productions with sprawling casts and countless extras and the kind of sets that seem to go on forever – but we've never seen anything like the sets for "Pan," the new adaptation of J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan" constructed, with whimsical delight, by "Hanna" and "Pride & Prejudice" director Joe Wright. This thing was massive.
The movie stars Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, and Hugh Jackman (more on all of them in a minute), plus young Levi Miller as Peter, and the sets were so insanely massive that many of them had to be constructed in what was described as the largest freestanding structure in Europe, a hanger where blimps were built during the second World War. Like we said: massive.
And if this movie is flying under people's radar, mostly due to the glut of flashier, more super-heroic fare bombarding multiplexes this summer, then that should change soon. There's a brand new poster out now (below) and a trailer premiering later this week -- and if that doesn't do it for you, then there are 15 more things that we learned from the amazing set of "Pan."
1. Think of It as 'Peter Pan Begins'
As part of our tour, we were ushered into a production office and shown, very roughly, the first 10 or 15 minutes of the movie. And what we saw was incredible. The movie is basically the story of how Peter (Miller) gets to Neverland. It's during World War II and Blackbeard's pirates, in flying ships, swoop into London and scoop up orphans. It's equal parts magical and terrifying and Peter is spirited away by this fearsome crew. As the pirate ships sail away (through the sky), they dodge German fire. It's really, really cool.
2. This Hook Has Both Hands...
We got to chat with Hedlund a little bit, as he was shooting a second unit shot involving his character escaping from one of Blackbeard's mines, and he explained a little bit about where his character was: "What [screenwriter Jason Fuchs] managed to do within the origin narrative is that Hook is still very selfish and has his best intentions at hand, his priorities first and foremost," Hedlund explained. "But he's a little maniacal. He's crazy in this one, which is fun. Very energetic, quite adventurous. We'll see, knock on wood, about the future. But it's a very fun place to start with Hook in this, especially working together with Peter to find their way off this island. That's where we're at in this story. There is some fun stuff in there." If you've seen the first teaser and heard his old timey movie star delivery of his dialogue, you can tell how much fun he's having.
3. ...But He's Still Hook
But just because he's got both hands, that doesn't mean he's not the Hook we know and love (and loathe). Let's throw it back to Hedlund: "It is Hook. Actually, Hook's name was James Hook. It is interesting to go back. I looked and there is hearsay here and there of what J. M. Barrie based Hook on. There is a sea captain, Captain James Cook. There are some other ones -- it came down to a possible classmate of Barrie's that he was fashioned after. But it always has been James Hook. I was doing ADR with Angelina Jolie, and she asked, 'But how is he named Hook already if he doesn't have the . . . ?' I said, 'Well actually, it has always been James Hook.' A little foreshadowing..."
4. Miller Was Very Excited to Get the Title Role
We got to talk to the young Miller, who is making his big screen debut in "Pan," about what it was like to get the call that, after scouring the globe, the production had decided that he would be Peter Pan. Miller, who was absolutely adorable and very sweet, and said that getting the call was pretty unbelievable. "Well, when I got the phone call that I was told I was Peter Pan, I freaked out, because I was like, Wow! How does that happen?" Adorable, right?
5. They Built Everything for Real
As opposed to many blockbusters that partially build sets and then fill the rest in courtesy of computer generated trickery, "Pan" built almost everything for real -- those massive, blimp-making-hangers housed an entire Neverland forest, as well as three huge, fully automated pirate ships that had the ability to pitch and yaw like an actual seafaring vessel. It was hard to look at these sets and not have your jaw drop from all of the wonder.
6. Technology From the 'Harry Potter' Theme Park Brought the Mermaids to Life
This is an aside (and an incredibly nerdy aside), but something that some might find interesting: the mermaids in the movie (including one essayed by "Paper Towns" star Cara Delevingne) were created partially by using a technology called the Kuka arm, a robotic arm that many will know from having ridden the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, Florida. (For a time Disney was courting the German company to use the technology for an "Incredibles"-inspired attraction for Tomorrowland in Orlando; so far, the only Kuka in the parks is part of The Seas with Nemo and Friends ride.) The actresses were strapped into a harness and attached to the arm, which gave them unparalleled motion and simulated their watery surroundings.
7. The Pirates of Neverland Are Insane
We happened to reach the Neverland set right as they were breaking to eat lunch, so we got to watch as an entire forest's worth of pirates filed in to grab a bite. And they were insane. It's hard to properly describe the level of detail and embellishment that each character, some of them merely background players, had, but they were truly astounding. They were equal parts Burning Man and "Mad Max," some with crazy flourishes like angel wings (they all had great make-up). This is very much a rococo, heightened version of the story and it seems to fully embrace the wildness of the source material that other adaptations have merely flirted with.
8. The Casting of Tiger Lily Really Isn't Racist
There was initial outrage across the internet when "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" star Rooney Mara was cast as Tiger Lily, a character who, at least in the Disney cartoon, was categorized as a Native American girl. Except that this was an invention of Disney's, really, and everyone on set (everyone) stressed that the Neverland natives aren't natives of a single tribe or ethnicity but simply meant to embrace the craziness of Neverland. (And you can see this by the eclectic mixture of styles and cultural influences, found throughout the production.) Quite frankly, it was a good enough explanation for us. But why don't we let Tiger Lily herself speak to the matter? "It will be fine," Mara said of the reaction to her character. "They will go see it and they'll either still feel that way or they will feel better about it. I just remember when we were shooting in the native village, which was so amazing, I mean, this set is amazing too but that was the most incredible set I have ever seen in my life. There were over 150 extras and they were there every day and they were so amazing, they were so passionate, they loved being there. We're like every different part of the world and it was amazing."
9. No, Really
Wright continued: "It's just the idea that, I couldn't know because in the book the natives are described as being redskins which is a term I don't really recognize so I couldn't work out where they were natives of. So I thought, well, should they be Native American or should they be African, or should they be Mongolian and then I thought well better if they are just sort of from everywhere and that they are all natives of planet Earth and so that's what we did. We chose, it was a bit of a gamble really because they still needed to feel like a cohesive community, so I was a bit worried about whether that was going to work but the supporting artists that we had were an amazing group of people and they did become their own little community really and really inhabited that space and worked in that scene and so yea it felt like on that last day it really worked, didn't it? It was great. It was lovely."
10. When Neverland Natives Die They Turn Into Colorful Dust
Like everything else in the movie, the battle sequences are huge (Tiger Lily herself, as Mara explained, wields a "boomerang ax"), and when the Natives get killed, instead of bleeding or falling to the ground, they turn into an explosion of colorful dust. It's brilliant and makes perfect sense and when people see it, they are going to die (although probably not turn into colored dust themselves).
11. Hugh Jackman Is the Nicest Person in the World
This just bears repeating, although we're sure you've heard it a thousand times, but Hugh Jackman really is the nicest person in the entire world. He had a busy day shooting some kind of complicated battle sequence and he wasn't even supposed to sit down and talk to us, but he still made time to swing by our little tent (where we were watching a monitor) and say hello. We know that he's supposed to be larger than life and super scary as Blackbeard, a villainous pirate who abducts children and forces them into slavery and makes life a living hell for most of Neverland, but how can you not love Hugh?
12. Wright's On-Set Playlist Is Killer
If you've seen one of Joe Wright's movies, you know that he really loves music, whether it be the romantic compositions of frequent collaborator Dario Marianelli (who will be back for "Pan") or the block-rocking beats of the Chemical Brothers (who he used for "Hanna"). But what you might not know is that he plays music on the set to create mood and atmosphere. As we were exiting the giant hanger we saw Jackman get lifted up on wires while the entire stage was flooded with the sounds of South African rap group Die Antwoord. Yes indeed, this is a very different Neveralnd.
13. The Famous Crocodile Is Here and Gets a New Look
The crocodile that famously haunts Captain Hook is indeed a part of "Pan" and points to the fact that he might be short a hand by the time the credits roll. Instead of the traditional crocodile (with the ticking clock in its belly), this is a monstrous behemoth, an albino alligator whose back sports a spiny collection of the various arrows and spears that have been hurled at its direction in a futile attempt to kill it. This thing looks mean and totally awesome.
14. There Will Be a 'Wizard of Oz'-Style Shift From 2D to 3D
"Pan" will be exhibited in 3D when it premieres later this summer, and of course this was just another technological and visual flourish that Wright couldn't help but play around with. When describing how the color palette of the film gets progressively warmer and bolder as the story moves away from war-torn Europe and becomes fully entrenched in the Neverland portion of the story, he also admitted that, seemingly in a nod to the great transition of "Wizard of Oz," "I'm thinking the opening sequence of the film would be mainly 2D, and the 3D stuff will kick in when we exit to Neverland." We love stuff like this (more recently "TRON Legacy" featured a similar split) and can't wait to see how Wright handles it.
15. This Film Is For Wright's Son
Amazingly, Wright said that most of his filmography (and general style) has been a push and pull between British realism and "Bedknobs and Broomsticks"-style fantasy, but that "Pan" will be firmly placed in the latter. "The films are often kind of pulling between those two poles and this was an opportunity to really go into the fantasy area," Wright said with a twinkle in his eye. "It's kind of getting back to my childhood and maybe taking, maybe expressing that to my son as well. This is for my son, he's not really into British Realism. He's 3."