"Neverwas" is a 2005 drama (with slight touches of fantasy) with a big name cast, making its debut on DVD (there "Neverwas" a theatrical release.) The film stars Aaron Eckhart as Zach Riley, a psychologist who resigns from a high-ranking position at a prestigious facility in order to take a job with little pay and no benefits at the Millwood Center, a small, low-key facility in a tiny town - which happens to be the same facility that his father, author T.L. Pierson (Nick Nolte) was placed in. T.L. Pierson took his life shortly after leaving the facility, and Zach wants to try to give the patients there better treatment than his father got.
Looked over by supervisor Dr. Reed (William Hurt) and befriended by childhood pal Maggie (Britney Murphy), Riley's finds that his first patient - Gabriel (Ian McKellan) - seems to know him well. He slowly begins to find out from Gabriel that the fantasy world of his father's most well-known book, "Neverwas" - which Maggie still carries and Zach is the main character in - may just be real.
The story is interesting enough in theory, but it starts spinning its wheels by the second act as we start to grow a little impatient for it to go somewhere. First time writer/director Joshua Michael Stern's picture has the core idea down, but the film's moments of fantasy and uplift can seem a little forced and desperate for magic they don't quite find; there were times when I was moved more by the score from Philip Glass (and it's quite the enjoyable score) than what was going on in the movie. It's also tough to know who the film's audience is, as while aspects feel as if they're meant to be a family film, there's enough darkness here to say that it is definitely not for younger children.
The performances are reasonably good, elevating the somewhat shaky material. No one gives their best performance, but Murphy is a bit more enjoyable here in a small part than she has been recently. Nolte is also fine in a small role, as is McKellen (although McKellen just barely keeps from going too far over-the-top.) Eckhart has to play it straightforward, and it's a rather bland performance, despite the actor's best efforts. Eckhart and Murphy don't have much chemistry, but their relationship is so barely developed that it's not surprising.
"Neverwas" does take aspects of other films ("Finding Neverland", for example), but I still rather liked the idea - a son traumatized by the loss of his father and wanting to escape from the father's successful work comes home, only to find out the secrets behind his father's work - but the movie's sentimentality, rather underdeveloped characters and pacing work against it. Just as the movie starts to get rolling quite well towards the end and reaches a perfect final moment or two, it continues onward and that's when it runs into trouble, as the final moments turn ridiculous.
If "Neverwas" isn't successful, it's at least an interesting miss and I couldn't help but think that the core idea could have had more potential in different hands - someone that could have used a more subtle approach and punched up the fantasy elements.
VIDEO: "Neverwas" is presented by Miramax Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film's presentation looked quite good. Sharpness and detail were not outstanding throughout the show, but largely due to the film's intentionally slightly soft focus, it seemed. The presentation did show some very light artifacting in a couple of scenes, but edge enhancement was kept to the barest minimum and the print looked clean. Colors also appeared natural and accurate, with no smearing or other concerns.
SOUND: "Neverwas" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Aside from some light ambience, the film's audio remains forward-oriented, with the surrounds only used sparingly. Audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue and a full, rich reproduction of the score by Glass.
EXTRAS: Only previews for other titles from the studio.
Final Thoughts: "Neverwas" is a decent attempt at a drama with a touch of fantasy, but the film remains rather unfocused and the story's mis-steps and underdeveloped characters really keep it from being the better tale it could have been in other hands (with some tweaking and a bit of a bump in budget, it could have been a more enjoyable family film, but as is, it's not appropriate for kids.) The DVD offers fine audio/video quality, but next-to-no extras.
The Film C+