Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Whatever Wednesdays: ‘Hook’

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Hook is a modern classic about the boy who never grew up and dares to imagine what if he grew up? As a child, I remember the movie as a wondrous, imaginative, delightful escape, a modern classic. However, as an adult I found myself stunned by the two- and half-hour runtime, if only because the movie in no way justifies it. 

The film is hardly the worst Spielberg offering, in fact, if anything it’s a solid middling effort. Steven Spielberg has made a slew of movies, many of which are beloved classics, including Hook. Ironically though, Spielberg himself was disappointed with the result, and seeing the movie through modern eyes, I can begin to understand why.  

The script is a hodgepodge of nods to J.M. Barrie’s book as well as the Disney animated film all steeped in a sense of longing for a time when imagination and the simple joy of play ruled our lives. That the script is so thin is puzzling. Especially since it is credited with two writers, Jim V. Hart and Malia Scotch Marmo, along with an uncredited third writer, Carrie Fisher.  

Spielberg is so busy struggling against the flimsy script that he finds himself swinging between melancholy and whimsy and never letting the twain meet. However, it goes a long way to explaining the film’s scatterbrained structure. It spends a lot of time setting up characters only to drop those characters and introduce new ones with almost no setup. 

The first half of the film deals with introducing us to Peter, now an accountant, his wife Moira (Caroline Goodall), and their two kids Maggie (Amber Scott) and Jack (Charlie Korsmo). They visit Peter and Moira’s adopted grandmother Wendy (Maggie Smith) who uses her house as an orphanage. While at a fundraiser Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps Jack and Maggie and whisks them away to Never-Neverland, leaving a note telling Peter where to find them. 

Problem is, Peter has no memory of Neverland, Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts), or even his childhood. Which means most of Hook is trying to get the main character to come to terms with the fact that he is the main character. By itself, this isn’t so bad. Except Peter also has to contend with the Lost Boys—now led by Rufio (Dante Basco)—, Tinkerbell’s long-simmering crush, the fact that he might not be the best father, as well as having to learn to fight so he can duel Hook to save his kids. 

In essence, it has so much going on, Hook feels overwhelmed, shunting aside plot points and characters, in favor of a cute scene with a grown-up Peter and the immature Lost Boys. These scenes are hit and miss largely because they involve the same schtick over and over. Peter doesn’t know who he is or where he’s at, the Lost Boys make fun of him, Peter tries to assert his authority, and fails.  

Rinse and repeat. 

The genius of Hook and the genius of Spielberg was the casting of Robin Williams as Peter. Williams is the rare actor who has the uncanny ability to bring both a cold detached mature cynicism along with a heedless childlike sense of joy and wonder to any character he plays. Rarely has any performer walked the line of nightclub act and host of a children’s television show quite like Robin Williams. 

His Peter is the glue that holds Hook together. Williams’s boundless energy infects every scene and buoys every other performance. The moments between Peter and Hook are some of the best, with Williams and Hoffman playing off each other marvelously.  

As good as Williams is though, it’s Hoffman’s Hook and Bob Hoskins as his ever-loyal right hand Smee that almost steal the show. Hoffman and Hoskins share a strange chemistry that gives their relationship an odd feel of Abbott and Costello, but if they were an old married couple. One scene has Hook threatening to shoot himself with Smee despondent, “Not again.” Smee has become all but inured to Hook’s theatrics. It’s not until Hook calmly pleads out, “Don’t you dare try to stop me this time, Smee. Try to stop me. Smee, you better get off your ass.” 

These scenes have a darkly satirical bite to them. As if Spielberg is giving us a sort of melodramatic exaggeration of what so many films think adulthood is. Such as when Hook first meets Peter, who claims not to be Peter Pan. Smee rushes forth with a bundle of paperwork like a frazzled secretary irritated at Peter, “Are you trying to do me out of the job? What’s the matter with you?” 

Still, those scenes are merely peppered throughout the film until Hook stumbles upon a plan to try and win over Jack and Maggie as a way of defeating Peter. After all, what better way to mess with your best and sworn enemy than by making his kids love you more than him? But the script doesn’t do enough to make those scenes anything more than rote. They’re there so we can see Hook do the thing he said he’d do, but we learn little else. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing if they were fun, or funny-but they’re not. 

Spielberg tries to infuse a sense of wonder into Hook by giving us grand set designs. Hook’s ship, his quarters, even the surrounding town, have a sense of wondrous artificiality about them. They don’t seem real but they seem real enough and intricately designed to draw our curiosity. I really liked the Lost Boys clubhouse, a series of tunnels, rope ladders, and skateboard ramps. It perfectly encapsulates the nineties and where a kid would want to live.  

The Lost Boys themselves, a raucous and diverse group of child actors are equally delightful. They just don’t have much to do outside of scream and laugh. Of all the sets, it’s the Lost Boys set that gets the best use and that’s part of the problem. It’s obvious time and effort went into these sets, and it feels like Spielberg and his cameraman Dean Cundey never really utilize them to any real effect. 

Instead, we only get glimpses of these sets; even the Lost Boys set is only shown to us in pieces during chases or fight scenes. We’re never really allowed to get the scale of the place. Not to mention Never-Neverland seems to feel awfully small since we only spend time either with the Lost Boys or Hook’s ship. 

The most galling thing for me, watching Hook as an adult, is the script’s bizarre fascination with making every woman in Peter’s life be in love with him. Granny Wendy is THE Wendy, from J.M. Barrie’s story, played by a young Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s clear she’s pining for the boy but since he refuses to grow up, she soon grows old. However, Peter takes one look at a young sleeping Moira, Wendy’s granddaughter and he’s ready to give up everything. Spielberg and his writers then also try to juggle a subplot where Tinkerbell reveals she’s in love with Peter as well. 

Even worse is that Moira, for some reason, is left behind at the house while Peter flies off to Never-Neverland. When they return, she is none the wiser to the identity of her husband, her grandmother, or where her kids actually went. Hook would have been exponentially more interesting if Moira had been involved in some way other than, “I love my husband and kids. I’ll wait here, you go off and have an adventure and learn to be a child again. As a mother, I have already reached my full character growth.” 

I’m quite aware that I sound like a grouchy old man. I’m not saying I hated Hook, I’m just saying much of the magic and wonder has soured, if only because so much of it feels forced. Still, Basco’s Rufio is charismatic and alive in a way most other side characters in Hook are not. Indeed, Basco’s swagger and personality, while no match for Williams, is more than a match for anyone else.  

Not to mention his character entrance is one of the only lines people still quote from the movie. Talk to any child who was alive in the nineties and simply say, “Rufio.” You’ll more than likely find yourself shouting the name back and forth before escalating into one harmonious howl.  

Some movies we see as children grow up with us. They hold just as much magic and wonder as when we first saw it, oh those many years ago. But some movies don’t, they stay young as if they’re stuck in amber. Growing older means sometimes looking back at what you liked as a child and realizing it’s not meant to come with you into your adult years. 

Hook is a flawed film. But it has so much stuff in it that works that the film comes damn close to overcoming them. If anyone else besides Robin Williams or Steven Spielberg had made it, more than likely it would be unwatchable. As it is, Hook has inspired moments that make you wish the movie was just a little bit better.  


Images courtesy of TriStar Pictures

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