Hook (1991)


Rated: PG
Length: 144  min.
Age: 8 and up.                    commonsense media sez: 8+

Scary Factor: children are captured and threatened with death, realistic violence in fight scenes, a Lost Boy main character is stabbed and killed by Hook, several people are shot and killed, someone is stuffed into a chest with scorpions

Intense/Questionable: Hook talks frequently about committing suicide, and the kidnapped children’s terror is intense at times

Bad behavior: the usual, for pirates… drinking, smoking, and there seems to be a brothel now in Neverland

(not very good – don’t bother with this one)

An imagined sequel to the original tale of Peter Pan. Peter Pan falls in love with Wendy’s granddaughter and chooses to grow up, leaving Neverland and forgetting he ever was Peter Pan at all. Then he becomes a workaholic lawyer in the U.S. and neglects his kids. While they are visiting Granny Wendy in London Captain Hook returns and kidnaps his children, forcing Peter to return to Neverland, remember how to be young, etc. etc. in order to save them.

I was not at all interested in viewing this film, but in the midst of my Peter Pan research I felt I had to. On paper I’m sure the conceit (Peter Pan grows up) looked good and the casting thrilled every accountant in the studio (Julia Roberts! Robin Williams! Dustin Hoffman! … Julia Roberts!!!) but the end result is bloated and overdone. Typical Spielberg bombast, it could only have been helped by having a smaller budget. The eight million dollar Neverland sets (all studio – there isn’t a breath of fresh air in the entire world) are epic in scale, and include an entire pirate’s city, complete with brothel – apparently jettisoning the concept that Neverland is created by children’s imaginations in the first place. This Neverland is not child-like at all. Even the enormous hideout of the Lost Boys looks like an adult’s vision of a ‘fun space’, all slides and tracks, skateboard ramps and pulleys, and not a bit of it looks child-made.

Back to the story, such as it is… 75% of Hook is a movie for grownups, and the remaining 25% consists of grossout contests, food fights, and inane American ‘sitcom-standard’ jokes and clichés. Yes, there’s the requisite ‘fat kid’. And his name is Thud Butt. Oh the wit! The scenes in which Peter must descend to the boys’ rude and crude level are predictable. There’s even a stupid ‘sports moment’, as the pirates play baseball and Peter’s son Jack hits a home run. Cue happy feelings and parental pride. The climactic battle against the pirates, while providing some excitement and an unexpected fatality, is simply Home Alone on steroids. Weird body armour and contraptions, a gun that shoots raw eggs, shots to the crotch, elastic-powered tomato slingshots… hilarious!

A modicum of interest lies in Hook trying to ingratiate himself with Peter’s children, winning them over as a way of destroying Peter. In one chilling speech he tells both children that Mommy and Daddy just tell you stories “to shut you up”. He succeeds to some degree in winning over Jack with flattery, cheering him on as he hits that home run. Unfortunately however, any interesting tidbits within the script are buried in a landslide of overwrought visuals. Sincerity is an endangered species here, all is post-modern and ironic. Smee introduces Hook in a loud carnival barker, show-bizzy style that would have horrified the original Hook, always with his eye on class distinctions and good form. And Peter’s children are played by glossy ‘Hollywood kids’, the kind that seem as far removed from real life and real emotions as mannequins. The only charm of the film occurs when Peter starts to remember his youth, and has flashbacks to the original story, revisiting the original Barrie text and dialogue. It seems odd that Spielberg didn’t apply his tremendous skills and resources to making the definitive live-action version of the classic tale (which wasn’t done in the modern fx era until the appearance of P. J. Hogan’s 2003 film), but perhaps his ego was better served by trying to one-up it and have the last word on Peter’s later history.

Robin Williams does as well as one could with the role of a grownup schmuck who has to learn to have fun by revisiting the carefree youth he used to be. Dustin Hoffman and Bob Hoskins likewise do what they can, but the overall effect is just tiring. Casting Julia Roberts as Tinker Bell is just more post-modern posturing. She and all the other big name actors bring their immense public personas into the film with them. The end result is a nudge and a wink and a whole lotta artifice – not Edwardian pulleys-and-wires stage artifice, but Hollywood blow-it-up, cast-of-thousands movie artifice. Even as Mother sits sleeping by the open window, waiting for her children to return, a sight full of pathos, the leaf that blows onto her cheek and wakes her looks fake!

Maybe I should try to say something nice now… Commonsense Media points out that the Lost Boys are racially diverse. And I like Maggie Smith. Some kids might find the rude stuff funny… but the main theme about the redeeming value of parenthood seems aimed more squarely at grown up 80s yuppies.

Anyway, I’m not alone in disliking this movie…

Commonsense Media calls it “a comedy not only spare on laughs, but drenched in Hollywood cheese… an overlong hodgepodge”. Kathleen Carroll in the Daily News called the Lost Boys’ antics monotonous and Julia Roberts boring. New York Times critic Vincent Canby said the film is “overwhelmed by a screenplay heavy with complicated exposition, but what are, in effect, big busy nonsinging, nondancing production numbers and some contemporary cant about rearing children and the high price paid for success. The acute difficulty of having it all may be of greater urgency to Mr. Spielberg than to most of the people who will see the movie.”¹

Really, don’t bother with this one. Life is too short.

________________________________________

¹Hanson, Bruce K. The Peter Pan Chronicles; The Nearly 100 Year History of ‘The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up’. Birch Lane Press, New York, 1993. p. 257

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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