Hook (1991)

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in My Childhood | 0 comments


Disclaimer: Don’t grow up. Stop this very instant.

I don’t care how much critics panned it. I don’t care how awful it is. Every time I see Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster flop it brings a smile to my face. Part of that smile comes from nostalgia, and part of it is a nod to Hook’s undeniable awfulness. You gotta love it.

Hook will always exist in a very specific moment in time for those that see it young, and as they grow it becomes part of their cult canon. So much so that it’s not rare to hear it offhandedly referenced in day-to-day activities, whether someone says, “Bangarang!” or “Roof-E-Ohhhhhhhh!” My favorite Hook story involves the dormitory residents at UW-Milwaukee, who for several years had the hilarious privilege of hearing someone yell, “Goodnight Neverland!” every single evening. Freaking. Awesome.

Spielberg’s film acts as a sort of sequel, like Robin and Marion did to the Robin Hood story, paramount to which is the premise that Peter Pan did, indeed, grow up. The adopted orphan, now in his late 30s, married, and with the last name Banning, has become everything a child would fear about adulthood. His job takes precedent over having fun with his family; he’s unnecessarily scared of open windows and flying; he’s always in a suit and tie, rarely away from his cell phone; he no longer believes in the tales that made him famous.


He even demands the youths around him to be more mature. “When are you going to stop acting like a child?” he yells at his son (Charlie Korsmo).

“I am a child,” the boy says, smirking.

“Grow up.”

It’s a frightening concept, I know, but an even more frightening result. And when Wendy (Maggie Smith), now a great grandmother whose granddaughter Moira (Caroline Goodall) is married to Peter, finds out about the nature of Peter’s mergers and acquisitions law firm, she assesses, “So Peter, you’ve become a pirate.”

While the adults attend a ceremony to honor Wendy, Captain Hook drops in and kidnaps the Banning children (Amber Scott plays young Maggie), demanding that Peter return to Neverland, wage war with the pirates, and retrieve his children.

The rest of the movie plays out like an extended training montage from a sports movie, as Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) and the Lost Boys (led by Dante Basco) strive to restore Peter’s memory and physique for the “big game” battle with Hook.

Spielberg and the screenwriters explore/expand the same themes as originally illustrated by J.M. Barrie, but this time create a comically flawed and insecure character of Captain Hook, instead of a twisted villain. Their captain is a caricature ripe for comedy, not likely to frighten children. Christ, even his eyebrows and moustache have hooks! Dustin Hoffman’s over-the-top, chewing-every-millimeter-of-celluloid performance doesn’t help, either. I feel sorry for Smee (Bob Hoskins). Hell. I feel sorry for Hoskins, too.

Robin Williams isn’t as bad as you’d expect, but that’s not saying much. For some reason or another Spielberg called up a bunch of famous faces for cameos, including Jimmy Buffet, George Lucas, Carrie Fischer, David Crosby, Phil Collins, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kelly Rowan. Even Glenn Close plays a pirate, who luckily escapes acting alongside Hoffman early on by being executed by scorpions.

Pointing to things like the theme park look of Neverland, poor acting, and sword fights, critics panned Hook. “The crucial failure in Hook is its inability to re-imagine the material, to find something new, fresh, or urgent to do with the Peter Pan myth,” wrote Roger Ebert. ”The sad thing about the screenplay is that it’s so correctly titled: This whole construction is really nothing more than a hook on which to hang a new version of the Peter Pan story.”

The beginning of the film sets up the second half perfectly, and we can hardly wait to get a taste of Neverland. The big problem is that Neverland hardly lives up to all the anticipation, and the titular captain has never been less scary.

Despite all the negative reviews, Hook made an easy $300 million in worldwide grosses during its near-Christmas release in 1991. Plus, unbelievably, the Academy Awards gave it five nominations (art direction, costumes, effects, makeup, original song).

But the most lasting quality of Hook – the thing that will make it live on – is its incredible badness. Call me crazy, but I’d much rather be behind an awful movie that makes money and gains cult status than one that wins a few Oscars. Besides, doesn’t Spielberg have enough of those already? I also can’t help but wonder what this film would have been if the original intention (a stage musical with music by John Williams) would have went through. In the end, the only remnants of that idea was a solitary song – and a decent, Oscar-nominated one at that.

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