Hook (1991)


Hook is a film made for children, so I think that’s why I didn’t like it.  If other Spielberg films, say Jaws or The Sugarland Express, are more advanced foreign language courses, Hook is the most basic of those courses.  God, that’s a pretty terrible description.  Hook is the Rosetta Stone of Spielberg films.

Look, there’s a formula to almost all movies, and that’s not a bad thing.  Spielbergian films embrace that structure.  There’s the first act in which everything is set up, there’s the “lock in” where the character jumps into a new reality (whether it’s the reality of dealing with a man-eating shark or the reality of Neverland), then there’s the climactic sequence and everything in between.  It’s easily identifiable in his movies, and if anything it’s only more apparent in Hook.

I think this movie might work for children, but it was just so boring because those plot mechanisms were so obvious that you just know where it’s headed and how long it will take to get there.

Robin Williams is Peter Pan, but he doesn’t know it.  See, he’s adult Peter Pan, and he doesn’t remember being Peter Pan.  He has two children who are kidnapped by Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman), and Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) shows up to bring Peter back to Neverland to get them back.  She also has to help him remember who he is/was.

One of the problems with watching this film is that it just felt like an uninspired Disney ride.  All the sets were clearly sets, and I guess that’s fine.  I mean, it’s better than relying on CGI, especially when CGI wasn’t as strong at the time of the film.  So sets are the way to go, but Neverland is an island, so maybe they could’ve shot on location in Hawaii or something.  That would’ve been fun!

But that probably presented a bunch of complications, especially with a cast predominantly made of children.  At the same time, though, the movie is directed by Steven Spielberg, so if he wanted to shoot on location, I’m sure they could’ve shot on location.

Instead, they just made these playground sets and shot the whole film there, and it suffered because of it.  But then you remember that the target audience is an 8 year old who wouldn’t notice the difference between a studio set and a real island, so what’s the point of leaving the air conditioned studio behind?

It felt lazy, but since this might just be the Rosetta Stone of Spielberg movies, it was like everything was slowed down.  I could visualize Spielberg slowly and carefully over-enunciating “THIS. IS. THE. FIRST. ACT. NOW. THIS. IS. THE. LOCK. IN. SO. PETER. IS. IN. NEVER LAND. TO. FIND. HIS. CHILDREN” as if the 8 year olds in the audience were taking screenwriting notes.

Okay, I guess it’s more like this: Spielberg is great at making movies, and by this time he had made so many, and so many great ones that making a run of the mill Hollywood movie was a cakewalk for him (and still is).  So he just repeated the formula, changed the names and voila, there’s the movie.

So Peter Pan eventually remembers he’s Peter Pan.  He is finally able to fly when he thinks of a good thought, in this case remembering the birth of his son.  He fights Captain Hook, who has been trying to brainwash (somewhat successfully) Peter’s son.  Peter gets his kids back, Hook is embarrassed, and they leave.  Now Peter holds onto the childlike essence he once had but is still able to be a responsible father.  He literally has the best of both worlds.

Why was this 2 hours and 22 minutes long?  It was so long.

There were some good things in this movie, like Robin Williams’ performance, and the visual effects to make Tinkerbell look small were kind of impressive, but it’s a kids movie, and kids movies deal in broader characters and oversimplifications.  Again, that’s fine, maybe some young kid saw this in the theater and for a few months, hell maybe even a couple years, it was that kid’s favorite film.  But then he or she grew up, saw Pulp Fiction or something and found a new favorite film.  Now that kid is an adult with a more fully-formed taste in film.  So that’s good, and this movie has its value, but why was it so long?  Can kids really sit still for 140+ minutes?

Every movie genre is governed by a certain amount of rules.  The degree to which they succeed or fail is often based on how well they abide by or shatter those rules, I’d guess.  Well, kids movies also have a certain set of rules.  For example, no graphic sex scenes or absurd amounts of violence.  That’s probably more for movies rated PG than kids movies, but they’re one in the same.

Basically, I knew Peter would defeat Hook, but the whole fight has more of a playground fight feel than an actual sword fight (except for the fact that Hook stabbed and killed a kid, which, wow I didn’t anticipate that).  So Peter never has to kill Hook because that would undermine the rules of a movie aimed at children.  Instead we see Hook fail and then get embarrassed.  It’s more important in a movie like this for the villain to crumble and be proven wrong rather than to just be put down.

Peter is good, so he must always be good.  Everything he does is good.  Hook is bad, so everything he does is bad, and his badness has to be reflected back to him by the end, maybe not through a cathartic moment of self-realization but through embarrassment so that he thinks “well if my plan failed that badly, it must have been poorly thought out from the start.”

Last thing that caught my attention was the scene in which Peter Pan returns to the Lost Boys, and they realize he’s really Peter Pan.  Since he’s an adult, they at first reject the idea that he can be their one true lord and savior.  But then… they start to feel his face, like a blind person would, and they realize it’s him.  The scene is reminiscent of when Jim begins to recognize his mom at the end of Empire of the Sun.  I think there’s another moment like that in another Spielberg movie, but I can’t recall it at the time.

That moment felt similar to the mimicking people have done on multiple occasions in his movies.  In Jaws, Brody’s son mimics him at the dinner table.  Roy’s son mimics him similarly in Close Encounters.  E.T. mimics Elliot, and I might be missing a couple more instances.  The point is, there are scenes like this of characters trying to reach out and understand each other in a very primal manner.  They stop using words, almost as if the English language isn’t enough to convey what they want to say.  They get as close to each other as they can, using other senses, specifically sight and touch.  It forces not only the characters to pay more attention to each other, but the silence also forces the audience to pay more attention.  In other words, it shows instead of tells, and I think it allows the audience to be more engaged with the story.  It’s more impactful, certainly.


That’s all I’ve got for Hook.  I’m not sure why it was named after the villain.  It’s kind of like how you have Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as well as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

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