1991: Revisiting HOOK - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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1991: Revisiting HOOK

To revisit Hook would be a great adventure, right?

I'd not seen Hook since December 1991, a single viewing at the time of its release. I remembered very little actual detail aside from the basic premise of a grown up Peter not remembering he was Pan, the trio of Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman & Bob Hoskins, and it being directed by Steven Spielberg. But it's one of those films I've long felt I should revisit and given the current circumstances, and having more home time to do so, I finally took the plunge.

So how does Hook stand-up after close to 30 years? Better in some areas than others as it turns out.

The main thing that struck me is that Hook feels older than it is, and there's no one specific reason for this. The storytelling feels slower than necessary, especially in the first act. I'm sure there's an excellent 100 minute movie in there, but at 142 mins Hook is just too long. I suspect the last few years have aged Hook more than the previous 25, as the inclusion of fat shaming jokes, unnecessary sexualisation of a character, an equally unnecessary death of a character of colour, and slightly dodgy post-#MeToo kissing moments don't help its case. The primary cast, though, in the large part are all very good.

Robin Williams is, as he always was, an excellent leading man. He's better as the film goes on, and I suspect that was the idea as the way he approaches playing the grown-up Peter Banning in the first act of the film does not make him an easy man to like. Banning is a little cliched; the workaholic father who has no time for his kids or family. His son, Jack, is written in an equally precocious cliched trope, whereas daughter Maggie is almost an after-thought at times, occasionally disappearing from the story as if the script doesn't know how to include her. Banning's wife, Moira, played by Caroline Goodall, is the stereotypical Hollywood business man's wife; making excuses for his absence until finally calling him out as a catalyst for change.

Hook sees the Banning's travel to England to stay with Grandmother Wendy, and in a rather confusing and not explained for a good ten minutes twist, it appears that Wendy is both their grandmothers? Is there some incestuous relationship going on in the Banning household? No, obviously not, but it could've been made clearer sooner. Wendy is played by Dame Maggie Smith, who looks older here than she did in Downton Abbey some 20 years later (interestingly, in a flashback scene to her youth, young-Wendy is played by a pre-fame Gwyneth Paltrow). Like Robin Williams, Maggie Smith is always excellent and a wonderful choice for the character. The only negative aspect here is that Smith's Wendy is lumbered with the lion's share of the 'telling not showing' area of the script, explaining Peter's past and the rather meta storytelling choice.

Once the actual story gets underway properly, and it does take a good 30+ minutes, a lot on convoluted choices plus an info dump from Williams and a cameo from Phil Collins before it does so, we eventually start to meet the characters from Neverland. I had completely forgotten that Julia Roberts played Tinkerbell. I'd equally forgotten that Julia Roberts was ever this young! It's a shame that, at times, Tink is obviously sexualised. It feels unnecessary, especially the inclusion about her "nice legs" at a time when she's just a few inches tall. The later moment in the film when Tink becomes human-sized just to kiss Peter, again feels entirely unnecessary (as does the excessive mermaid kissing scene). There could've been a much more appropriate way to write Tinkabell's story, without making it almost solely the empowering unrequited lover trope. Of course, none of this is Julia Roberts fault and she plays her part very well. At times it does feel like she was added on, which technically she was as her scenes would've been filmed separately against green screen and edited in, but the occasional disassociation of the character, with a quick two second cut to her as if just to remind the audience that Tinkabell is in this (and probably to get their money's worth out of Roberts), does feel a bit weird.

Dustin Hoffman doesn't put a foot wrong as Captain Hook. By far and away the best written character and performed to almost masterclass levels. Both actor and character have range; Hook's megalomania and lust for revenge are matched by his insecurities, and Hoffman often says as much with a look as he does his script. He's about the only character that's given time between their lines to just be. Capt. Hook's lackey, and brains of the operation, Bob Hoskins' Smee is equally marvelous. Between the pair of them they do not have a bad moment, and the film is more enjoyable whenever they are in any scene.

One area that I particularly felt was a strange narrative choice is the story-arc of Lost Boy Rufio, played by Dante Basco who holds his own against the Hollywood elite. Having led and presumably looked after the Lost Boys in Peter's absence, he is initially skeptical that Branning is Pan. Quite understandably so. As the grown-up Peter begins to remember, and the Lost Boys all can see that he is the true Pan, Rufio offers his sword, in a symbol of acceptance of Peter's leadership. So far so good.

What Hook really needed here was a scene where the grown-up Peter takes the sword from Rufio and then returns it to him, explaining that he's not staying in Neverland, Rufio was the one who looked after the Lost Boys in his absence and is their true leader, but he needs all their help if he has any chance of rescuing his children from Captain Hook and returning home. A proper rousing speech, with Peter accepting who he was, is and will be, and acknowledging that Rufio picked up the pieces after his departure.

But what actually happened was nothing of the sort and, to me, felt very wrong. Peter just takes the sword, after earlier humiliating Rufio on several occasions, and the Lost Boys help Pan rescue his children so the Branning's can return home. In the battle Rufio dies, struck through by Captain Hook's sword. An unnecessary death for any character, let alone Rufio being one of only two characters of colour among the primary cast. Yet it's a character death that could've actually been quite moving if treated in an entirely different way. It seems a weird stylistic choice of storytelling from Spielberg's not to have done so.

The special effects are another part of the reason why Hook feels older than it does as they are no more than adequate for the day. Hook was released a few months after Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and whilst I'm not comparing the two as they are entirely different genres, I'm offering a point of reference as to what could be done by a similar budgeted blockbuster film of the era. The special effects in Hook are hardly groundbreaking and are more like a mid-80s movie than an early 90s. Some of the flying moments work better than others, but a few are bested by Superman nearly 15 years earlier. These special effects aren't the most important aspect of Hook, but combined with a couple of patchy green screen scenes, they don't help with the passing of time.

I suspect the bulk of the production budget went into the set-design rather than the special effects as the sets for the Lost Boys village, Hook's boat & harbour and Clock Town are quite spectacular. Their success, though, actually adds to that feeling that Hook is older than it is as they give the film a real sense of classic-era Hollywood design.

So how does Hook stand-up when revisiting it for the first time after 30 years? Although the cast are, in the large part, very good, and the set design is spectacular, Hook is too long, too convoluted, and suffers from some unnecessary storytelling/character choices. Although there are some very enjoyable scenes (the Lost Boys eating their invisible dinner & food fight, Hook & Smee scheming together, and the final battle on the boat & in Clock Town) and I applaud anyone attempting a unique take on a well known subject matter (especially one as well known as this), I can't help but feel that if Spielberg had nixed the whole Banning family and just chosen to make the actual story of Peter Pan, with a younger antagonist alongside every other cast member, the result would have been far superior. It pains me to say that because Robin Williams is very good in this (and I'd hate to lose even one of his performances), but the inclusion of an adult Peter Pan just makes the story of the boy who never grows up less magical than it really should be.

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