[box cover]


Columbia TriStar Home Video

Starring Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts,
Bob Hoskins, and Gwyneth Paltrow

Written by James V. Hart
Directed by Steven Spielberg

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Hook may be director Steven Spielberg's most infuriating film. The screenplay is a triumph of high concept, asking What if Peter Pan had grown up? — but the rushed, too-silly execution makes the final product one of the director's most uneven efforts. What's most infuriating is that the movie seems to exist in a perpetual state of "almost-there"-ness. It's like clockwork:

  1. A striking concept presents itself;
  2. The viewer subconsciously notes how frequently Spielberg's delivered on
    striking concepts in the past (sharks! UFOs! Indiana Jones!);
  3. And finally, the viewer subconsciously slaps his or her forehead as
    Hook fails that concept's potential.

For example: The notion of an adult, flabby Peter Pan (Robin Williams) cavorting against his will amongst the Lost Boys is actually pretty amusing. But the finished product features Lost Boys engaged, rather too shrilly, in such anachronisms as basketball and skateboarding — even as the camera cuts away far too often on Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) looking "cute."

Scenarist James V. Hart's storyline is a surprisingly reverent sequel to J.M. Barrie's children's tale. Peter Banning (Williams) — a middle-aged corporate raider with no memory of his childhood escapades against Captain Hook — is shanghaied back to Neverland by Tinkerbell (Roberts) when the evil pirate kidnaps Peter's adorable-moppet spawn. Banning/Pan is given a rather brutal, noisy refresher course in flying and fighting by Tink and the still-youthful Lost Boys — even as Hook (Dustin Hoffman) and Smee (Bob Hoskins) are trying to draft Peter's son (Charlie Korsmo) to their side.

Thematically — especially if one takes the critically specious step of incorporating Spielberg's career arc into the analysis — this is fairly riveting stuff. Hook's plotline is, to the best of my knowledge, the only children's fantasy about flying men and pirates to feature a midlife crisis as its narrative drive train. Peter hits, in a fantastical fashion, all the mental speedbumps of a 40-year-old man — trying desperately to re-capture his youth, forgetting his family responsibilities, even facing the temptations of a perpetually younger (and much tinier) woman. It's only when he re-embraces his sense of family — leavened with a heaping dollop of the director's trademark whimsy — that Peter Pan can fly again.

And my oh my, is it tempting to apply this analysis to Steven Spielberg himself. With the notable exception of Jurassic Park — which Spielberg handed to George Lucas in post-production — and its horrid sequel, Spielberg's post-Hook output (Schindler's List, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan) has been marked by an almost-fatherly sense of civic responsibility. In a sense, Hook is a profoundly transitional work for its director: In its aftermath, Spielberg's approach to filmmaking — much like the adult Peter's approach to flying — has changed, with youthful skill being applied to more paternal pursuits.

I will say this for Hook: Despite its frequently teeth-grinding Neverland sequences, the film has some undeniable charms. For one thing, its two lead performances are first-rate. Williams largely disabuses himself of the smarmy theatrics that have marred his recent work, even as he's cavorting about on wires with a shaved chest, which is saying something. And Hoffman tears into Captain Hook with relish, disappearing into his prop- and makeup-heavy role and hoarding most of the film's genuinely funny moments. (The scenes where Hook uses Smee as an ego-reinforcing enabler and attempts to re-educate Peter's children are among the film's best.) Also, it must be admitted that Hook has some affecting moments and images — a couple levitating off a London bridge as Tink flies by, sprinkling them with fairy dust; a hypnotic narrative montage as Peter remembers how he first came to and left Neverland (featuring a young Gwyneth Paltrow as Wendy); and some dreamy, storybook-fake vistas.

But what's deeply, mortally wrong with Hook can really be summed up in a word: shrillness. After a promising, melancholic intro, the film derails for most viewers over the age of 10 when Peter arrives in Neverland. Spielberg has been guilty in the past (most notoriously in 1941) of being silly when he's trying to be funny, and the sequences with the Lost Boys are an unfortunate return to form for the director. They're replete with garish Technicolor food fights, crotch-sniffing flowers, and sight gags at the expense of the fat kid. Hook's occasional moments of thematic insight or comedy or melancholia are undermined by both the aforementioned thudding slapstick and a choppy climax that was seemingly designed to sell Lost Boys-themed squirt guns at Toys "R" Us.

Also, a couple of key performances and moments fail the audience. Roberts, a fine and decidedly well-cast actress, is undermined by Hook's editor; too many takes of Tink observing the proceedings with pixie-ish cuteness nearly compelled me to cast about for an insulin kit. Also, Bob Hoskins has a moment in the climax where he runs around Hook's quarters yelling "What about Smee? Smee's me!"; that moment may very well be what kneecapped the talented actor's mainstream-Hollywood career.

What's additionally disappointing is that Hook was a project Spielberg had wanted to make in some capacity for a goodly chunk of his career: He and composer John Williams had reportedly labored in the mid-'80s on a "Peter Pan" stage musical that was ultimately abandoned. Which does lead me to the one element of Hook that utterly soars: Williams' score. And here I must declare a mea culpa of sorts: I labeled this score as "reactive" and "meandering" in my review of The Phantom Menace last year — but having recently heard an expanded bootleg of the music, I can write with confidence that I was dead wrong. Williams delivers on the film's themes in a way that Spielberg may simply have lacked the time to, given Hook's truncated production schedule. The fact that this DVD has no isolated-score track is, in my mind, a wasted opportunity — and the DVD's lack of any extras beyond a faded trailer and some limited biographical notes is, alas, par for the course for many current Spielberg releases.

For a truly obsessive, definitive analysis of Williams' excellent Hook score, check out John Takis' recent article for johnwilliams.cjb.net, An Awfully Big Adventure: The Music of 'Hook'.

— Alexandra DuPont

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