Sunday, August 24, 2014

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Hook (1991)

What if Peter Pan grew up? That's the tag-line of the movie Hook, which I watched for my friend Nick's movie-review podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood yesterday afternoon. Here's the actual recording. The gist is that during one of his visits to our world, Peter Pan decides to stay, grows up to become Robin Williams, marries Wendy's granddaughter Moira, and becomes an attorney. An attorney who neglects his family and to be perfectly blunt is a massive jerk.

Then while Peter, Wendy, and Moira are attending a benefit in London, a mysterious intruder invades Wendy's home in London and abducts Peter's children. A note stuck to the door with a dagger demands Peter return to Neverland a note--signed by none other than Captain James Hook.

Uh oh. Now an out-of-shape and cranky Peter has to get his children back with the help of Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) and the skeptical Lost Boys now led by Rufio, a 1980s punk complete with a mohawk. Let the games begin.

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Good

*Although Peter Pan was never my favorite Disney movie, I did like the concept. The film is very meta--it starts with the Peter seeing his daughter Maggie acting as Wendy in a school play production of Peter Pan. To quote TVTropes they go with the Literary Agent Hypothesis--Wendy and her brothers told their neighbor J.M. Barrie about their adventures and he wrote them into a book. The whole Peter Pan phenomenon (including the Great Ormond Street Hospital) exists alongside a real Peter Pan and Neverland. Given how the Lost Boys apparently arrive in Neverland on their own in the greater Peter Pan mythology, I liked the depiction of Lost Boys wearing old-fashioned Boy Scout uniforms, a Victorian-esque "Artful Dodger" outfit, and 1980s punk gear (Rufio) and playing basketball and using what looks like a hybrid skateboard/windsurfing board to get around.

*The film had some amusing moments. I particularly liked the non-rap rap battle between Rufio and the adult Peter that has some pretty creative (and generally kid-friendly) insults. The cadences the Lost Boys sing when they get Peter back into shape for the duel with Hook are amusing as well.

*It does pull on the heartstrings a fair bit, in particular Peter's estrangement from and ultimate reconciliation with his children. This isn't something I generally enjoy, but many people do like that and it shows the people involved in making this movie (the writers, directors, and actors) did a good job.

*Robin Williams does a good job as the adult Peter, both in his early depiction as a jerk who repeatedly breaks promises to his children and as he mellows and becomes Peter Pan again. One of the other people watching the movie said when Robin Williams isn't being a goofy funny guy he can actually be pretty scary. Although I haven't seen either film, One Hour Photo and Death to Smoochy can testify to this. We chose Hook as a memorial to Williams (as well as to Bob Hoskins, who played Smee died this year as well), so RIP Mr. Williams.

*I liked the concept of the bored Captain Hook having a straight-up death wish. This is pretty obvious in a suicide-attempt scene (that's played for laughs), but Captain Hook's threats against not only Peter's children but their children and their children and so on come off as basically "KILL ME!"

*I also liked the characterization of Tinkerbell. She's traditionally been depicted as jealous (to the point of attempted murder) of any other female in Peter's life, but in Hook she gets to actually talk about her feelings for Peter. She's even tempted to try to get him to stay with her in Neverland (and shows she can become a full-sized person if she wants), but ultimately reminds him when he's on the verge of forgetting his own family. This struggle with temptation is pretty interesting even though it doesn't take up too terribly much time.

*The pirates have their very own city complete with women and children and have organized the menfolk into a militia to be called out at need. This makes a lot of sense--the pirates when Peter was a child/teen leading the Lost Boys would have been recent arrivals, but now they've been there for (to them) many years and put down roots.

*I like how they included a back-story for Peter. I'm not going to go into detail in order to avoid spoilers, but Peter lives through various historical areas before he makes the decision to stay in our world.

The Bad

*A lot of people liked Captain Hook's introduction in which Hook's titular prosthesis is sharpened by the village blacksmith and carried to him in a gigantic procession in which the pirates all chant "Where's the Hook?" That doesn't really make a lot of sense. The pirates have been there so long they've established a functioning civilization. They know who Hook is. Unless Hook has gotten so bored with life that he's instituted these ludicrous parades every so often to liven things up, there's no reason for this scene at all.

*In one scene, Maggie sings a lullaby her mother sang to her. She has a beautiful voice, but there's no real reason for the scene to be there. I read online Hook was originally supposed to be a musical, which would explain this scene and "Where's the Hook?"--they're leftovers from the earlier version of the film. However, given how the film is not a musical, they should have just cut those out. The hook-sharpening before the parade is cool so that could be kept and if they absolutely had to have Maggie sing, she could be singing to herself in the hold or wherever Hook is keeping her and Peter could overhear it somehow.

*This movie is long and slow. I'm sorry, but it is. That's the single biggest problem with the movie and why my review is ultimately not going to be very good. If Spielberg had cut or at least truncated those two scenes and maybe trimmed a little bit here and a little bit there, it would have been a much tighter film and could have allowed more interesting material to be included, like Neverland's Indians (I'll get to them later).

*Here we're getting into spoilery territory, but the ending was rather flawed. Basically Peter defeats Hook in a duel but refuses to kill him. Instead, he orders him to leave Neverland and never return. Hook attacks him when his back is turned, but Tinkerbell intervenes to keep him from hooking Peter's face. Then the crocodile Hook had killed, stuffed, and made into the town clock tower falls on him mouth-first and basically eats him. I imagine Spielberg didn't want to have Peter actually kill Hook, but there's never any indication the crocodile is somehow still alive or is in any way magical. The Wikipedia article suggests Tinkerbell had zapped it briefly back to life somehow, but if that was Spielberg's intention, it should've been more obvious--we could see lightning racing through the crocodile and a Frankenstein-style reanimation.

And it's not like the good guys haven't killed in the movie before--even though most of the Lost Boys fight with non-lethal and rather childish weapons like egg-shooters, Peter and Rufio both stab pirates with knives and swords on-screen. The wounds might not be immediately lethal (they're to the torso rather than head or throat), but in this type of environment (i.e. no modern surgery or antibiotics), gut wounds will kill and they will kill very painfully. What measure is a Mook?

Here's how I would have done it: Keep the final duel all the way to Hook's treacherous attack after Peter has shown him mercy--but instead of being caught unaware, Peter spins around and stabs Hook with his sword. This would show he's gotten his childhood reflexes and speed back. Furthermore, if Peter stabs Hook in the gut, we could hear the blow but not see blood and so the rating wouldn't be unduly affected. And the dying Hook thanks Peter, which would further establish the death-wish characterization. To avoid overly-glorifying killing in a children's film, I'd depict Peter being saddened by having to kill his old enemy.

*Neverland's Indian population is referred to (apparently the pirates have killed some of them and Smee suggests to a bored Hook they do this some more) but never seen. The movie was already so long that including a scene where Peter visits the Indians and secures their alliance with the Lost Boys against the pirates (perhaps including an adult Tiger Lily or her children?) would have been a problem, but if they tightened the film up, it could have been really interesting.

*At the very end, when the senile former Lost Boy Tootles finds his lost marbles (sprinkled with fairy dust) and flies off to Neverland, Moira should be more shocked. Wendy, Peter, and the kids all know this sort of thing can really happen, but Moira only knows this as stories.

The Verdict

*It's a good concept and has a lot of potential, but the film is so long I wouldn't really recommend it. 5.5 out of 10.

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