[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B005KJ68WA][/pullquote] The story of Peter Pan, created originally by JM Barrie in 1902 has had many film incarnations from Disney’s memorable animated classic in 1953 to the 2003 PJ Hogan directed effort. There is something enduringly entertaining about the boy who never grows up and audiences around the world continue to buy tickets to hear the story one more time. One of the more liberal interpretations of Peter Pan and friends is the Steven Spielberg-directed, Robin Williams-starring 1991 film, Hook.
The story of Hook follows Peter Banning (Robin Williams), an adult man who is floundering as a father because of his strangely callous behaviour, especially to his children. They family travel to Scotland to meet with Wendy Darling (Maggie Smith), the woman who found Peter a home when he was an orphan child. Peter slowly realises that his childhood might not have been as he remembers it and he is whisked away to Neverland where he meets up with the lost boys and the dastardly Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman).
When Hook was initially conceived there must’ve been so much expectation surrounding. Spielberg was on the top of his game, Williams was still a bankable star and Hoffman was one of the greatest character actors working. Everything was in place for Hook to become one of the greatest children’s films of all time. So what happened? On the face of it, Hook is a beautifully shot film, with gorgeous visuals and distinct sense of place and atmosphere. The cast is good, although Williams star was on the wane, and this is not one of his best performances. Hoffman, meanwhile is excellent as a slapstick, scenery-chewing, overblown version of Captain Hook, however it is his performance that belies the true problems of the film.
Like Hook himself, the plot of inflated beyond any standard story-telling style. It runs for so long in such a haphazard way that it’s difficult to follow and is at times dull. Not something you’d expect from the man who brought us Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Jaws. Sadly, in Spielberg’s pursuit to make the story friendly to American audiences, he overblows every action scene and removes all tension and threat, so all that is left is a sickly sweet imagining of a world that should have some dark undertones. While this is a disappointment, there are some positives to draw from Hook.
Having decided to go the incredibly over-the-top, colourful route, Spielberg does it with such energy and passion that it’s difficult to truly hate the film. The food fight scene, while preposterous and frankly silly, is at least colourful and in keeping with the path they’d chosen. The lost boys have none of the melancholy from the book, but again, having decided to make them a funny little gang, Spielberg unabashedly follows through even making the final third one of the most overly slapstick and comical conclusions to a film ever. Even the bizarre interpretation of Captain Hook is done with such full-blooded hammyness by Hoffman that he makes it very difficult not to love him, just a little bit.
So, in premise Hook is a masterpiece, whereas in execution it’s an absolute mess. There’s enough sentimental, sweet nonsense to make it a Christmas standard and Hoffman’s performance is a lot of fun if you pretend he isn’t supposed to be the sinister Captain Hook.