Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Mitch on Hook

[Guest blogger Mitch reviews Hook, and claims it is good. I am clearly going to have to watch it again and pay more attention.]

Hook was on TV on Easter Sunday – I'm sure some programmer at TNT is patting himself on the back for his own cleverness in playing a movie about Peter Pan's return to Neverland on a Christian holiday that celebrates Christ's resurrection. Congratulations on your ironic commentary dude. Guess what? You're still a programmer at TNT.

Here's what Roger Ebert had to say about the Steven Spielberg directed film when it came out in 1991:

"The crucial failure in Hook is its inability to re-imagine the material, to find something new, fresh or urgent to do with the Peter Pan myth. Lacking that, Spielberg should simply have remade the original story, straight, for this generation. The lack of creativity in the screenplay is dramatized in the sword fighting sequences between Hook and Peter, which are endless and not particularly well-choreographed. They do not convince me that either Williams or Hoffman is much of a fencer. Has any Hollywood director ever given thought to bringing in a Hong Kong expert like King Hu to do second-unit work on the swordfights? The cheapest Asian martial arts movie has infinitely more excitement in its sword sequences than the repetitive lunge-and-shuffle that goes on here."

Movies like The Matrix and Kill Bill would of course prove Ebert right about implanting the kung-fu sword fighting, but his request for it here, in a Peter Pan movie, proves that he is missing at least part of the point. I like parts of Hook very much and I disagree with Ebert on the re-imaging thing. I could go the rest of my life without seeing another tepid stage production of the Peter Pan musical, with its always fake-looking wire flying, singing, etc. There are hiccups in this film, sure, but there is merit.

It's a compelling idea: that Peter Pan has grown up and must embrace his inner child to be a better father. His relationship with Tinkerbell is revised – we learn that she has always been in love with him – and in one really interesting scene she kind of seduces him. I remember this scene freaking me out as a kid, because the situation felt so wrong and adult for two such innocent characters, which was the point. Also, the scene where Hook wins over Peter's son by having him smashing clocks seemed to express Barrie's whole point of Neverland. The Lost Boys and pirates there are people frozen in time, who would rather live in a fantasy world than deal with real world problems.

Then there is Dustin Hoffman – one of my favorite actors – in an unusually hammy role. Captain Hook's eccentric self-esteem issues and his interactions with Bob Hoskins intelligently update a one-note villain into a strangely compelling character. Hook's mood shift during his suicide monologue displays Hoffman's strong comic timing: "I'm going to kill myself Smee. Don't try to stop me. Seriously, Smee. Don't try to stop me. Try to stop me, Smee. Please, try to stop me."

I also think this movie is the perfect use of Robin Williams' abilities. His silliness is restrained at the beginning and, once he rediscovers himself, he gets to go nuts at the end. Unlike his patented "crazy" roles, like in Aladdin and The Fisher King, or his overly solemn roles, Good Will Hunting and Insomnia, Williams plays a straight man for much of the movie. I've always thought his matter-of-fact manner when he whips out the checkbook on the pirate ship was very funny.

Unfortunately, Williams plays straight man to dozens of untalented kids, who Spielberg often employs as heartstring-tuggers. These kids live in what appears to be the Ewok village, eat blue and yellow Play-Doh and play basketball on skateboards, which must be what Spielberg thinks every kid wants more than anything. Also weird is how Peter doesn't remember his past, even after seeing a stage play about it and even though his adopted mother is named Wendy, who lives in a house that looks EXACTLY LIKE the scenic design of the play. Also, as one review pointed out, Captain Hook's magnificent pirate ship NEVER LEAVES THE DOCK.

Anyway — it was nice to celebrate the not-so-miraculous return of the almighty Pan last Sunday. Amen.


Jason Powell said...

I remember when I saw "Hook" in the movie theater that the opening scenes -- everything up to when Hook shows up to kidnap ... whoever gets kidnapped at the start -- were fantastic. Really moody, in the sense of everything being claustrophobically realistic and un-fantasy-like, with lots of tension and buildup leading up to what you knew was coming: a big leap into imaginative, Neverland-type stuff. There were also cute little puns and visual touches to set things up: someone uses the phrase "by hook or by crook" at one point, and there's a close-up on the latch of the window, and the latch is shaped exactly like Hook's hook. (And it's the window that will eventually be opened by him to get into the house.) That whole beginning has stayed with me all this time -- I don't think I've seen the movie since it first came out, at least not that early sequence. No idea whether I'd still find it as effective. (Oh! There was another element -- some guy chanting "Hook Hook Hook Hook Hook" ... I remember thinking that was kind of freaky and cool.)

neilshyminsky said...

jason: It's been a long time since I've seen it too, but your description makes me think of the opening scene in 'Labyrinth' - we know that Jennifer Connelly's going to have to go there eventually, and so every shadow and creek seems all the more eerie.

Timothy Callahan said...

I caught a few sequences of the movie when it was on tv this weekend, and I couldn't help but feel that it was WORSE than I remembered it, and that it would have been infinitely better with a real leading man and not Robin Williams. Williams plays the role as a creepy old man who wants to act like a child. Imagine Pan as someone who had grown into a dignified adulthood, but who longed to capture the excitement of his youth and you'll see how the movie could have worked.

With Robin Williams it didn't really stand a chance.

Jason Powell said...

Neil, that's true, they are pretty similar. I think I found the "Hook" beginning more effective, even though overall I'd say "Labyrinth" is a far, far better movie.

Stefan Delatovic said...

I like to imagine that in One Hour Photo Robin Williams is reprising his role of Peter Pan.

Matthew J. Brady said...

I read an interesting review of this once that said it was kind of a repudiation of the values Spielberg expressed in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In the former film, Richard Dreyfuss becomes consumed by the artistic impulse, going so far as to drive his family out of their house so he can build his crazy model of Devil's Tower, and eventually leaving them behind to follow his dreams. But Hook (which came after Spielberg had children and could no longer believe in the ideas that he has previously expressed) does the opposite, having its character reject the childlike and choose to take his family home and be responsible. Of course, there's a bit of the "growing up is bad, don't forget to maintain a sense of childlike wonder" message to the movie, but ultimately, he chooses to reject the "stay a child forever" identity and grow up and be responsible. It's an interesting way of looking at it, which is kind of what you're driven to do when the movie itself is so unfocused.

Actually, I liked it quite a bit as a kid, but it's one that I doubt I would be able to sit through as an adult. But as you mention, there are some interesting aspects to it. That's the thing with Spielberg; he's a great filmmaker, so even his lesser efforts have something of interest in them. And his good ones, when he's firing on all cylinders, can be just amazing experiences.

Streebo said...

Hook is one of those great filmic mysteries in life. It seemed to have all of the elements needed to make it great - but in the end it just didn't quite gel. I still enjoy watching parts of it from time to time.