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Thursday, 30 July 2015

'Bang-A-Rang!': An Analytical Look At & Personal Self-Reflection on Hook


It was accused of catering to baby boomers, it was also labelled as being unimaginative and unbalanced and criticized for over-relying on art direction..... but for many of us, Hook is anything but all those things. For over 2 decades, it has fallen foul to a barrage of pessimism and gripes from film critics - yet for people who ignored the critics and have loved this movie, the direction Spielberg chose to take with this reinvention of the classic Peter Pan tale, gave it a whole new & fresh lick of paint, which, to be quite frank, it really needed. 

Hook acts as an authorized sequel to J.M Barrie's 1911 novel, 'Peter and Wendy'. J.M Barrie had considered writing a story where Peter Pan did grow up. The movie's origin goes as far back as during the 1980s; Steven Spielberg was saddled with the Peter Pan image, locked in Neverland, thus referring to his enthusiasm for playthings and his desire to film J.M Barrie's classic (178, Morris)

Steven Spielberg started developing the movie in the early 1980s with Walt Disney Productions & Paramount Pictures, which would have followed the story-line of the 1953 animated film. At the time, Dustin Hoffman was confirmed to play the role of Captain Hook. With the birth of his son, Spielberg later abandoned the project in 1985. Formerly a Michael Jackson vehicle, it eventually became a story about fathers who jeopardize childish playfulness, rather than about a boy who rejects getting old. 

The screenplay was penned by James V Hart and Malia Scott Castle. 

Suddenly, James V. Hart had this 'what if' scenario vision: what if Peter Pan did grow up? What if he was sporting a 3- piece suit, riding limos and clutching a cell phone in his hand? 

By 1989, the title of the movie was changed from 'Peter Pan' to 'Hook'. Given the title, It may have suggested that the movie is told from Captain Hook's point-of-view, instead of Peter's, but in most cases, that was far from exact. That same year, Robin Williams signed on for the main role of Peter (Hook (Film) Wikipedia). Released in 1991 in US movie theaters before Christmas (and right off the back of Williams's last movie, 'The Fisher King' that came out on Sept 27 that same year), it cost in the region of between $60-80 million to make. The Neverland set alone cost $8 million to produce. Yet the movie was still declared a financial flop, despite raking in over $50 million for Tristar Pictures and was overshadowed by Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast'. Widely dismissed as a bomb, it was further plagued by press reports of one of its stars, Julia Roberts feuding on set with Steven Spielberg, - which was refuted by Roberts herself. 

In spite of this, Hook went on to become the 4th highest grossing film of 1991, surpassing The Silence of the Lambs, JFK and The Addams Family with overall worldwide takings at over $300 million. 

Hook is an example of what Roland Barthes described as a 'bourgeois myth' which appeals to a generalized humanity by glossing over social and cultural division, presenting itself as a solution to all ills (16, rose). It ignores themes of class, rather choosing to emphasize what a happy childhood actually means.  

In this live- action Spielberg 'sequel' to the original Peter Pan novel, Peter has become an adult; he has grown up to become Peter Banning: a self-proclaimed modern-day lawyer (with his own cell phone), who is married to loving wife, Moira, Wendy's granddaughter and together, they have 2 children: son Jack and daughter Maggie (46). The family move to London, England and from there on, meet up with Wendy. Peter comes across as being agitated and so consumed in his work. As the movie advances, it isn't long before Captain James Hook, Peter's long-time nemesis, kidnaps Jack and Maggie from their beds whilst they are fast asleep at night; thus, forcing the now - adult Peter to re-evaluate his intentions, as well as confront the reality of knowing that Captain Hook is alive and well, and who instead of targeting Peter, targets the kids, in his efforts to renew their long- standing rivalry. 

With that in mind, Peter travels to Neverland to save the day and to get his children back. With the aid of the Lost Boys and Tinkerbell, who transform Peter from a so-called wimp into a confident, energetic and athletic super man, along the way Peter Banning has to learn and remember how to become the person he used to be as Peter Pan, in order to achieve this feat (182, Gray et al Corcuera, Di Biase). 

The film reinforces characterization by expressing Peter's subjectivity. Morris argues that Hook succeeds due to the recognition that such processes may occur is prerequisite to understanding the popularity and cultural significance of Steven Spielberg's output (181, Morris). In other words, by understanding and familiarizing yourself with Spielberg's directing style through the likes of ET would partly explain as to why his movies have become an ideal choice for many families, young children, as well as adults. The ideals, concepts, story-lines evoked in his movies resonates with these sets of people. 

Patricia Pace describes Peter as a character who conforms to the ideas of primaral masculinity by neglecting his children and his identity. But the real problems begin when he does not remember anything when he was 13 (Silet, 161). To help recall his memory, whilst in Neverland, Peter learns how to fight, fly and crow. Eventually, Peter finds his inner strength in the company of the Lost Boys, who he wins over.  

We then see Peter Banning's negative qualities as a father are displaced onto Hook. For Spielberg, Peter must defeat Hook to redeem himself and to win back the respect and love from his son, of whom felt neglected by his father, prior to Peter's transformation. Hook meanwhile uses Peter's son against him as a pawn by taking him to and watching a baseball match, thus, acting as a father figure, whilst constantly pointing out to Jack what a terrible father Peter was and is and how he was never always there for him (162).

Another one of the interesting aspects of this movie is how earlier on, after Peter is captured by Captain Hook and his henchmen, Hook decides it upon himself not to kill off Peter, but rather challenge Peter in a dual and to exact his vengeance. Yet Captain Hook doesn't want to face-off in a battle against Peter Banning but Peter Pan: Peter's so-called alter ego. Therefore, in a deal with Tinkerbell, he gives Peter 4 days to prepare himself for the final showdown. 

Both La Gall & Taliaferro make a bold and contrasting comparison between Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Hook; underlining that whilst through Indiana, Dr Henry Jones Jr and his father, Henry, the former is about restoring a father and son's relationship in their quest for glory. Meanwhile, in Hook, the film shows that in Peter returning to Neverland, fathers need to gain back their childhood to help renew their father/child bond (Kowalski, 39). 

For a young person to look up to and respect an adult, that adult has to have gone through and lived a childhood experience, in order to be able to pass on their experience, advice and know-how onto their younger peers (Le Gall, Taliaferro, 48)Ultimately, this is the lesson that Peter learns in Hook as he leads the Lost Boys into battle against Captain Hook and his gang. 
If Peter Banning as Peter Pan signifies being young at heart, childhood innocence and fun, then Captain Hook signifies growing old, being miserable & who lacks an inner child inside of him.  

Hook emphasizes themes of childhood, happiness and the importance of parents to get actively involved with their children by spending time with them. But in addition, it explores the consequences of Peter growing up & living in the real world (Barrie, 27). Peter Pan always feared the idea of growing up, - and who wouldn't be? Growing up can be scary; getting older means ageing.... and eventually dying in the end. Before Hook, he was young, effervescent & free; free from the responsibilities and he would enjoy being a kid. To Peter, he always thought he was immortal and would, therefore, remain young, forever. 

Now as a 40- something- year -old working parent and husband, he doesn't have that luxury any more. He doesn't spend enough quality time with the kids, because he has become so wrapped up in his work. 

There were 3 scenes in the movie that I thought was central to the narrative of the movie: the first one takes place during a baseball match. Jack is about to bat when he sees a sign saying 'Run Home Jack'. This connotes that Jack should run away and escape from Neverland and to return home. 

The second scene is when at the same baseball game, when Peter who sports a pirate outfit (see below screenshot), sees Hook refer to Jack as his 'son', he is heartbroken. Peter is left mortified; mortified at the vision of Jack being embraced by Hook as a father and the idea of him replacing him as Jack's dad. Instead of taking Hook's hook, he leaves the arena dejected and walks off, with the Lost Boys left wondering what had happened.  

The third scene is when Peter sees a reflection of his younger self in the water; after years of being miserable, & whining about his work, he sees that still inside of him lies the previous Peter Pan: the Peter Pan who was younger and who was still a child. This is in stark contrast to an earlier scene in the movie, where during a flight on-board a plane, Jack is messing around in his seat - only for Peter to tell him off by saying to him, 'stop acting like a child'. 

Later on in the movie, we see a one-to-one moment; Peter turns to Tinkerbell, saying the reason he returned to Neverland was that he wanted to be a dad. That he wanted to get involved with his children's activities. This is where the movie and Spielberg say, 'as a grown up, you can still have fun'. That just because you are older, it shouldn't deprive you of the things that made you happy as a child, the good memories of the past and that it shouldn't deprive you of your happiness as an adult. Not to mention that being happy and content partly comes from a happy marriage and loving your kids, unconditionally. It is through the transformation of Peter Pan and donning the green outfit that Peter realizes why it is so important to a) be a good father and b) have a happy childhood and that all those adventures he had alongside Tinkerbell, not only meant something to him and to Tinkerbell. But to his wife, to Mary, to the Lost Boys, and his children. 

He has Tinkerbell as his soulmate and female shoulder to lean on and someone he could talk to, with his wife and Wendy back in London & daughter kidnapped. The Peter and 'Tink' relationship is further examined in this movie, going as far back as having Tinkerbell having feelings for him. In a flashback scene, Peter reminisces about the moment when he was younger he kisses an adolescent Moira. We get a close-up of Tinkerbell looking through the window at Peter kissing Moira. She has a look of disappointment on her face, thus suggesting it should have been her instead. In another scene, by inhibiting a full-sized clock that emits dazzling light that suddenly explodes, Peter's noble efforts win the affections of tiny Tinkerbell, who becomes larger than life by magic and confesses her feelings towards him. She turns from a pixie into a full sized adult & wearing a glamorous dress locks eyes with Peter (Morris, 190)She first reacts by kissing Peter, & the two share a brief intimate moment, - but he then resists the temptation to consummate the relationship, because he is still in love with his wife (Zipes, 318). Towards the end of the movie, Tinkerbell tells Peter that she loves him and that she will be waiting for him.

In defence of 'Hook'

Given that Hook has been on the receiving end of so much negative feedback and was so reviled by movie critics, it makes the movie one of the most curious films to analyse and dissect from a pre and post-production standpoint, as well as in terms of narrative and plot & from a social construct. People have made out how wacky and over- the- top it all looks and feels, of the idea of having a 40 - something Peter Pan. Much of the disdain and criticism stems from the people missing the bigger picture; in not understanding the underlying themes and concepts this movie evokes, and that this movie works best when the audience/people still believe in that 'magical place between asleep and awake'. That we continue believing and dreaming. That is when the fun and innocence of childhood begins and ends. 

Today, we live in a society that places so much emphasis on wealth and being rich, material goods, celebrity culture, technology, some aspects of the media and press even, that we end up overlooking one thing: fun, and being happy and content with who we are as individuals.

Interestingly, Morris argues that the movie resolves difficulties but not in an idealised American history, rather in the place of Neverland. Innocence and childhood innocence is structurally opposed by adults and Peter Banning earlier on in the movie - and in Hook, this is exemplified by the Pirates, for instance. Neverland frames Banning's needs, rather than children's desires (Morris, 191). For Morris, Hook's box office failure is more down to its (lack of) marketing aimed towards teenagers and young adults, & less to do with the movie itself and of Steven Spielberg's directorial efforts and the story's angle that he chose to take with it. 

'Hook' is a story of how Peter finally learns to live and that living 'is an awfully big adventure'. In this particular adaptation, he comes to the realization that a man without a childhood, is as incomplete as in the Disney animated classic where a boy would not (& chooses not to) grow up & get older. Peter has to remember the person that he was before, who he is and what is really important.... before he loses everything, including his family. It is more than just a children's movie: it is a reminder to us as adults that we mustn't forget about who we really are. That we must look within for a Peter Pan. For Peter, all it takes is 'one happy thought'.

The more we remember and cherish who we are and by focusing on the positive & remembering the happy moments as children, the better our life becomes. 

Robin Williams Passing & The Life Lessons From The Movie

Robin Williams's death in August 2014 disheartened me at first; but in looking back and reflecting on this movie, Hook resonated with me so much; not just because I loved it as a child, but that Robin Williams as Peter Banning/Peter Pan really went out of his way in his performance to embrace and let loose his serious and fun side. Not only that, he gave a profound & dramatic presence during the heartfelt and touching moments. I know some people were a little taken aback and displeased when Peter and Tinkerbell (played by Julia Roberts) kissed, but I was actually moved by this scene. It just illustrates the mutual bond and understanding that the pair share with one another, going as far back as the novel. 

Whilst Mork of Mork and Mindy was the extraterrestrial from space, arriving on planet earth to begin a new life for himself and establishing himself and settling in his new home environment, Peter Banning, on the other hand, was a human being sent to Neverland to reclaim his lost youth, whilst still being the older figurehead of the group and fighting evil pirates. 

When I think about the likes of Robin Williams, people who I look up to and have been a fan of theirs for years, I don't focus on them being no longer around today. That is not to say I cannot accept the fact that they are dead. I do, and there is nothing that I and anyone else can say that will bring them back; rather instead, I choose to remember when they were alive & what they have accomplished and what it meant to me personally, and to cherish those happy moments that have brought a smile on my face by watching and reliving those movies & TV shows, over and over again

I remember the happy times when they were alive and when they entered my living room and TV by entertaining me and my siblings - and not concentrate that they are dead. 

Hook was one of those film moments that I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life; I don't care that it has been reviled by and loathed by critics. I don't care if Peter's daughter is a little annoying in the movie. I didn't care when Robin Williams donned a pair of green tights - he still kicked ass as Peter Pan/Manning! Dustin Hoffman excelled as Captain Hook, brimming with confidence and with it, a great character performance that embodies how loathsome and cunning he was as the villain. Not to mention amusing too. Not since as Dorothy in Tootsie has Dustin Hoffman delivered a stellar performance whilst in costume, but with Hook, yet again he took this to a whole another level. People said Dustin's portrayal of Captain Hook was too over-the-top & cartoony: & so let me get this straight: antagonist Hook should be a total bore with no personality? Gotcha- Not. The late Bob Hoskins did well too and Julia Roberts and The Lost Boys were, alright. The casting was just spot-on. 

I love Robin Williams's films, some more than others, & whilst Hook wasn't the critical and commercial success as it was and is not high on the list of favourite Robin Williams's movies for many people, I for one personally enjoyed it so much that I consider it to be my favourite movie of his, and so I don't care what the critics think and make of it. Because I clearly don't, and won't. 

Hook was an inventive, creative, fun and imaginative spin on the JM Barrie tale, - and thank goodness for that, Steven Spielberg. It looked so visually spectacular, I almost drooled. This was light years away from the Hollywood of today's over-reliance on CGI efforts. The musical score by John Williams was out of this world. The costumes and the appearances of the characters were great, with some added humour in the mix. 

It was by far not the travesty that critics made it out to be. 

And in the late Robin Williams, all I can add is (and by echoing one of the movie's lines) 'I believe in You'; & I believed in him as Peter Pan. Life is too short for us to continue wallowing in dismay and at his passing. Because he lives on in our hearts and on our screens through the movies, the DVDs and as Mork on Mork & Mindy.  

Not to mention as one of the most prominent fictional characters ever created, Peter Pan. It was wonderful seeing him playing the hero and succeeding in the end. For that, I thank Robin Williams for acquiring the role. 

The movie even has direct references to Williams's movies in Good Morning, Vietnam where Smee (Bob Hoskins) addresses the crowd with a megaphone by going 'Good Morning, Neverland!' and Dead Poets Society when Tootles yells 'Seize The Day!'. 

Hook may not be regarded by many movie critics and Robin Williams's fans as his best on-screen performance - well, I'd go as far as to say as Peter Pan, he delivered what I arguably consider to be is his most comprehensive role in his career: both as a dramatic actor and an action movie-star with all the sword-play skills, acrobatic flips and stunts & just basically kicking ass. Adrian Cronier and John Keating will always go down as some of his finest roles, but when we talk about other types of movies, particularly the action-adventure genre, Robin has demonstrated that anything Arnie, Sly Stallone & Bruce Willis can do, he can do it just as well too.   

The saddest parts of the movie though are when Peter bids farewell to the Lost Boys and returns to London and Tinkerbell bidding goodbye to Peter. The last part especially, just felt off - it was a bittersweet ending, but still sad. As much as I love 'Hook', I felt the Lost Boys and Tinkerbell's sadness over Peter departing Neverland. 

The one line from 'Hook', out of the numerous lines and phrases that have been uttered by the characters such as 'Bang-a-rang' and 'happy thoughts' to name, that will stay in my memory and as such I will take away from is from Tinkerbell, who towards the end of 'Hook', she says to Peter: 'you know that place between sleep and awake, the place you can still remember dreaming? That's where I will always love you, that's where I will be waiting'. 

With Robin gone but not forgotten, as Peter Pan, he is still dreaming and in my eyes, dreams and heart, Peter and Tink are reunited together, in heaven. 

But yes, long Live Hook (or be it, Robin Williams's Peter Pan)!  

  • Barrie, Peter Pan
  • Hook - Wikipedia 
  • La Gall, Taliaferro et al Kowalski, Steven Spielberg and Philosophy: We're Gonna Need a Bigger Book  
  • Morris, The Cinema of Steven Spielberg: Empire of Light
  • Munoz Corcuera and Di Biase, Barrie, Hook, and Peter Pan: Studies in Contemporary Myth 
  • Silent, ed., The Films of Steven Spielberg
  • Zipes, The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of Fairy - Tale Films
  • The case of peter pan -, or the impossibility of children's fiction, Jacqueline rose 

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