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Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Retro Movie Review: Hook (1991) #RobinWilliams

Cast: Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Bob Hoskins, Dame Maggie Smith
Genre: Fantasy Adventure 
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $300 million

Trivia: Robin Williams's upper body and arms were shaved for his role as Peter Pan

Plot: When his young children are abducted by his old nemesis, Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman), middle-aged lawyer Peter Banning (Robin Williams) returns to his magical origins as Peter Pan. Peter must revisit a foggy past in which he abandoned Neverland for family life, leaving Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) & the Lost Boys to fend for themselves. Given their bitterness towards Peter for growing up - & their allegiance to their new leader, Rufio - the old gang may not be happy to see him  

*This review may contain spoilers* 

(credit to Movie for the Hook screencaps)

'Labelled As A Blockbuster Flop, Hook Is Still An Awfully Great Adventure, Regardless'

Watching Hook on DVD in my 30s, it strikes me to think that back in late 1991 right into 1992 it endured such a nasty backlash from moviegoers and critics & naysayers galore. Because really, it is nowhere near as bad as its reputation and notoriety suggests. The cast and crew seemed to have fun on the set of the movie, judging by the 'Making of Hook' documentary that can be found as one of the extras on the region 2 DVD. I went into Hook not being so familiar with the Peter Pan story: the only other Peter Pan related media source I was aware of, was the famous & classic 1953 Disney movie.

1991's Spielberg version of Peter Pan sees the role reversal of the boy who wouldn't grow up.... to the man who grew up too fast and too much. The film begins in present-day America with Peter Pan as a sharp-suited lawyer named Peter Banning, who has no recollection of his past as a Lost Boy, of whom is obsessed with success, drinks too much and doesn't spend much time with his family. This is something that is picked up by his son, Jack, who feels somewhat neglected and ignored by his dad. He and his family pay a visit to Wendy in London. Through his transformation into Peter Pan and whilst in Neverland, he reclaims his roots and is forced to look within for the real Peter Pan, using this influence to help him fight Captain Hook and to rescue his children. Hook, by vengeance, kidnaps Peter's children & brainwashes Jack, in his attempt to reignite their rivalry. Along the way also, his experiences in Neverland as Peter Pan helps shape his outlook on life, in addition to making him become a better person and a more loving father. 

It can be argued the film's title is misleading; as 'Hook', - without watching this film, nor have any inclination of what it is about -, implies that the film is told from Captain Hook's perspective, when really this is about Peter Pan but now called Peter Banning, who is now a lawyer and happily married with kids.

Despite everything that was said and written about Hook by critics, in truth, there is not much difference between this movie and Disney's Peter Pan: Likewise, Peter's children, Jack and Maggie Banning are the ones captured instead of the Darlings and Peter has to learn how to fly again. 

Though quite a great deal has been said about Julia Roberts's performance as Tinkerbell from all quarters - with most of it being rather harsh -, but given the material and lines she had to work with, I felt she did what was expected and asked of her. That it is not her fault, but rather it is down to the writing and characterisation of Tinkerbell, which could've been fleshed out a little bit more in this film. It's all too easy blaming the casting of Julia as Tink when the responsibility in the character's characterisation falls on the shoulders of its creators and writers. People can say she was hired because of her looks and due to the success of Pretty Woman and being Hollywood's A-list 'it girl' at the time, as arguably there weren't many other actresses around her age around at the time. But Julia & her role as Tink didn't annoy me at all: rather her performance was quite endearing and was just as how I'd envisage Tinkerbell as, & as a character in this version of the Pan story. I thought the Peter and Tinkerbell unrequited love saga with Tink having feelings for Peter were rather interesting, and in acting as a sub-plot to everything else that was taking place. And then, of course, there was that onscreen kiss between herself and Robin Williams as characters, Tinkerbell and Peter Pan, which ruffled a few feathers for quite a lot of people. Yet despite the glaring and trifling accusations of further sexualising Peter and Tinkerbell's relationship, for the likes of myself, I wasn't the least bit bothered by this scene. Then again, this was another excuse for me to enjoy Robin and Julia sharing a smooch together. In rewatching that scene so many times, gladly puts a smile on my face. Together, they had great on-screen chemistry & I loved their interactions and scenes with each other. 

As for the rest of the film, there is a lot of heart within the story and the actors deliver brilliant performances to help accompany it. And despite Hugh Jackman's attempts in Pan, there will never be an excellent portrayal of Captain Hook that will far outshine Dustin Hoffman's. Bringing to life the one-handed, clock hating villain of the piece and embodying every mannerism & trait of his, as well as successfully imitating Captain Hook's voice, in my eyes, it was a character performance in costume that is second only to Dorothy Michaels of Tootsie for Hoffman, in terms of excellence. He even delivered a few amusing lines that made me chuckle; hearing him go 'Good form' is one example & through his bonding scenes with Jack, we see that he is not as completely evil as we think he is, making him as one of the more 'likeable' versions of that character. Bob Hoskins makes a great Smee as Captain Hook's accomplice and Robin Williams, was well, a great Peter Pan, considering he won the role and was up against Tom Hanks and Kevin Kline to play Peter, as fine actors as they are, I don't think either of them would have managed to capture the heart and essence as portrayed by Robin as that character. Not only as Peter Pan did Robin Williams showcase his inner child on the outside, giving us brief light-hearted moments, there was also a degree of emotional depth in his dramatic presence, evoked through his interactions and scenes with the Lost Boys and Julia's Tinkerbell. Personally, as Peter Pan/Peter Banning, this is Robin's most complete onscreen performance: he was amusing but not over-the-top crazy amusing, sincere, serious at times & profound. 


Seeing both Williams and Hoffman in the same movie together, was a fairy-tale wish come true: 2 exceptional acting stalwarts squaring off against each other, it was like seeing Mrs Doubtfire going up against Dorothy of Tootsie - hence their drag roles in Mrs Doubtfire and Tootsie - (that would be quite some fight !). But in the form of Robin in green tights and Dustin with the big black wig, fake moustache whilst waving a huge silver hook. Each of them goes a long way in injecting some wit to the proceedings. & their sword fight, whilst it wasn't truly the greatest on-screen, it was still entertaining & fun to see them duking it out. Those tiny moments give Hook that extra bit of polish. & contrary to most people, the A-list casting of Williams, Roberts, Hoffman and Hoskins was perfect in my eyes: I didn't dislike one thing about it. Arguably, Hook is the only Robin Williams film where alongside Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts and to a lesser extent, Bob Hoskins, Robin isn't just that one star with major top billing in a movie featuring an all-star ensemble of '80s and '90s cinema. That has been the case with Dead Poets Society, Mrs Doubtfire, Good Morning, Vietnam, Aladdin, but not with Hook. There are also guest cameos from a young Gwyneth Paltrow as young Wendy, Phil Collins - yes the singer Phil Collins- and Glenn Close as one of the pirates. 

I did have a few tiny niggles with Hook: them being the daughter, Maggie and Peter's wife, Moira who although and despite not being a central character, to me, she was an afterthought. I didn't care much for her, and in contrast to most people, she - not Tinkerbell was the weakest character in this film. I felt with Moira that though she was Peter's wife and Wendy's daughter and Jack and Maggie's mother, I didn't know much about that character for me to want to get to like her. Again, people had a go at Tinkerbell, and yet the writers didn't do much justice to Moira. In this film, to me, she came across as even blander than Tink. But I guess the writers didn't want to cast another A-list actress as Moira & have her compete against Julia Roberts. The ending scenes, excluding Peter and Tink together, were a tad disappointing. Even though it did end on a happier note. It left me feeling as though everything was resolved, with Tinkerbell and The Lost Boys, not everyone got the happy ending that they wanted. They wanted Peter to stay, but he couldn't and so he decided to return to London and to his family. 

The Lost Boys are much more raucous and wilder than their Disney animated counterparts - and yet it also gives it a sense of realism as well, in terms of not making all of them so cute looking and wanting us to go 'aww!!'. 

The overriding John Williams score that is played throughout in the background may be an annoyance to many, but I really enjoyed it and it was so excellently orchestrated. I loved the music in Hook. The special effects still hold up today, the set designs were also so lavish and magnificent and they really went out of their way to make Neverland as authentic and as imaginable looking as we could envision it to be in live-action form. & the costumes looked amazing. 

I believe that Spielberg is too critical of himself in being disappointed with Hook, just because it wasn't as big a hit as his previous big-name efforts. The thing is, though if you look at many of the Steven Spielberg 'best of' movies list, one thing's for certain: this film is often rarely featured, mentioned or included on there. This is the unofficial follow-up to Peter Pan, and it is still the only Peter Pan film that focuses on his life, post-pubescent years. 

The emotion, heart and warmth of the story are there, the reinvention of the classic J.M Barrie tale was creative and it made a nice change for once to see Peter Pan in another dimension and a different incarnation of the tale. Having an adult Peter Pan instead of say, a teenage Peter Pan was a good move & it did shake things up, in the way that the end product turned out to be more than satisfactory in my eyes. I've always wondered what the film would be like, had and if he did grow up. How would it affect others? What are the circumstances of growing up? Would Peter lose a part of himself by not remembering, or be it denying his roots? Hook does pose such fundamental questions. After a slow start, the film starts to pick up by the time Tinkerbell arrives in Peter's house and whisks him far & away to Neverland, back to his roots and in search of his kids. & from there on, he bonds with the Lost Boys and gets reacquainted with them, learns how to fly and to fight like a man in preparation for his rematch with Captain Hook, falls foul of Rufio of whom he manages to win around, - and all this prior to his transformation from the well-suited Peter Banning to Peter Pan with the green outfit and everything. Minus the hat. 

Hook is more than just a pirate film, it is more than just Peter Pan versus Captain Hook; in essence, it is a story of how Peter learns that to live is an awfully big adventure and more. Of how an adult, who used to be a young boy, tries to find his inner child & finds the joy that he once experienced as a youngster but as a grown-up & uses that to help him overcome his biggest obstacles. And that being a disgruntled, miserable, middle-aged sod won't get him very far in life. 

It's a shame, however, the cynics towards this film don't and refuse to realise this, and in understanding the film's intentions that lie within this particular telling of Peter Pan, in our (or be it my) defence of Hook. I guess it's all a matter of taste, and whilst people were not so keen on and receptive towards Robin Williams and Julia Roberts's portrayals of their respective characters, of Rufio, of the idea of an adult Peter Pan, nor were they impressed by Spielberg's direction, this film never ceases to make me smile & fill me with joy.  

(above: a line taken from the original 1953 Disney version of Peter Pan, which was later uttered by Julia Roberts's Tinkerbell in Hook)


Pros +

- Star-studded cast

- Great performances by the experienced veterans, Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman

- Lavished sets 

- Interesting rendition of the Peter Pan tale told from a different perspective

- Excellent score by John Williams 

- Has heart, warmth and emotion 

- The Peter Pan & Tinkerbell or be it Robin Williams and Julia Roberts onscreen kiss (!) 

Cons -

- Peter's kids, or be it more specifically Maggie 

- Peter's Wife, Moira

-The writers could've done a bit more with Julia Roberts's Tinkerbell 

- The ending 

Final Verdict:

25 years ago the critics and naysayers derided this version of Peter Pan as being nothing more than infantile, childish and over-the-top in its delivery. 25 years later, whilst it is still considered a black sheep on Spielberg's filmography, this somewhat refreshing and alternate take on the Pan story, gave it its fair due as an underrated & Spielberg diamond in the rough. & for Williams, Roberts and Hoffman, their careers after Hook were on the up during the 1990s, right after the release of this film.  

I didn't really find much fault with Hook, besides Peter's daughter, Maggie and his wife. All the other characters were interesting, especially the antagonist, Captain Hook (played exceptionally well by Dustin Hoffman). The performances by the main stars were terrific in my book; including those of Julia Roberts, whereby most of the unfair bashing of this film was aimed directly at her role as fairy Tinkerbell. 

The stylistic choices that are in this film would have been accepted better, had Hook been made and released today, rather than in 1991. 

Hook may not be top of everyone's favourite Robin Williams movies list, but for someone like myself who grew up as a child in 1991 and saw him kick pirate ass, as well as unveiling all of his emotional layers in his portrayal as Peter Pan that I never thought he had before as a character actor, Robin truly did him justice. Thus proving he really can play any role and in any genre. 

Arguably, it's a live-action Peter Pan film that remains truer & far closer to the original source material than 2015's Pan & 2003's Peter Pan.

If I have to choose one- and one movie only to treasure for the rest of my life, it would definitely be Hook

I love so many of his movies, but truly, this one, alongside Good Morning, Vietnam - performance-wise springs to mind the most and stands out for me when it comes to Robin Williams. 

Thanks to him, Pan, was indeed, the man.  


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