At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Hook “91”

MPAA Rating: PG/ Genre: Fantasy Swashbuckling Adventure/ Stars: Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Bob Hoskins, Maggie Smith, Charlie Korsmo, Caroline Goodall, Dante Basco, Amber Scott, Jasen Fisher, Laurel Cronin, Phil Collins, Arthur Malet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Isaiah Robinson, Raushan Hammond, James Madio, Thomas Tulak, Alex Zuckerman, Ahmad Stone/ Runtime: 142 minutes

I think it is safe to say that whenever Steven Spielberg somehow makes a movie that is not on par with his standard of excellence, he is still leaps and bounds better than the majority of filmmakers who exist, will exist, or have ever existed. The reason I bring this up is because Hook, a 1991 film helmed by Spielberg that involves an older Peter Pan attempting to rediscover who he was, is seen by quite a few professional reviewers as the celebrated film icon’s worst film…..even IF it is both a pretty good film all the same and an engaging and magical adventure to Neverland for a fun time for all and that shows the kid in all of us doesn’t really vanish (or dissolve into dust because of Thanos). Rather it just becomes missing amongst the other things that life piles upon us as time does its thing and adulthood commands that fun, and the powers of an amazing imagination and magic cannot in any way exist in the world of adults (though I think Spielberg himself might politely disagree). I say this because this is a film that is the very definition of magic. Indeed it is beautifully put-together, it looks amazing, it’s brilliantly acted, and it’s easy to sit through. Not only that, but there is also an incredible amount of heart on display which is balanced out wonderfully by both a delightful sense of adventure as well as top-notch action choreography work. Yet despite all these positives the film still feels like its missing something though not in any way due to lack of effort on behalf of anyone involved. Rather, it may be a wee bit too springy and vibrant for its own good. A fact that becomes apparent due to the fact that even though the narrative requires a significant degree of magic and childlike enthusiasm and energy, the characters and everything else just may feel to some like they are leaching off the heart of the tale which deals with a potent and integral message on the treasure that is family. Thus to many despite all the positives on display, Hook may seem like it revolves more around being as stylish as possible instead of actually being something is a bit more, dare I say, down to Earth.

The plot is as follows: Hook tells us the story of a man by the name of Peter Banning who, more than anything else in the whole wide world, just wants to be a great dad to his 2 kids Jack and Maggie, and a loving spouse to his kind and beautiful wife Moira. Tragically, despite all his attempts to do better, we soon are able to perceive that Peter is a record stuck on repeat when it comes to both breaking promises and skipping out on crucial family moments in the blink of an eye or, perhaps more appropriate, a ring of the phone. Heck work even follows the poor man all the way a family vacation in London where the family is staying with Moira’s grandmother Wendy who incidentally is also a quite special woman to Peter as well. Sadly things soon go from bad to worse when, whilst attending a groundbreaking ceremony in honor of Wendy getting a hospital wing named after her, Peter’s kids are snatched and the only clue to their potential whereabouts is a letter on the wall and which is signed by the infamous story villain Captain Hook. Soon however Peter is given the startling news that not only were those timeless stories true, but that he at one time was Peter Pan and only by rediscovering that can he hope to save his kids. Thus, upon meeting Tinker Bell later that night, Peter finds himself in Neverland where he uncovers that Hook is indeed responsible due to using it as a tactic to get Pan back into the swing of things so he may finally defeat him. However when they finally meet face to face Hook is despondent upon seeing that Peter is not the fierce rival he used to have. However before Hook can do away with him and his kids, Tinker Bell intervenes and manages to persuade the infamous captain to give her three days to get Peter back in high flying shape so they can finally settle things. Thus with the aid of The Lost Boys, some of whom ecstatic that Peter has come back and others who aren’t convinced this rule abiding, unimaginative grown-up is the legend he’s told he is, can our intrepid hero not only rediscover who he is and save those he holds dear, but also in the process become the man and dad that they need him so desperately to be in their lives?

Now even though what the film is trying to convey and the heart behind that message may in the eyes of some reviewers be negated by the flair this film possesses in droves, this film is still nevertheless a good time to be had, and is best seen as a delightful example of a magical and engaging film to just sit back and enjoy for what it is. Indeed pardon my pun here dear readers, but Spielberg really does manage to hook you in with this retooled telling of the timeless tale of Peter Pan, but now told from an adult point of view that still is able keep a childlike sense of magic and awe. Indeed it really is an ingenious idea, and from a superficial point of view this is brilliantly executed. Indeed not only is it perfectly polished up in that way only Spielberg does, but it is also is extravagant without feeling extravagant simply because the narrative requires it especially when it comes to Neverland as well as being gaudy, but not in an irritating way and instead because it needs to be. Indeed this is a film which has a Terry Gilliam vibe to it, but it all manages to work so well with what the film’s vision requires that every glorious costume, quite flashy colors, and everything else over-the-top manages to blend into the rest of the film quite nicely. Yet be that as it may be, the film’s story does seem like it is being quite burdened by everything else the film has to offer. Indeed the simplistic concepts at play of appreciating one’s youth, never forgetting who you are or where you come from, and just how crucial family is never really feel like they are given as much importance as the rest of the ingredients in the movie, as integral as they might be. As a result the film isn’t exactly unbalanced, but instead just feels lacking in some way and whilst this is most definitely not a horrific issue, due to the film still being quite wonderful and engaging, but it just seems like not every priority was treated as such.

Indeed I say this because it really does seem like the vast majority of this film really truly does seem to land squarely in the yard of flamboyance with all of the film’s absolutely astonishingly constructed sets and terrific costumes being the defining examples. Indeed it really does appear, at least in the eyes of this reviewer, that no tiny details were overlooked, no costume was put together in a shoddy or haphazard manner, and no shot done by Spielberg and co was anything, but framed in a manner that only a master filmmaker could hope to pull off. Yet despite what could best be seen as a quite support-dependent narrative structure, it is still worth noting that Spielberg manages to get every last ounce out of the material that he possibly can thus giving us an engaging, if not entirely memorable for some audiences, theme park attraction (albeit one without dinosaurs though that would come 2 years later) that has decided to masquerade as a movie. Not willing to let their master helmsman and crew behind the camera do all the work for them however, it should also be pointed out that the cast that was assembled to bring this story to life also do a wonderful job at bringing an extra jolt of magic through their performances.  Indeed this starts with Robin Williams who was perhaps the best thespian to bring this film’s lead, but not titular, role to life. Indeed Williams was truly one of our finest entertainers and in this film his incredible talent of playing both a literal man child with enough heart, imagination, and youthful enthusiasm to light up the world as well as a more grounded, business-centric, and tragically neglectful father is easily the finest thing this film has going for it in front of the camera (besides the incredible set and costume work of course). We also get a devilishly fun (if not at first unrecognizable) turn from film icon Dustin Hoffman in the role of Pan’s nemesis (and film title) Hook. Indeed it’s always fun when an actor known for their dedicated character work just sits back and has fun with a role and that is clearly what Hoffman is doing here. We also get delightfully magical support work from Bob Hoskins as Hook’s right-hand-pirate, and resident comedian, Mr. Smee and from iconic thespian Maggie Smith who brings just the right amount of gravitas and class to the role of the older Wendy. Indeed it really does feel like everyone involved knew this wasn’t the next Oscar-nominated film in Spielberg’s filmography, but just a fun and magical time to be had and they all manage to deliver performances that are just as magical if not more so.

All in all I am incredibly grateful, due to how complicated some films truly can be when doing this respective gig, that Hook is a fairly simple film for one to analyze should they wish to do so. Indeed it is a lot of fun, it looks absolutely incredible, the cast of performers assembled all manage to do terrific work, and the direction, quite predictably since this IS a Spielberg film is truly top-notch. In fact the only quirk that I can really seem to find with this film is that the narrative’s core concepts seem to have been buried under the giant pile of visual flair that the film so badly needed. As such, it really is quite difficult for me to find this a problem because the story being told required it, but for the story to work on the level that it ultimately should, this film needs something that is handled and treated better than what, if you didn’t know any better, would look like the beginning and ending of a film brought to us by the Hallmark Channel (check your local listings). However if you are among those who like me are willing to overlook that and instead let yourself be amazed not only by the terrific performances, but also by the absolutely jaw-dropping sets and other visual effects magic, and therefore just enjoy the ride this film takes you on then, despite not being as adored as other entries in film icon Steven Spielberg’s filmography, you will find there is a magic to this film all its own. On a scale of 1-5 I give Hook “91” a solid 3.5 out of 5.