People have often documented how loving some movie as a child hinders your ability to look at it critically as an adult, something all too apparent considering the current Star Wars fever that’s going around. I’m not overly interested in writing a ‘watching something I used to love to see how bad it actually is’ type article, but I was curious to take an opportunity to see how accurate, if at all, my childhood memory of a particular film I hadn’t seen in a very long time proved to be.
There are actually very few movies I could try this with, most things I saw as a kid I watched multiple times, and likely again as a teen, however Steven Spielberg’s 1991 fantasy adventure Hook was a film I’m fairly sure I’d only seen the once. This wasn’t in the cinema, I’d have been a bit too young, but on the TV at some point in the mid-late nineties. At the time I wasn’t watching films very regularly so I felt that I “knew” this film fairly well, despite having not seen it in close to two decades.
I was initially inspired to re-visit this after seeing Pan near the end of last year, which is one of the worst movies of 2015. ‘Hook can’t have been as bad as this?’ I thought. I then remembered an interview I heard with Spielberg on the BBC’s film reviews podcast (when critic Mark Kermode notably apologised for giving A.I. a bad review) in which Spielberg said; “I wanna see Hook again because I so don’t like that movie, and I’m hoping someday I’ll see it again and perhaps like some of it.” It’s unusual to hear a director, particularly one with as much clout as Spielberg speak about his own work in this manner.
I know this is a bit click-baity, and I try to avoid that, but I decided to do this as a list. Here are ten short thoughts I had watching the film again, some of which relate to my initial objective, and others just the film in general.
01. The Film is Very Ninteen Nineties
The best of Spielberg’s films have a timeless quality to them, even if they can be dated by certain references and such, none I’ve seen have truly felt like very obvious products of their time. No so with Hook, even though the screenplay was written in the mid-eighties. The opening act, in which the adult Peter Banning (Robin Williams) struggles to balance his work as a corporate lawyer with attending his son’s baseball game before they fly to London completely possesses that hard to describe but easy to observe tone so many nineties American films shared. It’s even stranger how notable this is considering that nowadays we’re getting lots of live action fairy-tail remakes/re-imaginings, whereas in 1991 this was relatively unusual.
02. It takes ages to get to Neverland
The film was way longer than I remembered in general, but it’s around 45 minutes I think before Peter even heads off to Neverland again. I’d pretty much forgotten everything that took place in the grounded opening act, though honestly, when he leaves is when things start going downhill, it fairly amiable up to then.
03. Maggie Smith was already playing Grandmothers (plus used to be Gwyneth Paltrow)
Was Dame Maggie Smith ever young? Okay I know she won an Oscar in 1969 (and again in 1978) but it felt odd to see her playing Grand-maternal as the elderly Wendy Darling role in a film 25 years old. She’d have been in her mid-fifties when it filmed. (Hey that’s Hollywood ageism for you, for perspective George Clooney’s about the same age now). Also in a brief flashback she’s played by Gwyneth Paltrow in one of her first film roles.
04. The score is rather good in places
Take a listen to a bit of John Williams’ score below. It’s by no means among his best work but that’s some fun pirate music there.
05. The bit I found very scary was supposed to be funny
One of the scenes I most vividly remembered was the moment when Captain Hook sends a traitorous pirate to be punished. They’re locked in a wooden chest on deck and live scorpions are dumped inside on them. My childhood-self found this scene immensely disturbing. When I saw it again, it played out pretty much as I’d remembered, except I now realised that the whole thing is supposed to be an intentional comedy sequence, emphasised both by Dustin Hoffman’s ludicrous pantomime acting and that the unfortunate pirate is (quite obviously) played by Glenn Close wearing a fake beard. What?
06. Phil Collins is in this movie!
The most surprising thing of all I saw in this re-watch was an early, unceremonious and inexplicable appearance from none-other than Phil Collins as a Police inspector. Honestly the role is so insignificant that I had to pause the film and double check online that it was actually him. It was! Is Spielberg just a big fan of his?
07. Rufio is Supremely Annoying, as are the Lost Boys in General.
You know that tough-acting teenager you probably thought was pretty cool when you were a kid? Adults likely though he was awful, and I realised that that is exactly what Rufio is. Ugh, the scenes with the lost boys having dinner and trading PG-insults are just barrel-scrapingly terrible, as are the fights at the end when the fat kid is literally able to turn himself into a boulder. I hated almost every scene with them in, and could’t care less when Rufio finally gets killed. Still, commendably diverse casting.
08. Peter doesn’t fly until very late in the game.
This was the clearest example of how I’d apparently remembered the parts I liked and just filtered out the boring ones. It’s almost two hours into the film before Peter actually flies again, one of the most memorable images from the film. I thought he was going to not long after he arrived in Neverland but he keeps up the amnesiac bumbling lawyer routine up for far longer that I’d remembered, and really it’s to the film’s detriment.
09. Robin Williams and Bob Hoskins have both now left us.
I don’t usually get that affected by celebrity deaths, but I found myself uncharacteristically saddened when I first heard that Robin Williams had died. That week I watched five of his movies. I suppose because it had been a couple of years since his death now I wasn’t thinking about that so much until I saw a moment in the first half when he and Bob Hoskins, who plays Smee, are together on screen. I was suddenly reminded that both of these great actors have now passed away, and considering my original intention when watching the film, this added a real element of sadness to the experience.
10. It is a Rare Bad Spielberg movie.
Let’s be honest, no Spielberg film is ever going to be completely disposable. He’s such a gifted filmmaker that there are always going to be certain aspects to admire, but everyone who works as hard and as frequently as he does might drop the ball from time to time. There are only 3 Spielberg movies I haven’t seen, two of which are among his less well regarded, 1941 and Always (the other is the never-released TV movie Something Evil). Until I see them I can’t say for certain but for now, I think this is probably the weakest of Spielberg’s films.
Still, at least it’s a lot better than Pan.