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Better than They Told You - 'Hook' (1991)

...a great adventure...
Columbia Tri-Star

Hook (1991)


Captain Hook is a metaphor for growing up and eventually dying of old age.

Well, I guess that's all I need to write, that should handle all the criticisms against Steven Spielberg's Hook, right?



Frequently a target of ridicule, charged with having a syrupy message and lackluster action, Hook features Robin Williams as a middle-aged, paunchy attorney Peter Banning who's forgotten how to fly and even how to play simple games. Dustin Hoffman plays the titular Hook with charisma, flair and high energy. Bob Hoskins' Smee is the perfect lovable dolt, and Julia Roberts doesn't ruin the film by being in it, so that's a big plus.

Spielberg and his scribes ask the question: What if Peter Pan grew up? The answer is that the boy who feared the death that followed growing old became the man who feared death, period. That's the whole premise of the Peter and Wendy stories: Pan's refusal to grow up reflected Barrie's own sadness and inability to fight the tides of time. Banning is obsessed with comfort and safety, attempting to build as many barricades against a dangerous world as possible: bars on the windows, a cell phone at all times, fear of flying, and as much wealth as he can acquire.

In the original stories, Captain Hook represented responsibility and growing up and was typically played by the actor who doubled as the stern George Darling, Wendy's father. Just as Wendy's struggles with her father arose from the pressures he applied to her to leave behind her childhood and grow up, Peter Pan battled Hook in a symbolic representation of Wendy's childhood beating back the tendrils of age that will eventually claim us all.

Because Peter willingly surrenders himself to old age in Hook, the Captain has lost his purpose. Peter has become a corporate marauder, a stern father, and fears the ticking of the clock. He has become Captain Hook, something the original and egotistical Hook cannot bear. Hook is despondent, listless and suicidal at the thought of his lone rival essentially changing allegiances and joining his side. Smee's solution to this is rather ingenious.

Smee suggests that Hook attempt to win over the Banning children. The younger Maggie resists with little effort because she still has the spark of childhood within her. Jack, on the other hand, has already started to have that spark snuffed by his father, Peter Pan of all people, and so when faced with the "logical" and "truthful" arguments of Captain Hook he finds himself tempted. By tapping into the boy's latent desire for a father figure to love and accept him (a common theme in Spielberg films), Hook has more success seducing the boy into adulthood than Peter ever had in attempting to force his son to "grow up."

I was a child when the film came out. Re-watching it now as a father myself, I felt great forceful impact on my soul as I realized the parallels between my own life and Peter Banning. I think we all fear getting old, and I swore that I'd be a good parent. Unfortunately, I find myself snapping at my own children for interrupting those moments I think are so terribly important, but in ten years won't matter. Moira makes an excellent point - "We have a few special years with our children, when they're the ones that want us around. After that you're going to be running after them for a bit of attention." Any film that makes me want to be a better parent can't be as bad as they say.

This well-crafted, well-acted film is full of much deeper and darker meaning than the dimwitted critics of 1991 gave it credit for having, which isn't surprising as film critics rarely are of much use to anybody and almost never bother looking for deeper meaning in films. Hook is capable of achieving emotional highs and lows, contrasting silly "childish" moments with sad and even depressing turns.

The film was originally intended as a stage musical and a few of the original songs make their way in, most notably the touching "When You're Alone." John Williams score is amazing as it starts with a tinkling piano hammering out the accompaniment for Maggie's school musical then goes right into a contemporary easy-listening piece during as Peter's meeting conflicts with Jack's big game. Of course, as the adventure unfolds that's all left behind for the typical sweeping cinematic music we have come to expect from the maestro behind some of the greatest soundtracks in film history.

The set designs are colorful and gorgeous, the costumes are excellent, and the visual effects are mostly seamless. Spielberg is never out of his element when doing a special effects adventure film. All scenes of action are well-paced and technically sound, but they're really window-dressing for the bigger themes of the film.

For those reading at some point in the distant future, my decision to review this film came on the heels of the announcement of Robin Williams' untimely death, and I believe this, like many of Williams' roles, reflected something deep and painful within the man whose humor and wit masked his crushing battle with depression and chemical dependency. It fills me with great sadness to know that somebody who brightened and touched so many lives could never find a source of light that would push out the darkness permanently.

If you are dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts, please know that there are people who want to help.

Second star to the right, Robin, but you already knew that.

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