The 90s on Netflix: Hook (1991)
Mark Harrison | On 13, Oct 2017
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Bob Hoskins, Maggie Smith
Watch Hook online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / TalkTalk TV Store / Wuaki.tv / Google Play / Sky Store
Do you remember the 1990s? Mark does. On Fridays, he flashes back to the golden decade of our childhood. From family-friendly films to blockbusters we shouldn’t have been watching, get ready for a monthly dose of nostalgia, as we put down our VHS tapes and find out whether the 90s on Netflix are still Live & Kicking.
In the second instalment of this series about 1990s nostalgia on Netflix, it behoves us to mention that this is not The 10 Squillion Things A Beloved Movie From Your Childhood Does Wrong. We’re here to look back at these films both in their original context and to see how well they hold up now. And we can hardly think of a better example than 1991’s Hook, Steven Spielberg’s post-modern Peter Pan movie.
The film follows bespectacled, overweight baby boomer Peter Banning (Robin Williams). He’s petrified of heights and spends too much time working on corporate acquisitions and not enough time with his family. He’d be the quintessential 1990s movie dad, except that when his children are spirited away to Neverland by the dastardly Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman), he’s forced to revisit his fabled childhood as the boy who was never supposed to grow up.
Spielberg’s passion project was a long time coming – he had previously walked away from it in 1985, ironically enough because he wanted to spend time with his newborn child. Fatherhood definitely informs the finished film, with the director being torn between Peter, a character who has lost touch with his inner child, and his eldest son Jack (Charlie Korsmo), who has lost touch with his father.
The result is a film that constantly feels torn between the adventurous edge of an Indiana Jones movie and the magic and whimsy of an E.T. – it’s alternately cheesy and violent, and, in the centre of it all, Williams feels torn too. While the idea of him as an overgrown boy seems clever on paper*, and it works insofar as we’re waiting – like Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) and the Lost Boys – for him to summon some energy, Williams is miscast here.
There’s a nice touch where Banning’s resting pose is arms akimbo, like the classic silhouette, but the bloated pace leaves us waiting far too long for him to Pan out. John Williams’ swashbuckling score (one of his very best) winds up doing most of the heavy lifting in making the picture feel lively and adventurous, while the pacing almost feels like the 135-minute runtime (sans credits) is drifting on for longer and longer while you’re watching it.
But even with its flaws, it’s really not hard to see why Hook is still beloved. It’s quotable as heck, with Jim V. Hart and Malia Scotch Marmo’s zingy script mostly making up for the baggy story with great one-liners and memorable dialogue. And the supporting cast is much better placed to enliven the film. Hoffman is having a ball as the title character, as is Bob Hoskins, playing Smee as Hook’s irascible hype-man and first mate. Maggie Smith’s Wendy twinkles through her old age make-up, perfectly underscoring the melancholy of the first act – who else could sell that “You’ve become a pirate” line so perfectly?
There are a few moments where it all comes together as it should, and in a director trademark, one of them is at the dinner table. The imaginary meal, followed by the quotable insult battle between Peter and Dante Basco’s iconic Rufio (Rufio, Rufio, Rufi-ohhhh) and a multicoloured food fight, finally feels like the film pinpointing the exact sense of child’s play and wonder for which it has strived.
Nobody could reasonably argue that this is Spielberg at his best, especially when this came between the similarly light-hearted Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade and the real watershed of Jurassic Park. The dark parts, the comic bits and the pure saccharine nonsense all get mixed in together in a tonal mishmash that’s quite endearing, but never really gels as a whole.
The film did its business at the time, but grossed less than expected because of the competition from another, better family movie, Disney’s Beauty & The Beast. It was over-budget, delivered late and the director himself has admitted that he hopes he’ll rewatch it one day and find something that he likes about it.
But for those of us who didn’t make the film, Hook can still give you happy thoughts, even if it doesn’t quite have enough pixie dust to make it soar. Like Peter’s fellow grown-up castaway, Tootles (Arthur Malet), the movie loses its marbles, early and often, but somewhere in the sprawling mess that came out of this lavish production, there’s still some genuine movie magic.
* The exact same idea gave us Francis Ford Coppola’s Jack, a film that will certainly be a future subject for this column, if it ever appears on Netflix.
Next time on The 90s On Netflix…
“Listen, you little wiseacre: I’m smart, you’re dumb; I’m big, you’re little; I’m right, you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Hook is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.