Patron’s Pick – Hook

Welcome to our inaugural Patron’s Pick. This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will get to pick a film for me to review. They also get to include some of their own thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Matt Harris, my brother. Hook was a movie we watched a lot when we were kids. Here’s what Matt had to say about it:

One of my favorite moments:
Captain Hook: You bet against me bringing Pan back here, didn’t ya?
Pirate: No.
Captain Hook: Aw, tell your captain the truth.
[pirate starts to cry] Aww, say it. Say it.
Pirate: I did.
Captain Hook: Yes, you made a boo-boo.
Pirate: [nods] I did. I did!
Captain Hook: The Boo Box.
Pirate: Not that! Not the Boo Box! NOO!!
[he is then locked into a chest filled with scorpions.]

(Editor’s note: That pirate locked in the Boo Box was actually played by Glenn Close of all people!)

Hook (1991)
Written by Nick Castle, Carrie Fisher, Jim V. Hart & Malia Scotch Marmo
Directed by Steven Spielberg

I found that it’s pretty impossible to watch Hook without thinking about the passing of Robin Williams. In December, this film will turn 30 years old. In August, Williams will have been gone for seven years. I can’t say Williams was ever my favorite actor, but I certainly love some of his films with a sense of nostalgia. Pictures like Hook and Jumanji were significant movies for me growing up. I know we recorded Hook off an airing on ABC and rewatched that VHS tape so many times. I think this viewing was tinged less by Steven Spielberg’s trademark maudlin sensibilities and more how the film’s themes sting a little harder when you think about the tragedy of Williams’s death and the circumstances surrounding it.

Peter Banning (Williams) is a successful corporate lawyer in San Francisco. He’s a typical workaholic, finding pleasure in executive conquest, and his family has suffered for it. The Banning family flies into London for a charity dinner of Wendy Darling’s (Maggie Smith) and the dedication of a facility for orphaned children in her name. Wendy is the grandmother of Peter’s wife Moira, but she seems to have a deeper connection with the man than even he realizes. While the adults are at the dinner, Peter’s children, Maggie & Jack, are kidnapped. A note is left on the door, held there with a sword. It’s addressed to Peter and challenges him to come and rescue his children by defeating Captain Hook. 

Peter is confused, and Wendy reveals that he is Peter Pan from the famous story, his memories faded over time due to being away from Neverland for so long. Peter thinks she’s demented until Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) shows up and whisks him away to that magical world. Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) is sorely disappointed when he sees what his old foe has become. Peter washes up at the Lost Boys’ home, who have a new leader, Rufio, and don’t believe this is their old friend Peter Pan. Tink keeps vouching for the man and then pushes him through rigorous training to help Peter remember who he was, discovering his happy thought, and learn to fly again.

Recently, Williams’s widow, Susan Schneider Williams, has spoken about the autopsy found out about the actor’s health in the wake of his suicide. Wiliams has Lewy body disease. This form of dementia can lead to changes in sleep, behavior, cognition, movement, and bodily functions. A person doesn’t necessarily lose memory like we commonly associate with dementia. The core feature of Lewy body disease is the loss of muscle paralysis that we all have when we sleep to stop us from physically acting out our dreams. This can lead to visual hallucinations during waking states, attention fluctuations, and symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease. 

This type of destructive disease is what likely led to exacerbating Williams’s depression and his subsequent suicide. I don’t think I can fully comprehend what life must have felt like for the actor. He’s expected to have a specific public-facing persona, but in private, his own body is turning against him. In an essay by Williams’s wife, she shared that several doctors said his case was one of the worst they had ever seen. She said Williams was very much aware of his deterioration and at one point told her, “I just want to reboot my brain.”

In Hook, we have a man disassociated from his childhood. Both his mind and body can’t seem to match what people from his past are telling him about himself. Peter’s work has absorbed him, and time has gotten away so that he’s losing a connection with his kids. Peter has forgotten who he is supposed to be. In some ways, this is the typical Boomer discourse of the 1990s, movies about dads more concerned about their career than their kids and learning how to find the child within. In the context of Williams’s death, this means more; this weighs more. I’m a big believer in film analysis existing beyond the intentions of the artist. Good art is the kind that lets the viewer reveal something of themselves or see the art in a new context. 

Hook does lose itself in the script. It was initially developed in the early 1980s by Spielberg at Disney, with Michael Jackson possibly playing the lead character. Spielberg expressed in interviews about the production that he relates very closely to the main character and the Peter Pan archetype. Jackson reportedly didn’t like the adult Pan idea and dropped out as the film moved to Paramount. Spielberg also stepped away when his first son was born in 1985. The script was still being worked out, and in 1986, one of the writers had a breakthrough when his son asked him, “What would Peter Pan be like if he grew up?”

Hoffman gives a fantastic performance as the titular Captain, able to quickly move between comedic and threatening. He plays off of Williams very well, and they make for some very entertaining scenes. I think people are definitely sleeping on Bob Hoskins as Smee in this picture. Hoskins steals the show in many scenes and is a great comedic foil to Hoskins. He even has some moments that felt like light improv that completely worked. I am not too big of a fan of Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell and would say she was miscast. She does fine, but I think that role needed a different actress. 

When the movie focuses on characters and their interactions, it pops. When it gets bogged down in too overly speechified sentiment, you can feel the time drag. More interaction between Peter and Hook would have probably helped. The pacing needed to be picked up so that we really felt like we were on an adventure rather than, at times, a somber internal exploration of Boomer guilt about losing their inner child. When Peter realizes that he wants to grow up so he can be a dad, it definitely works and propels the rest of the story. The journey to get to that point is sluggish at many times.

Hook is by no means a masterpiece, but it is this beautiful, emotional fragment of Williams preserved for all time. It now serves as a reminder of how fragile people are, even the ones that loom big in our childhood and seem like mythical beings. I still can’t quite click with the idea that Robin Williams is dead. He just seemed like one of those people that would be around forever. 

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