100 Film Favorites – #83: Hook
(Steven Spielberg, 1991)
What if Peter Pan grew up?
That question is the central conceit of Hook. Robin Williams stars as “Peter Banning,” an uptight corporate lawyer whose busy schedule keeps him away from his family. One night, a mysterious figure enters the Banning household and absconds with Peter’s two children. The kidnapper leaves a note – a piece of parchment stuck to the door with a dagger, signed “James Hook, Captain.”
Later, Tinkerbell appears and spirits the disbelieving Peter away to Neverland, where Hook is waiting for the final duel he was denied long ago. But Hook finds this new, grown Peter to be a sorry adversary. In addition to simply being out of shape, Banning has lost the imaginative spirit of a child, and with it his ability to fly. Desiring a more sporting fight, Hook allows Tinkerbell three days in which to convince Peter of his true origins and train him for a proper duel.
To accomplish this, Tink calls upon the aid of the Lost Boys. In Peter’s absence, a Lost Boy named Rufio has become “the Pan” and now acts as their leader. Rufio is disgusted with Banning, and unwilling to accept that he is truly Peter Pan. However, over the three days of training, Peter is able to rediscover the power of imagination, get in fighting shape, and remember the “happy thought” he needs to fly: Becoming a father.
Peter and the Lost Boys return to face the pirates in a climactic battle. The now flight-capable Peter bests Hook and frees his children. Hook is killed by his old nemesis, the ticking crocodile (now taxidermied in the form of a clock tower, it simply falls over on him), and Peter returns home, with a newfound appreciation for his family.
Hook is one of Spielberg’s less well-received films in terms of critical response. Nevertheless, it was commercially successful, and stands as the fifth highest-earning “pirate movie,” after the four Pirates of the Caribbean films. The film has stuck with me for a few reasons. First, the score, composed by Spielberg mainstay John Williams, is fantastic. The “flying” music soars, and tunes like “Smee’s Plan” sound super piratey and conniving.
Second, the film has some incredible art design. Hook was filmed entirely on soundstages, and features some of the most impressive set-pieces in recent film-making. The pirate sets are especially lavish. Captain Hook’s ship and the pirate wharf town are all part of one massive set, replete with the aforementioned Croc-clock. The Lost Boys’ camp is visually compelling as well, with roller coaster-type tracks running throughout a complex of treehouses. It’s a shame to think that now, most of these sets would be created digitally, and few productions since would equal or surpass the scale of physical set-design in Hook.
Third – Hook for the Sega Genesis was the first video game I ever played at home. When I was five, I was hospitalized with pneumonia. When I came home, I talked my parents into renting a Genesis from Blockbuster, complete with two games: Hook and Sonic Spinball. Both titles made an impact, and years later, I’ve reacquired both games for my collection.
I leave it up to you to determine for yourself whether Hook is a “great film” or not. It does have a cool, piratey aesthetic, and it’s obvious a lot of love and craftsmanship went into the film’s art design, for both the set and the elaborate costumes of the pirates and Lost Boys. It also features a star-studded cast, with Dustin Hoffman as the titular Captain a particular standout: wacky and neurotic, but always elegant. Robin Williams is great, too (though it’s harder to buy him as the straight-laced lawyer than the frenetic, flying manchild). Ultimately, though Hook may offend the literary sensibilities of some Peter Pan purists, it’s a film with a beautiful look and memorable music. And if you didn’t feel at least a little sad when (SPOILERS) Hook kills Rufio, you are some kind of monster.
Tidbits: Dante Basco, the actor who plays Rufio, also voiced Prince Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
–Hook features a bumper-crop of cameos, particularly among the crowds of pirate extras. Jimmy Buffet appears as a pirate, as does W&M alumna Glenn Close (in drag). There’s even a cameo by George Lucas and Carrie Fisher, as a couple who get sprinkled with pixie dust when Peter returns home at the end of the film.
While the music in the film is already great, Hook has also inspired some remarkable fan-made music. Case in point – this excellent remix by mashup guru Pogo: