Retro-Review: Hook (1991)

A few weeks ago, I heard by chance the music from Steven Spielberg’s Hook playing on the radio which brought back warm feelings, as I owned the soundtrack on CD back in the 90s and listened to it over and over. I think it’s one of John Williams’ greatest scores and I put it in heavy rotation again.

A little while later, I saw a thread on Reddit discussing the film and how everyone commenting had such positive memories of it which don’t seem to jibe with the film’s reputation. At about the same time I heard that Spielberg himself has never been particularly happy with how it turned out, and, as someone who loved the movie when it came out, I thought it might be time for a re-evaluation. So, I watched again for the first time in over 25 years.

Robin Williams plays Peter Banning, a workaholic lawyer out of touch with his family and largely amnesiac about his life before the age of twelve. On a trip to London, Peter’s children are kidnapped and he is visited by the glowing pixie Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) who tells him Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) is behind it, wishing to provoke his old foe Peter Pan into a final fight to the death. Peter Banning is Peter Pan, only he has forgotten, and it is up to Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys to help him unlock his memories and take up the battle to rescue his kids.

First of all, I think the movie is still great, though not Spielberg’s best. It suffers from over-sentimentality at times and some of the special effects are dated and not as convincing as today’s fare. It’s also very long, well over two hours, and could have been tighter in places (getting to Neverland could have been quicker, for instance). All that being said, the set-design, costumes and make-up are really amazing in scope and the action is typical top-notch Spielberg. Special mention goes out to the fact that Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman appear to have done almost all of their own sword-fighting, and they look very impressive.

Speaking of the cast, everyone is great but the real stand-outs are Dustin Hoffman as Hook and Bob Hoskins as Smee. Hoffman really has fun with his part, dominating every scene he’s in as the cartoonishly psychotic Hook, all the while underscored by his capable henchman. They are such a fun duo to watch, much like Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty in Superman, and every scene they are in is a joy. Robin Williams is so right for the role of a grown up Peter Pan who has forgotten who he is but still shines when his inner Pan returns that I can’t imagine anyone else in the part.

The film’s themes of maturity and responsibility are well-handled, I think, for a blockbuster family film. In fact, as a 44 year-old who has friends and family with kids of their own, I found a special resonance in some scenes that hadn’t rung so strongly for me when I watched it 25 years or more ago. For all its excesses, the film still stirred some powerful feelings in me which I didn’t expect, due in no small part to the music which is powerful, sweet, melancholy, mirthful, epic and just plain beautiful. This is among the best John Williams has ever done, in my opinion.

Nearly thirty years have passed since Hook was released and it has aged well, though it has aged. Even though some parts of it are a little long and it sometimes suffers from over-sentimentality, I still had a fun time watching the cast, the art direction and the stunt-work. I think it’s very good, and that’s not rose-tinted spectacles talking.

The trailer

I also found this video essay about re-examining Hook and I think it’s worth a watch.