Skip to main content

I’ve just had an apostrophe.

Hook
(1991)

(SPOILERS) Good grief, this is a bad movie. Lest defective memory had been forgiving, and you’d assumed Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was Spielberg’s nadir, rest assured, it ain’t. Hook is so appallingly, unapologetically, repellently self-indulgent and grotesquely aberrant in sentiment, that the really very good performance of Dustin Hoffman can do little to save it.


As unbelievably well-suited as Hoffman is to Captain Hook, channelling Terry-Thomas by way of Peter Cook, and so embodying a marvellously eccentric vision of preening pomposity, Robin Williams is benightedly miscast as the grown-up Peter. It was a hiding to nothing conceptually anyway, revisiting Peter as a yuppie, now he has forsaken Neverland, but if you had to go there, then piling Williams bland of mawkish, queasily smiling gloop on top of Spielberg’s was a terrible idea. I have to conclude this was the ‘berg at his most impressionable, malleable and star-struck, as the only big name choice that works is wee Dustin; Williams, flying high from Dead Poets Society, and Julia Roberts, coasting off Pretty Woman, are agents’ choices.


And the picture as a whole smacks of can’t-fail hubris. It’s perfect for Spielberg the family entertainer (“I have always felt like Peter Pan. I still feel like Peter Pan” – as have half the BBC’s employees of the 1970s, it seems), and with that roster of stars it would surely become the biggest movie ever. There’s a collective ghost memory that Hook was a monumental flop, but it proved to be the fourth biggest film of 1991 worldwide (beaten by Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Ballad Adams: Prince of Thieves and Beauty and the Beast).


Spielberg, unlikely to totally malign something he made because he’s too affable a chap (except on Kermode & Mayo), and would mentally defer to the many who had worked so hard on his project before demurring, came close enough when he said, “There are parts of Hook I love. I’m really proud of my work right up through Peter being hauled off… for Neverland”. He goes on to suggest it would have worked better with a completely digital set, but would that it were so simple.


In a piece on Mike Medavoy, the one-time studio head corrected The Chicago Tribune’s summary of his less successful output at Tristar by noting that Hook delivered Sony a profit of $50m in all, while acknowledging it was a disappointment (I suspect, rather than $300m, they foresaw half a billion gross). The critical brickbats have undoubtedly marred its reputation, but there’s also that it cost way too much, and unusually, Spielberg went over budget.


The ‘berg confirmed that Michael Jackson wanted to play Pan, but needed to be explained the concept of grown-up Peter as “a lawyer that is brought back to save his kids and discovers that he was once, when he was younger Peter Pan”. Which makes you wonder, what Wacko had in mind. Presumably playing Peter, panto-like, but an actor version of the actress tradition, as a boy (the berg had been developing a straight version of Pan during the ‘80s, and it apparently got as far as pre-production, with both Hoffman on board as Hook and James V Hart furnishing the script).  What’s the alternative, playing a boy who never grew up as a boy who did grow up but who’s a boy inside? That would take some brainstorming. Much less than went into the screenplay itself.


Peter: My word is my bond.
Jack: Yeah, junk bond.

When you hear Spielberg say it, it sounds obvious. Too obvious, which is the whole problem (“I think a lot of people are losing their imagination because they are work-driven” he opined, in respect of the perhaps the least imaginative film of his career). Much the same as Hart’s inspiration coming from his son (“I realised that Peter did grow up, just like all of us baby boomers who are now in our forties. I patterned him after several of my friends on Wall Street, where the pirates wear three-piece suits and ride in limos”).


I dunno, maybe this might have worked, but not with the kind of apologetic performance Williams gives, and the resting-on-his-laurels direction from Spielberg (“I began to work at a slower pace than I usually do”). It has the chocolate box effect we’ll later see in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, where all the world’s a soundstage, and nothing has any edge or idiosyncrasy (that’s not to malign the first Harry Potter, which is much more palatable than this, but it’s delivered as something a fait accompli).


Williams has a passing resemblance to a grown-up Harry, with his circular specs, but whatever else he is here, he’s unconvincing as a trader, a dad, and a green-tighted superhero. Even the ad-libs (“This is Lord of the Flies pre-school”) are ill-fitting. He was coming off something of a career high, with Dead Poets and two Gilliam productiuons, one with a truly inspired improv cameo, the other a frequently affecting turn as an unstrung widow, but this… You can see Spielberg invoking the earnestness of Jimmy Stewart’s famous yuletide meltdown, but it falls completely flat. And his star, with his waxed chest, eyeliner and strangely-coiffured hair, is all kinds of wrong.


I don’t know if anyone could have salvaged the concept, and Hart should blame his spawn for it, really. Because Hook is also a deeply mangled construction; the tragedy of a boy who refuses to grow up becomes the tragedy of a man who has lost his boyhood. Spielberg gets it backwards, and there’s even less resonance of Barrie’s thematic content than in the Disney version. Even the competition between Hook and Peter for the latter’s son’s affection is unpersuasive, as, great as he is, Hoffman’s Hook is pure caricature. There’s none, for instance, of the melancholy Jeremy Isaacs brings to the part in the 2003 film.


Messing with an existing property so rarely seems to work, yet studios never seem to be put off going there. Instead of a continuance, Warner induced a bereft origin with Pan (that couldn’t even get Hook right, and his substitute lacked flair), while Disney’s other grown-up childhood character, as explored by Tim Burton, another (increasingly lazy) purveyor of children’s fantasies, may have been a huge hit, but that was all about the 3D, rather than the content (hence the floundering sequel).


Hook is “cutely” aware of its own fiction, but never to advantageous effect. It might have been interesting to push the meta- and panto qualities, but instead all we’re offered is a static, hugely expensive set. The chocolate box London (“London’s a magical place for children. It was for us”.  Yes, the glorious city of Jack the Ripper, and the Kray twins) is grim enough, but Neverland is truly the pits.


The pace eases to a crawl, and the Spielberg indulges the Lost Boys (complete with skateboards and a wise black child looking into Williams’ soul) to such an extent, it feels like we’re forced to endure six or seven hours in their company. He becomes the indulgent, doting surrogate parent; this is definitely the mooning father given too much rope to hang himself (that moppet singing is the inexorable nadir of this process). Peter must use his imagination to fly, but there is none in the picture, which even includes a sped-up food fight. Did I mention that it doesn’t just seem like it goes on forever, it actually does? Foreverland: there’s still an hour to go after Peter’s first encounter with the boys (Hook clocks in at two hours twenty minutes).


Hook: You’re Peter? But it can’t be. Not this pitiful, spineless, pasty, bloated codfish I see before me. You’re not even a shadow of Peter.

The irony is, Peter is, sort of, playing Wendy’s father George (certainly the George who rediscovers his zest in the 2003 film). And, without a George, Hoffman only gets the one plum role. Which is a shame, as this could have been another Tootsie double for him, and he might have added all sorts of texture given a chance (provided he had someone to rein him in).


Alternatively, another take (obviously, not one the ’berg would have been on board with) could have been to make the movie from Hook’s point-of-view. It might have been different at least, establishing Peter as a noxious influence rather than one to be sympathised with. Not that I’m endorsing such messing with much-loved characters, but if you must… The basic fact stands, though. Hook is not a good film by a long stretch, but Hoffman’s Hook is something else.


Smee: I’ve just had an apostrophe.

The rest of the cast are rickety to say the least. Everyone is full of that end-of-term gusto that doesn’t necessarily invite good performances. Hoskins is fun, and complements Hoffman (the scene where Hook attempts to commit suicide – again – is particularly amusing). 


Maggie Smith and (her screen debut, thanks to godfather Steven suggesting it) Gwynie are both very good as Wendy (which is certainly one respect where it trumps the Disney toon), and Caroline Goodall is terrific as Mrs Peter (“… a few special years when they want us around”; she makes the dialogue sing). Charlie Korsmo, who “graced” Dick Tracy the year before as the Kid, is another case, like Roberts, of Spielberg just casting anyone who’s been in a major movie of late. He’s neither bad nor good, although it’s at least easy to appreciate Jack’s disaffection for a dad embodied by schmaltzy Williams.


Hook: Very violent sport, isn’t it?

Because Spielberg has never been a maestro with comedy, at least where it doesn’t complement the drama (see 1941 for further evidence of failings), any attempts to play up the goofiness tend to flounder, particularly when it comes to the stunt cameos (Phil Collins, Glen Close in a beard). Julia Roberts’ Tinkerbell is particularly heinous. He even admitted she sucked (“It was an unfortunate time for us to work together”). Once we reach Tootles flying, and receive the invitation, in an unflattering echo of Dead Poets Society, to seize the day, there’s little preventing the persevering viewer from suffering a gastric embolism and expiring. “To live would be an awfully big adventure” is the just the kind of twee bullshit re-configuration Spielberg gets shit for, and in this case it’s entirely deserved, alas.


Nick Castle (The Last Starfighter) was going to direct, until he was overpowered by star power. He had a lucky escape. Presumably out of respect to Spielberg being Spielberg, this dreck still grabbed five Oscar nominations, some of them baffling (Art Direction – a big set doesn’t equal a good set; Visual Effects – they’re average at best; and Costume Design). John Williams’ score is interesting, in as much as the bits that aren’t insipid appear to be a test run for the prequels’ Anakin theme. Hook is mainly, aside from its spirited title character, a constipated, horribly stagey, static, inert disaster of a movie, striving to manufacture magic that eludes it. Spielberg’s entire movie is one long, very long, error. No wonder he was left to speculate, “Someday I’ll see it again and perhaps like some of it”. Good luck with that. But if you do, Hoffman is the place to start. And end.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

He's a wild creature. We can't ask him to be anything else.

The Shape of Water (2017)
(SPOILERS) The faithful would have you believe it never went away, but it’s been a good decade since Guillermo del Toro’s mojo was in full effect, and his output since (or lack thereof: see the torturous wilderness years of At the Mountains of Madness and The Hobbit), reflected through the prism of his peak work Pan’s Labyrinth, bears the hallmarks of a serious qualitative tumble. He put his name to stinker TV show The Strain, returned to movies with the soulless Pacific Rim and fashioned flashy but empty gothic romance Crimson Peak (together his weakest pictures, and I’m not forgetting Mimic). The Shape of Water only seems to underline what everyone has been saying for years, albeit previously confined to his Spanish language pictures: that the smaller and more personal they are, the better. If his latest is at times a little too wilfully idiosyncratic, it’s also a movie where you can nevertheless witness it’s creator’s creativity flowing untrammelled once mo…

The aliens are not coming, just so you know.

The X-Files 11.1: My Struggle III
(SPOILERS) Good grief. Have things become so terminal for Chris Carter that he has to retcon his own crap from the previous season, rather than the (what he perceived as) crap written by others? Carter, of course, infamously pretended the apocalyptic ending of Millennium Season Two never happened, upset by the path Glen Morgan and James Wong, left to their own devices, took with his baby. Their episode was one of the greats of that often-ho-hum series, so the comedown was all the unkinder as a result. In My Struggle III, at least, Carter’s rewriting something that wasn’t very good in the first place. Only, he replaces it with something that is even worse in the second.

I'm going to open an X-file on this bran muffin.

The X-Files 11.2: This
(SPOILERS) Glen Morgan returns with a really good idea, certainly one with much more potential than his homelessness tract Home Again in Season 10, but seems to give up on its eerier implications, and worse has to bash it round the head to fit the season’s “arc”. Nevertheless, he’s on very comfortable ground with the Mulder-Scully dynamic in This, who get to spend almost the entire episode in each other’s company and might be on the best form here since the show came back, give or take a Darin.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…