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

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…

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…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

I don’t know if what is happening is fair, but it’s the only thing I can think of that’s close to justice.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
(SPOILERS) I think I knew I wasn’t going to like The Killing of a Sacred Deer in the first five minutes. And that was without the unedifying sight of open-heart surgery that takes up the first four. Yorgos Lanthimos is something of a Marmite director, and my responses to this and his previous The Lobster (which I merely thought was “okay” after exhausting its thin premise) haven’t induced me to check out his earlier work. Of course, he has now come out with a film that, reputedly, even his naysayers will like, awards-darling The Favourite

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …