HOOK: 4K Blu-ray (TriStar/Amblin, 1991) Sony Home Entertainment
What if Peter Pan grew up? What, indeed. The premise for Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991) has always left me a little bit perplexed. Or perhaps, merely the title, that suggests the focus of the plot will be on the crocodile-fearing antagonist, Captain Hook (superbly re-envisioned by Dustin Hoffman). But no, this is actually the ‘front story’ of what actually happened to Peter Pan (Robin Williams) after he shed his tattered greens, grew hair on his schmeckle, and, took on the façade of a stodgy businessman. First problem: Robin Williams is not a Brit, though he is surrounded by a lot of them including the marvelous Maggie Smith as an aged Wendy, which only makes the obviousness of his American heritage all the more glaring and curious. Aside: if I recall correctly, Wendy – in the James M. Barrie children’s classic, and in virtually every stage and film version to have followed it, is only a year or two older than Pan. So, how is it she is a withered old prune in this movie. And oh, does this present some serious May/December weirdness for those of us who grew up believing in the prepubescent romance brewing between them. Second problem: the tale isn’t really about Pan, but his reconnecting with the vigor of youth, best exemplified by his reunion with The Lost Boys – herein, reincarnated as mohawk-sporting pre-teen gangland-styled hoodlums. Into this mix, we get two inspired casting choices: Bob Hoskins as Capt. Hook’s righthand man, Mr. Smee, and Julia Roberts, as the luminous pixie, Tinkerbell.
I love J.M. Barrie’s classic tale, and am partial to the Disney animated reincarnation from 1953. So, as an ardent Spielberg fan also, I could not wait for Hook to hit theaters – Spielberg, coming off an extraordinary run of mega-hits in the eighties, including, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. (1982), The Color Purple (1985) and Empire of the Sun (1987). But then, in 1989, Spielberg remade and updated the classic wartime weepie, A Guy Named Joe as Always. And while not exactly a flop, it hardly set screens ablaze, despite the casting of Audrey Hepburn as the elegant angel - HAP. In hindsight, Always should have been a clue as to where Spielberg’s art was headed: an uneven spate of projects yet to follow. In the interim since, not all of Spielberg’s art has matured like fine wine with age; Hook being a prime example of the anomalies from his past that still do not fit into his otherwise illustrious canon as a bona fide classic. A shame too, since Spielberg always felt a kinship to the Barrie book, the troubled friendship between Peter and Jack in particular echoing the director’s strained relationship with his own father. And not unlike Spielberg’s movie, author, J. M. Barrie had once toyed with the idea of a Pan becoming an adult. For Barrie, this never happened. And for Spielberg, the project remained on the back burner even after his first flourish of success with Jaws (1975) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). In 1980, Spielberg entered into negotiations with Walt Disney Pictures to make a movie closely to parallel the story line of the 1953 Disney classic. At one point, it appeared as though Michael Jackson would play Pan. But when Jackson expressed his disappointment over Spielberg’s notions of an adult Pan having to reconnect with a past he had since forsaken, the deal soured and Spielberg moved the project over to Paramount instead. From here, screenwriter, James V. Hart produced an interesting take that focused on Capt. Hook, expressly with Dustin Hoffman in mind.
Hook actually went into pre-production in England in 1985; the project, all but cancelled when Spielberg became a father and effectively dropped out of his commitments. For several years thereafter, Spielberg half-heartedly toyed with coming back on board, waffling in his plans to direct Big (1988, and eventually helmed by Penny Marshall), and becoming deeply entrenched in the making of Empire of the Sun. For all intent and purposes, Hook was dead in the water. Except Paramount and Hart had moved on, endeavoring to resurrect it with Nick Castle as their director. Hart’s motivations for a new screenplay, continuing the saga of Pan after the events depicted in Barrie’s novel and the other movie adaptations, came from his son, Jake, who showed him a crude child’s rendering of a crocodile eating Capt. Hook. As Jake explained it, the croc did not eat the captain. He got away. And with this notion, Hart cracked the secret to the sequel – Hook’s timeless revenge on the boy who had eluded his clutches and become a man, by kidnapping his young daughter back to Neverland. Again, the project went into the dreaded turnaround. And again, it changed studios – this time, to TriStar. Interestingly, the company’s head, Mike Medavoy, had once been Spielberg’s agent. At TriStar, Hook regained its momentum. Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman were expediently signed. Alas, they clashed with Castle. And Medavoy, who had parted with Spielberg on good terms, now saw Hook as the ideal vehicle for his old client to direct.
Dodi Fayed, then the current custodian of rights to make a Peter Pan movie, sold his stock outright to TriStar for an executive producer’s credit. On board at last, Spielberg hired two writers to rework Hart’s dialogue: Malia Scotch Marmo – for Capt. Hook, and Carrie Fisher, to spruce up Tinkerbell’s exchanges with Peter. In the mumbo-jumbo pissing matches of giving credit where credit is due (this never ceases to amaze me), Fisher escaped even honorable mention; the Writers Guild of America affording screenplay credit to Hart and Marmo, while Hart and Castle were given a nod for ‘the story’. Then, newly relocated to the old MGM backlot, now rechristened as Sony Pictures Studios, Hook occupied 11 sound stages as production got underway, co-funded by Spielberg’s own Amblin Entertainment and TriStar Pictures. Quickly, Spielberg realized he had bitten off more than he could chew, production running 40 days over its originally scheduled 76; the budget, ballooning from $48 to nearly $80 million. Much of the delays Spielberg later attributed to his methodical pacing. He also hinted of his dissatisfaction with Julia Roberts, then riding the crest of popularity after appearing in a string of smash hits, including Steel Magnolias (1989), Pretty Woman (1990) and Sleeping with the Enemy (1991).
Hook embarks on its flawed premise with Peter Banning (Robin Williams), a successful Frisco-based corporate attorney, so invested in his career he finds little time either to be a husband to Moira (Caroline Goodall) or father to his two young children; 12-yr.-old, Jack (Charlie Korsmo) and 7-yr.-old Maggie (the precocious, Amber Scott). While Maggie continues to forgive her father for his lagging in their family life, Jack becomes increasingly bitter. For the pending Christmas holidays, Peter has agreed to take the family to London to visit Moira’s ailing grandmother, Wendy Darling (Maggie Smith). Herein, the Hart/Marmo screenplay employs a bit of artistic license, suggesting Wendy was the motivator behind Barrie’s Peter Pan stories. Peter is bored by their visit and more concerned with a pending legal issue back home. At one point, Peter angrily silences his children – merely for being children – as he is on a long-distance call. Unable to tolerate his outburst, Moira seizes his cell phone in mid-conversation and tosses it out the window and into the snow. Several hours later, the animosity over this outburst has yet to cool as Peter, Moira and Wendy make ready to attend a charity dinner honoring Wendy for her charitable works.
Left alone in Wendy’s fashionable townhouse, Jack and Maggie are terrorized by Capt. Hook. By the time Peter, Moira and Wendy come home, the children have been whisked away to Neverland: a cryptic ransom note, pinned with a dagger to the playroom door. Wendy confides that the rumors about Peter Pan are true and professes that Peter is Pan. Having expunged all childhood memories after falling in love with Moira, Peter eventually grew up and became a man. Alas, now he is expected to go back to these forgotten recesses from his youth. His children’s future depends on it. Confounded and distraught, Peter gets quietly drunk in the playroom. He is assaulted by Tinkerbell, frantic and eager to take him to Neverland. At first, Peter rejects the proposal. Indeed, he believes he is having a hallucination. But then, Tinkerbell sprinkles her magic pixie dust on him and these two compatriots take flight high over the rooftops of London. With each passing cloud, Peter becomes more enamored with his own weightlessness; the pair, crash-landing in Neverland a short while later. Hook and Mr. Smee confront Peter, but become increasingly frustrated when he does not seem to recall who they are. Tinkerbell makes Hook a promise. That Pan will regain his memory and confront them in a display of swordsmanship in only three days.
Ill-equipped for this showdown, Peter gets reacquainted with the Mermaids and a new breed of Lost Boys, led by Rufio (Dante Basco). Unfortunately, none believe he is the legendary Peter Pan. Nevertheless, they aid in his training. Gradually, Peter’s imagination and lost youth is restored. One of the Lost Boys, Thud Butt (Raushan Hammond), gives Peter the marbles left behind by Tootles (Arthur Mallet), now an old man living with Wendy (Gwyneth Paltrow). Meanwhile, fearing Pan’s victory over Hook, Smee convinces his mentor to ply a little manipulation to both Jack and Maggie, to convince the children to love him more than their own father; thus, breaking Peter’s will to succeed. While Maggie resists Hook’s ‘charm’, Jack momentarily begins to regard him as the father figure he has been craving, particularly after Hook and Smee stage a baseball game where Jack is made the star attraction and praised to the roof. From the shadows, Peter is mortified by this spectacle. Alas, as yet unable to fly, Peter is instead led by his own shadow to the old Lost Boys treehouse where Tinkerbell convinces him that his ‘happy thought’ is being a father. At last, liberated from the constraints of behaving like an adult, Peter flies into the stratosphere, returning as Pan, for whom Rufio now relinquishes all rights to his sword and leadership of the Lost Boys. Tinkerbell, grown to human-size, confesses her undying affections. She has always loved Peter Pan.
The three days having passed, Peter meets Hook on the bow of the Jolly Roger in an epic battle. While Peter stages a daring and successful rescue of his children, vowing to be a better father, he loses Rufio to a duel with Hook. Mortally wounded, Rufio dies quietly in Peter’s arms. Fueled by revenge, Peter defeats Hook in a splendid display of swordsmanship. Refusing to depart honorably, Hook stages one final assault. Instead, the stuffed crocodile he once feared, momentarily springs to life, toppling to the ground and eating Hook. His arch nemesis defeated for good, Peter hands the sword given to him by Rufio to Thud Butt, inaugurating a new leader for the Lost Boys. Peter, Jack and Maggie leave Neverland. Hours later, Peter awakens in Kensington Gardens. He meets a sweeper bearing an uncanny resemblance to Smee, and bids a tearful goodbye to Tinkerbell. Shimmying up the drain pipe to Wendy’s flat, Peter is reunited with his wife and children – grateful for his return. Peter gives Tootles the marble bag Thud Butt gave him and Tootles, discovering it sprinkled in pixie dust, exuberantly flies out the window and on to Neverland. Indeed, ‘to live would be an awfully big adventure.’
Hook has its merits, including Norman Garwood’s stunning production design and Dean Cundey’s gorgeous cinematography. Alas, these do not outweigh the movie’s deficits – chiefly, Spielberg’s inability to breathe even a modicum of life into the escapist fantasy elements so vitally required to make the picture click. Dustin Hoffman is an extraordinary Capt. Hook – full of fiendish delight and moustache-twirling menace. Clearly, Hoffman is having a whale of a time reincarnating the title character for a new generation. Julia Roberts pixie is pleasant enough too, although, not altogether as well-developed. Bob Hoskins’ Smee is a wily rogue. But the biggest disappointment herein, and ironically so, is Robin Williams. Deprived of his ability to ‘do comedy’, and not yet seasoned enough to convey the maturity of a boy trapped in a man’s body, Williams toggles his performance between a sort of stodgy reluctance that wears incredibly thin, and a brooding petulance that grates even worse on the nerves. His revelation, that he is, in fact, Peter Pan, comes too late in the plot to be considered celebratory. Perfunctory is more like it. And Peter’s return to London is tinged with more sadness than newfound wisdom for having straddled the extraordinary chasm between childhood fantasies and adulthood responsibilities one last time. Indeed, he is reformed in his outlook, if hardly altered at his core.
Spielberg, Williams, and Hoffman forwent their usual salaries on Hook for a 40% split of the gross; well rewarded when Hook managed a world-wide gross of $300,854,823. Despite its profitability, Hook was not the powerhouse either Spielberg or TriStar had hoped. Worse, its critical reception could hardly be considered ‘warm’; Chicago Sun-Times mandarin, Roger Ebert, leading the charge with “…the sad thing about the screenplay – is - it's so correctly titled: … nothing more than a hook on which to hang a new version of the Peter Pan story. No effort is made to involve Peter's magic in the changed world he now inhabits, and little thought has been given to Captain Hook's extraordinary persistence in wanting to revisit the events of the past. The failure in Hook is its inability to re-imagine the material, to find something new, fresh or urgent to do with the Peter Pan myth. Lacking that, Spielberg should simply have remade the original story, straight, for this generation.” Perhaps to stem the tide of negative reviews, Hook was favorably honored with 5 Academy Award nominations: Best Production Design, Costuming, Visual Effects, Makeup and Best Original Song. It won not a single statuette. Viewed today, Hook is not an altogether prepossessing affair. While time often does strange things to movie art, the passage of time since has not endeared Hook as any finer an entertainment than it was in 1991. Regrets.
No regrets forthcoming on Sony’s new 4K release of Hook…well, a few. As with virtually any home video release Sony commits to, Hook in ultra-hi-def, remastered from an original camera negative, is a cause for celebration – mostly. Curiously, the TriStar logo that precedes the picture looks as though it were fed through a meat grinder – heavily plagued by a patina of grain, it just looks exceptionally rougher than it ought, particularly around the edges. Mercifully, everything snaps together immediately afterward although grain continues to be ‘an issue’. The variances are considerable from shot to shot, and not necessarily exacerbated by the optical process shots either. Colors are rich – especially reds - and there is an indigenous textured appeal to this film-based material. Still, a few scenes just seem off, like the brief insert of the Pan Am flying into London where grain is so heavy it literally distracts from the image. Close-ups are the most impressive in their overall clarity and razor-sharp detail. Skin, hair, fabrics appear so life-like you swear you could almost reach through the screen and touch them.
Process shots, achieved ‘old school’ and long before the major advancements in digital technology made them ‘old hat’, nevertheless are reconciled with 4K’s superior resolution. Hook contains both a DTS 5.1 and a new Dolby Atmos that really kicks the audio into high gear. John Williams’ score soars high above the clouds and directionalized SFX are given their utmost due here. Dialogue is solidly based, front and center, but the whole ambiance of the piece greatly benefits from this new Atmos spread. In addition to the original Blu-ray release of Hook, Sony has added 11 deleted scenes never before available on home video. As these barely total 8 min. of additional footage, I really see no point in double-dipping on a 4K release of Hook unless you are an absolute die hard fan of this movie. It isn’t Spielberg’s best…not by a long shot.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)