HOOK AT 20: A Look Back at Spielberg’s Underrated Classic

HOOK AT 20: A Look Back at Spielberg’s Underrated Classic

When Steven Spielberg’s Hook was released to theatres in 1991, it was pretty much dismissed by critics as an empty exercise in Hollywood excess. But closer examination of the film as it celebrates its 20th anniversary reveals it to be one of the director’s most under-appreciated efforts. Hook tells the tale of mid-40s corporate lawyer Peter Banning (Robin Williams), who has become so consumed with work and winning on a corporate level that he’s lost touch with his family, his inner child and knowledge of the fact that he is actually a grown up version of Peter Pan. But when Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps Peter’s children to lure the erstwhile Pan out of hiding, it falls upon Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) and the Lost Boys of Neverland to make Peter remember his past so that he can soar in the skies and engage Hook in battle.
“I was a Peter Pan freak,” admits screenwriter Jim Hart, “and when I was reading the story to my kids, I became fascinated with the idea of finding a way to extend it. When my son was two and a half, he did one of those squiggly pictures. We looked at it and said, ‘What’s that?’ and he said, ‘It’s the crocodile eating Captain Hook.’ Then Jake added a disclaimer. He said, ‘The crocodile didn’t eat Captain Hook. Captain Hook killed the crocodile and got away.”
Hart became intrigued by the notion that Peter Pan’s ultimate nightmare would be that Captain Hook is not dead. That conversation was in 1982, and four years later Jake brought up Peter Pan again, asking Hart what would happen if Peter Pan grew up. “That was the question that unlocked the door for me,” he exclaims.
In their own words, Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, Dustin Hoffman, Steven Spielberg and Hart himself reflect on the making of Hook.
ROBIN WILLIAMS
(PETER BANNING/PETER PAN)
“The hardest part in the beginning was playing the Pre-Pan – the PP – because I would try things and they would say, ‘That’s wonderful, but it’s too imaginative, he’s much more tighter-wrapped than that. To be truthful, even though he’s very successful, he’s a very disconnected man. He has no sense of himself before the age of 11 or 12, and to work on that part was the hardest. By the time I got to the flying and the fighting, that was like, ‘You can go now; you’re free.’
“The dangerous thing with Pan is how do you make it so that it isn’t too cute? He still has to have a dangerous edge, because he is lethal. How do you put that in? How do you keep all those different elements going? Because by the end of the movie, he’s kind of a combination of both characters — he’s not Pan, he’s not Banning, but he’s found who and what he is, which was the whole point of the script.
“Peter Banning was based a little bit on my father only in the sense that my father was working all the time. I never saw him very much, because he was always away. He was kind of a troubleshooter for Lincoln Mercury, so he had to go from dealership to dealership. He’d come back with some great Corgi toys, but I would have traded the toys for a week with him. So it was a little bit of that. He was very stern in some ways, but also very loving.
“This film isn’t about Yuppies. It’s about the fact that you can lose track of your family. He is a Yuppie, he has those tendencies, he suffers from the Peter Pan Syndrome, he has all the goodies but no sense of who he is. The nice thing that Steven gave me a chance to do was the before, that part to be so lost, and then transition through to the end.”
JULIA ROBERTS
(TINKERBELL)
“For the most part the appeal of Tinkerbell was a sense of spirit, a feistiness she does have in the Disney version, where she’s very aggressive in her way. In the book I think Barrie said she’s only big enough to feel one emotion at a time, so there’s never too much confusion as to what she’s feeling. It was nice to know always what you were doing rather than underplaying. In that way she’s quite clear and expressed herself clearly.
“The theme appeals to me a little bit, but to me growing up, figuring out things, is a better way, so I don’t think growing up is a bad thing. I think the sense of innocence is something that as a person you have to try to preserve. I think I’m able to still do that up to a point, almost to a fault. You do that and you sort of find yourself in situations where other people don’t share that same sort of dreamy vision of things. They can have a very aggressive or sharper view of it and those things don’t meld together. It can just be difficult to maintain in the world today.”
DUSTIN HOFFMAN
(CAPTAIN HOOK)
“I was very surprised about certain things of the Barrie novel that had an impact on me, which was the dichotomy of this thing of youth, joy and innocence. I think in the book Barrie is talking about an absence of a sense of mortality. What happens when we grow up? We want to grow up and my kids want to grow up, because we feel so powerless. They want to be in charge, eat cake for breakfast if they feel like it, they want a car, they want to be free. Somehow when we grow up we’re less free than we ever were.
“I find redeeming qualities in Hook. He doesn’t want to kill Pan outright when he looks at him, he wants to kill youth, joy and innocence. In the Barrie story it says that Hook identified himself with Charles II. Anthony Powell who did the costumes said, ‘Do you want to adhere to that?’ I said, ‘I see no reason not to.’ That was the approach, to keep him traditional in that sense, to see him as he saw himself, even though he’s a pirate.”
STEVEN SPIELBERG
(DIRECTOR)
“I wanted this to be more of a show than a film. It’s a movie, certainly, but I saw it more like a show. With that in mind, I wasn’t trying for a reality of any kind. Neverland is very subjective. We all have ideas of what Neverland should look like, and this film was just one combined vision of Neverland. If I wanted it to be very realistic, I would never have built sets, I would have gone to the Caribbean and shot real ocean, real sky, real lagoons and things like that. Then I would have had something like Treasure Island, I wouldn’t have had Neverland. It would have been too earth-bound.
“You can only be who you are as a filmmaker. I still don’t think I have to go out of my way to try and change what is a positive value and not a negative [in terms of tapping into childhood memories]. I think feeling young and making a movie that keeps everybody young who makes them, having kids, playing on the floor with them on their own level and talking to them the way kids love to talk to each other — I think those are all pluses. I’m not in any hurry to grow up. This movie didn’t exorcise any demon that I needed to express in order not to be a kid anymore. If anything, it gave me some more years of being a little closer to my memories of childhood.”
JIM HART
(SCREENWRITER)
“I always envisioned Dustin as being James Barrie, because Barrie was in his own mind Captain Hook, this small man playing this bigger than life character that overpowered him. You think of Dustin as six feet tall. In my opinion, Dustin is doing the role of Captain Hook the way I believe Barrie envisioned it: a dark and sinister, very complex psychotic man who’s obsessed with revenge against Peter Pan; who hates him for being so young. Captain Hook is a bloodthirsty villain who should be the darkest memory in the back of a child’s mind. That’s the character I wrote, a character who makes it fun to be bad. That’s his power, he can take any child, except for Peter Pan, and make him be bad without fear of parental retribution or punishment.
“We were all attracted to this for some reason. I think to go back and invest yourself in finding that child inside of you is the only way of being a successful adult. It’s the only way to be a well-balanced adult. We need to embrace that child and never push it away again. We need that child to balance ourselves as adults. Everybody’s got a Captain Hook in their life. Hook represents that other side of yourself you have to deal with.”

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