“All this has happened before and it will all happen again.” There’s a thought I’ve been returning to as I’ve become increasingly fatigued by the endless remakes of Disney properties that have clogged up the box office over the past few years. Remakes that are almost entirely unimaginative and devoid of the courage to strike out into new ground but instead merely evoke the imagery of the classic animated films in an effort to exploit the nostalgia that millions of people have for those properties simply because that strategy is provably more lucrative than taking any kind of creative risk and will be more successful at further cementing Disney’s oncoming monopoly of the entertainment industry and that thought is… Remember a Hook? Hook was great! That John Williams score still holds up. But the people who only know this movie as a thing that flashes on screen for a few seconds of Captain Marvel, Hook is a classic 1991 film starring Robin Williams and directed by Steven Spielberg. It tells the story of an older version of Peter Pan who has grown up to be a workaholic lawyer and who struggles with being present with his children. But after a trip back to Neverland, a food fight and a battle with the evil Dustin Hoffman, he learns how to be a dad again. Ahh! While the development of the movie began at Disney, it is not a Disney film, at least technically. It was made by Spielberg’s company Amblin Entertainment and distributed by Tristar but it certainly feels like it could be a modern Disney live-action remake because in a lot of ways it evokes the 1953 Disney incarnation of the character. It’s deliberately reminding you of the Disney version specifically but also brings a lot new to the table. The movie is brimming with creativity, both in its premise and in its set design. It’s exactly the kind of movie I wish Disney would make instead of the two faithful live-action adaptations they are currently making. As the opening to one of Disney’s more original adaptations puts it “Let us tell an old story anew.” And is that really too much to ask for? Maleficent was an interesting spin on its source material, so was Christopher Robin and so was Hook, it was the fourth most successful movie of 1991. It was well-liked by audiences, went on to become a classic film for a certain generation i.e. mine. it’s actually still the most successful live-action Peter Pan film since the faithful 2003 adaptation and the 2015 prequel-type film both failed to make back their budgets. Successes aside, the movie was still panned by the critics, but looking back on the film now in an era flooded by safe choices I wanted to try and take my nostalgia goggles off and see whether or not the critics were right. So, welcome to my video where I argue with Siskel and Ebert thirty years after the fact and also try to convince Patrick (H) Willems that it’s better than he thinks because we disagreed about it on Twitter one time. Sony’s V tape packs a more picture and more sound than ever before Hoffman’s Hook doesn’t help either. The acclaimed actor seems to be trying to play a cute villain robbing Peter’s journey of any sense of real jeopardy, that’s from Gene Siskel’s review of the movie and it’s an opinion that simply cannot be allowed to exist. Hoffman’s performance is the best part of this whole mess and actually I think Hook should be the first movie you watch to learn how to introduce an antagonist. For a full 40 minutes the movie just endlessly teases us about how awesome and scary Hook is gonna be when we finally get to him. It starts with some foreshadowing with the hook that locks the window. Then there’s the visual metaphor of a ship in a bottle as Tootles mutters his name “Hook, Hook!” Yes, this character’s name is Tootles. We don’t exactly see Hook break into the house but we see the aftermath: the cut in the wallpaper, the note on the door and then this… “Have to say to Maggie, have to say to Jack…Hook is back!” When we get to Neverland we see the hook being sharpened which doubles as a memorable set up for this predicament at the climax. And it’s only after all of that that Hook is finally revealed and even here Spielberg is coy with us, revealing the villain in stages. First we see just the hook itself, then the back of his head, then his face and profile to deliver a slimy line of dialogue, “See how greatly the men favour you sir”
“The appalling spawn. How I despise them!” Before he finally turns into a close-up and it’s glorious. Okay, so I was being a little facetious with that Siskel quote earlier because in a sense he’s right. All of this setup makes Hook feel really intimidating but that’s at odds with what Hook is actually like. He’s a buffoon through the entire middle of the movie until the final act when he zips back to feeling like a threat again Hook doesn’t feel like he’s a danger to Peter during the middle of the movie but he does have other ways of attacking Peter mainly by trying to turn his children against him So while you don’t feel like Peter is in jeopardy the emotional stakes are high and I think that compensates for the inconsistent way Hook is presented. Besides, I can’t help but love every scene that this character is in. I mean has any character ever had a better evil laugh? Okay, one has! So, the problem with Hook isn’t Hook, it’s the other half of the film that’s the trouble. For a better video recording, V is the answer. Sony the one and only. In a more positive review of the movie, Hal Hinson for the Washington Post wrote that “Spielberg and Williams – the reigning Peter Pan’s of Hollywood – would seem so ideally suited to the material; it’s a movie one would think that they were both born to make.” “Hey, is it too early to be that loud? Hey, too late! Let’s talk about Robin first who would seem to be the perfect choice for a Peter Pan movie. Robin made his career on characters that were over-the-top, childlike, funny “You can count on me Orson, DD&E… Dedicated, diligent and efficient! Nanoo, nanoo!” So playing a character that doesn’t grow up, where he can be as big and loud and charming as he wants to be sounds perfect for him. The problem is that it takes two hours to get there! Robin’s greatest talents are hamstrung by the need for him to play a lawyer for most of the movie. And yes, I know he can play dramatic roles too, but that’s not really what’s required for this role. He’s the straight man here. “I don’t think with great effort, the part of Hook, where Robin plays Peter Pan was any kind of a problem for him. He had to act his buns off to play Peter Banner.” And don’t get me wrong, it’s still fun to watch him be a terrified office worker who’s just completely out of his depth but there’s this one scene where you get a hint of what the movie would be like if he could have just let loose as Peter Pan the whole time. It’s right after he’s fully embraced his identity as Peter Pan and he’s just adorable. “Why are you in Neverland?” “Well, that’s easy! To always be a little boy and have fun. I like this game, ask me another one!” He’s so good here that I just wish there were more scenes like this in the movie. He gets to be this way for most of the third act but if I can make one screenwriting fix of this movie it’d be to have him embrace his identity sooner. As written, the character has to go through two character shifts. The whole second act is devoted to the first one where he has to relearn how to be Peter Pan but then in this scene with Tinker Bell, there’s a whole other little character arc that happens. He’s forgotten that he has a family at the beginning of the scene then he has to remember them and then go off and save them. “Moira, I love Moira…and Jack and Maggie.” But imagine if he had instead come to Neverland willingly as a way to escape his responsibilities as a father. Essentially having become Peter Pan at the beginning of the second act, then the whole middle of the movie can be him getting to this character change of re-embracing his identity as both a father and Peter Pan. On paper, this is a lateral change. Let’s say for the sake of argument that they both work as scripts but the rewrite would maximize the amount of Robin Williams hijinks that the movie has, you know, stuff like this So this puts me in an interesting contradiction… I want the Disney remakes to be more daring spins on their source material and I think Hook is a good example of that theoretically but in this specific take on Peter Pan with this specific actor, the movie would have actually benefited from a more traditional adaptation, one where Robin Williams can act like a kid for the duration of the movie. I still love Robin’s performance here but it’s a case where the actor was more suited to the idea of the part and not the actual part as written. Okay, but what about Hollywood’s other reigning Peter Pan? From the movie of the year comes the soundtrack of the year: Hook! After helming successful family films like E.T., action franchises like Indiana Jones and films that evoke pure awe like Close Encounters, Spielberg does feel like the perfect fit for Peter Pan. “I guess I’m a bit typecast to have directed this movie but sometimes it’s fun to accept the typecasting of oneself.” But since its release, the biggest critic of Steven Spielberg’s Hook is Steven Spielberg. “I felt like a fish out of water making Hook. I didn’t have confidence in the script. I had confidence in the first act and I had confidence in the epilogue. I didn’t have confidence in the body of it.” Now given the criticisms I just made about the second act you’d think that I’d be inclined to agree with this but if you break down the scenes of the second act all of them are purposeful and move the story forward. Act 2 starts with Peter arriving in Neverland and with Hook learning that he’s no longer his former self but giving him three days to train. Then the Lost Boys don’t recognize him as Pan either but they agree to help him. Hook decides to try and convert Jack and Maggie to his side. Peter trains but struggles in… gosh I’m sorry. I love this montage where there are three Robin Williams’s in one shot! Even the less good Spielberg movies are consistently remarkable! Hook then puts his plan into action, Peter learns the power of imagination, the first hint that he really is Pan and that he can actually fight where he wins a victory over his secondary opponent Rufio. He has a scene with Thud Butt, yes, that really is this character’s name… which is about him missing his mother and Peter missing his kids. At the midpoint Peter sees that he may have lost Jack to Hook which sends him to his low point and fills him with determination to become Pan again. He succeeds and then there’s that scene with Tinker Bell before they all rally for battle. In Act 3 they do a bunch of fighting, the end. There’s not a scene in here that I’d take out, except maybe the Thud Butt scene and then maybe Maggie’s song which follows after it since they’re not entirely essential and work more as an interval between two busier scenes. So if you wanted to cut them for time you could. The problem isn’t so much the structure, it’s actually the editing. When I came back to watch this movie for this video, I was shocked to see that it was two and a half hours long and I think the reason for this isn’t that it has too many scenes or that it has the wrong scenes but that each scene could be edited down a little. Like we don’t need this many reaction shots from The Lost Boys to everything that happens, but the movie just loves schmaltzy heartwarming. scenes We probably don’t need to see Thud Butt roll up into a bowling ball twice or see Smee to take his time with every pitch. “And Bob Hoskins is just very, very funny! I mean, I mean my biggest childhood Bob Hoskins with the stuff that I couldn’t use in the movie because he gave me so much wonderful stuff and if I’d use it all it would have been called a smear for the book.” Yeah, Bob Hoskins really is great in this! I mean some of his dialogue is just… “Or I’ve got a dead man’s dingly!” “Or I’ve got a dead man’s dingly!” Priceless! Anyway, point being this is not a very complicated movie and there’s a punch here in 90-minute to two-hour film in here that’s buried under a lot of indulgences. Which hey, is another thing it has in common with the new Disney remakes since they’re all a half-hour too long! In that interview quoted earlier Spielberg continues “I didn’t quite know what I was doing and I tried to paint over my insecurities with production value. The more insecure I felt about it, the bigger and more colorful the sets became” And boy oh boy, did the sets become big and colorful! We’ve got penguins running around and animatronic flowers and a hundred extras all in one shot and holy moly the swords light up with sparks when they collide! Why? Because it’s awesome! For a lot of people I understand that the production design is off-putting. Siskel called them artificial looking and I think he’s right, I just don’t think it’s a bad thing. Everything filmed in Neverland feels like it’s being shot in a studio, which it was. More than that, the sets feel like they are sets. One of the reasons the movie might look like this is because Spielberg hired John Napier to be the visual consultant on the film. Napier is a legendary costume and set designer for a bunch of musicals and Spielberg hired him after he was impressed with his work on Cats?! Cats! Oh my god, Cats! “You know and thanks to you know to John Napier and Norm Garrwood and their brilliant team of artisans and you know their sets were spectacular.” Okay, okay, why am I freaking out? Well, because Hook essentially has the set design of a musical, it just isn’t one even though it was initially envisioned as one early on in development. But once you start looking at the movie through this lens, a whole lot starts to make sense. The multi-level design of the port feels artificial and overindulgent for a regular movie but you can picture a dance number breaking out at any moment. Rufio’s hair is ridiculous for a place with no hairspray but he looks like he just finished acting in a production of Cats. A lot of the action at the climax is somewhat pantomimed. The bad guys have swords, but are somehow defeated by children with paint and mirrors. But the over-exaggeratedness of their reactions would fit better on stage. Now I don’t want to make too much of this because it’s guesswork to figure out who was responsible for what on any given film and there are many, many other people responsible for the visuals of Hook, but the thrust of what I’m saying is that the aesthetics, while off-putting to some audiences, don’t just come from nowhere but could be influenced by the sensibilities of stage productions and we tend to give musicals more leeway here. They’re allowed to be more whimsical. We’ve already suspended our disbelief enough to accept that people are singing so why not a world that looks like this? The making of Hook is proudly duplicated on Sony blank tape So when I was researching this video I found this making of documentary for Hook on YouTube. That’s where all these advertisements came from. And the top comment on that video is “I loved the advert stuff at the beginning. It really took me back to my childhood. It’s funny. That’s an annoying advertisement can be nostalgic.” It’s like the purest form of nostalgia because you only like it because it’s recognizable. The clips themselves are ultimately just a bunch of random images and sounds but the memories they evoke are powerful and real. And it’s how I feel about a lot of the things in this movie, things I like but I can’t craft an argument around. I like when they say bangarang, “Bangarang!” I like how Jack reacts to Smee bashing a clock. I like the way they chant Rufio. Rufio! Rufio! Rufio! I liked all the stuff as a kid and I like it more now and that’s why our whole entertainment industry is tilted toward exploiting nostalgia and Hook itself is no different in that regard. It also exists to capture the nostalgia people had for Peter Pan but as a film, it’s also suspicious of nostalgia. It’s the villain of the movie that wants to keep reliving the past again and again. “I vow there will always be daggers bearing notes I’m James Hook, they will be flung at the doors of your children’s children’s children. Do you hear me? Meanwhile the hero has to return to a childhood memory but only long enough to revitalize his adult life and then he has to close the book and move on. That theme extends to the set design too which doesn’t just feel like Neverland but sort of feels like Disneyland, as well. The port scenes feel like a theme park complete with cute little gift shops and there’s even a literal roller coaster in The Lost Boys hideout. Roger Ebert criticized the movie’s take on the material saying that it had nothing urgent to say but retroactively Hook feels more urgent than ever. In the age of remakes, Hook tells us to move on from the past and the fantasies that defined us as children. It’s impossible for me to completely unspool my own nostalgia from this movie when looking back on it. I can’t stand back far enough from it to see it the way the critics at the time did, not fully anyway. But looking at it now as an adult, I do see the flaws. I can say yeah if you wanted to have an imposing villain then maybe he shouldn’t be joking around through the whole second act after such an effective set up. And yeah, if you wanted to watch Robin Williams have fun as Peter Pan, then the story maybe shouldn’t have forced him to be a lawyer for two hours and while Spielberg’s direction is just as impressive as it always is, yeah, the film could definitely be more tightly edited. And if they were going to hire the set designer from a musical then maybe the whole thing would have been more fun and less jarring if they’ve just gone ahead and made it a musical. But even recognizing all of that, I still love it, warts and all. It was the same safe bet mentality that led to Hook being made back then as it is for all the Disney remakes being made now. But at least Hook took something old and made it new again and well, it’s worth remembering It’s the dream of every writer to create a character as timeless as Peter Pan or Captain Hook. So, if you’re struggling with crafting characters then I recommend checking out Sabaa Tahir’s course on Skillshare, the sponsor of this video. The course is called Writing Authentic Fiction: How to Build a Believable Character and will walk you through the steps of what kinds of questions you should be asking about your characters to figure out what makes them unique and how they fit into the story. One exercise I really like from this is the idea of interviewing your character. She’s also the author of several best-selling novels So she knows what she’s talking about. That class is one of over 25,000 classes you’ll find on Skillshare about writing filmmaking and more. If you want to give it a try, then click on the link in the description of this video to get two months of Skillshare for free including access to all of their classes! Thanks for watching everyone and a big thank you to my patrons for supporting this channel on Patreon and as well as to all of you for subscribing to this channel. This channel just passed 500,000 subscribers this week, which is just incredible! Thank you so much! More videos on the way! Keep writing everyone!