The Austin Chronicle


Rated PG, 144 min. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, Bob Hoskins, Maggie Smith.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 13, 1991

Hook breaks the cardinal rule of J.M. Barrie's timeless fantasy -- it grows up. The movie casts Williams in the role of an adult Peter Banning, a busy corporate raider, who has no memory of his life prior to his adoption at the age of twelve. We, of course, know he was that leader of Lost Boys, Peter Pan. Peter, the grown-up, has become a Type-A achiever in the business world (“a pirate,” as Granny Wendy none-too-subtlely observes). So when Hook (Hoffman) kidnaps Peters’ kids and spritely Tinkerbell (Roberts) comes to escort Peter on a rescue mission back to Never Never Land, Peter just thinks he's having some kind of drunken hallucination and opts to go with the flow. A little fairy dust? What the hell? And it's back to Never Never Land to reclaim his forgotten youth and hostage babies. Hook goes through a lot of contortions to arrange this set-up and devotes a good part of the first half-hour to its elaboration. But, honestly, who cares about Pan the man; it's the boy we want. Leave the problems of the grown-ups looking for lost childhoods to the pop psychologists forging theories of Peter Pan Syndromes and Cinderella Complexes. Give us the kid who refuses to mature -- a kid who flies, who crows, and is in love with his own shadow -- a kid who knows there's no turning back and that it's all or nothing. Never Never Land's not a place that adults can return to whenever the spirit moves them. So, while the opening segments of Hook are tedious exposition that detail the contemporary pretext for reviving the story, the magic belatedly begins once we arrive in Never Never Land. The sets are lavishly detailed, the shots literally burst with activity, the John Williams score swells more grandly with every breath. It lures you into belief but gives you nothing solid to latch on to. Hook has you marveling at the nuts-and-bolts work of producers and assistant directors, but never at the intrinsic imaginativeness of the story. It's as if Spielberg calculatedly set out to make a perennial classic -- certain folly if ever there were. And when Peter and Tink fly into the face of the full moon, the whole thing resembles nothing so much as Spielberg's still legendary blockbuster E.T. -- but without the sparkle. Also totally without sparkle is Williams' performance, a keen disappointment because it was greatly anticipated as perfect casting. Hoffman's Hook is delicious, as is Hoskins' salty Smee. Like the Lost Boys, these pirates just want the games to continue. It's as if Hook enticed Peter to return to the island not out of some long-simmering need for revenge but so the captain could, like Sherlock Holmes with his Moriarty, finally have a worthy opponent. Probably due to the mechanics of shooting Tinkerbell's blue-screened miniature fairy scenes separately, Roberts often seems like she's stuck on the sidelines with little to contribute but stock reaction shots and that trademarked laugh of hers. And the Lost Boys are a contemporary, rather than timeless, bunch decked out like Ninja Turtle warriors, sporting mohawks and skateboards. I readily confess to being a devotee of the Mary Martin version of this story and that it will always hold a special place in my childhood memory. But I love it enough that I want the story to have continued life for future generations of children. Giving the hook to this Hook is no enviable task.

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