Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 2, 2012)
It always seemed somewhat strange to me that Hook is considered one of Steven Spielberg's "B-list" titles. That meant it’s lumped in with lesser lights such as Amistad, Always, and Empire of the Sun. This makes little sense to me because Hook actually did quite well at the box office; it made $120 million, which may not approach the mega-bucks of E.T. or Jurassic Park but seems substantial enough to warrant a greater profile for the film.
However, when confronted with the movie itself, I can better understand its semi-obscure status. For one, despite its apparent financial success, it actually was something of an underachiever. While $120 million would be fine for most folks, it's not all that great for Spielberg, especially when one considers that it’s a broad, family film. If you remove the dramas from the list and consider only Spielberg’s action/fantasy films, Hook drops way to the bottom of that list. It only bests mega-bomb 1941 when this is taken into account. (Which is fairly amazing: of the man's many action/fantasy films, Hook's $120 million is the second least successful! Only 1941 grossed less than $100 million.)
Because of this incomparable track record, Hook was supposed to be the big film of the Christmas 1991 season, but it couldn't even take the crown for just the winter. Disney's Beauty and the Beast raked in more than $171 million and left Hook in the dust. Ultimately,
Hook only could rise to finish in fifth place for 1991, after
Beast, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Terminator 2 and The Silence of the Lambs. That was a pretty weak fate for a film with such a strong pedigree.
Even if Hook had done much better at the box office, though, I still think it'd be regarded as a lesser film simply because it is a lesser film; this is the sight of Spielberg running on autopilot. While it's not his worst movie, Hook has to stand as one of Spielberg's most disappointing. He had long told of his desire to make a version of Peter Pan, and now he had his shot, with a $70 million budget – huge by 1991 standards - and an all-star cast that included Robin Williams as Pan, Dustin Hoffman as Hook, and Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell.
All of which proves the old saw about the whole being less than the sum of its parts. The detail that went into the sets and the entire production design is dazzling; clearly the crew went all-out to create a number of lavish and compelling settings.
Overall, the acting really is quite good. Roberts seems fairly flat as Tinkerbell, but Williams does a terrific job as Peter. He takes a surprisingly complex role - since he has to play Peter as older and serious as well as "classic Pan" - and makes all aspects of it realistic and believable. Williams is even able to come across as awkward in a public speaking situation and can deliver jokes in a flat manner, something I would have felt was impossible for him.
Hoffman is pretty good as Hook but he can't quite compete with more deliciously flamboyant performances like Jack Nicholson's turn as the Joker in Batman. Still, Hoffman gets the job done and makes for a fairly interesting Hook. Bob Hoskins does some nice work as Hook's long-suffering sidekick Smee as well.
The film's climax is really well done, too. Those kinds of action bits are Spielberg's trademark, and he doesn't disappoint as he delivers a finale that gives the affair a rousing conclusion. The ending is a bit over the top, but that's to be expected and actually welcomed in this kind of film.
As these past few paragraphs demonstrate, Hook has some positives. Unfortunately, negatives such as the film’s length heavily outweigh these. At more than two hours and 20 minutes, Hook is much too long and it moves at a snail's pace for the most part.
Spielberg seems far too concerned with establishing the back-story, an issue that appears almost meaningless. The audience is already familiar with most of the characters, and the plot's main twist - that Pan has grown up and become a serious adult - doesn't take an hour to explain. If I was so bored by what happened during much of the movie's first half, I can't imagine how bad it must be for younger kids.
Speaking of kids, they manifest some of Hook's biggest problems as well. The children who play Peter's offspring aren't an issue; little Amber Scott is appropriately adorable as youngest daughter Maggie, and Charlie Korsmo delivers a very good performance as son Jack. (Korsmo proved himself one of the better child actors of the early Nineties in films like Hook, Dick Tracy and What About Bob? but after only a couple of years in Hollywood, he turned his back on acting; after Hook, he only appeared in one more film - 1998's Can’t Hardly Wait - and apparently went on to studies at MIT.)
The kiddie problem here comes from the Benetton ad castoffs picked to play the Lost Boys. From the biggest to the smallest, they all share one characteristic: they're really annoying and they consistently bring down the film. These kids scream "Hollywood cute" so loudly that the sound drowns out any positives; when they were onscreen , all I could think was how much I hoped they'd leave.
Since the Lost Boys are a major component of the Neverland scenes, that's not a good thing. Their segments showed the film's flaws in other ways as well; at those times it was much easier to distinguish how much of Hook favored spectacle over heart.
It's pretty clear that by this point in his career, Spielberg was not the same filmmaker he was a decade or more earlier. He entered his "serious" stage and simply didn't seem very interested in fun movies. Hook was supposed to mark a return to that territory but all it demonstrated was how far out of touch he had become. He'd regain his talent for the spectacular with Jurassic Park, of course - its detractors have to recognize what an exciting piece of work it remains, and even its much maligned 1997 sequel (The Lost World) offers some terrific action pieces - but Hook clearly marked the demise of Spielberg's ability to create something along the lines of an ET.
Hook isn't without its charms, especially if you can wade through the cutesy Lost Boys and the film's excess of exposition. Still, it remains a tremendous disappointment. I wanted to like Hook when I saw it theatrically in 1991, I wanted to like Hook when I watched both of its DVD releases, and I wanted to like Hook when I watched the Blu-ray. Unfortunately, there's too little of consequence happening here. The movie has its moments but too few to make Hook anything more than an intermittently fun film.