A long time ago, I remember reading a rumor about a screening of the first cut of Steven Spielberg’s film, Hook.
The story goes, that Steven was not happy with the film he ended up making. See, Spielberg has apparently been dreaming of making some kind of Peter Pan film since the early 1980’s, basically, since the time his career started. He related to the story of a boy who never wanted to grow up, hence most of his early films reflect a child like glee and energy to them. It made sense that he would find it appealing to do a story about Peter Pan in some fashion.
It was a message and theme that he wanted to explore for years but after watching that first cut, Spielberg felt he missed the mark. And he missed it FAR. The rumor even goes so far as to even say that he went to his car after the screening with his wife, and proceeded to cry that he “failed” at the movie he truly wanted to make. He dreamed of making an amazing Peter Pan movie, and felt that he didn’t succeed in doing so.
Now ok, let’s take this story with a grain of salt, but let’s also acknowledge some truth.
The film DID under-perform at the Box Office back in 1991, and the reviews were brutal.
While I don’t know if I buy the story of him crying in his car, I think it would be silly to at least not acknowledge that the film under performing made it hard for Spielberg to feel that he succeed in his goal. In 1991, by both numbers and in printed critical reviews, Hook was a disappointment. Harsher folks would even say it’s a failure.
But since the film’s release you wouldn’t think Hook had failed. If anything, since the tragic event that happened on August 11, 2014, it is apparent that Hook is far more loved then history would like us to believe.
My own personal feelings on Hook are interesting.
See, I saw Hook at the EXACTLY the right age to see it. I was eight years old when the movie came out. By then I had already watched the Disney version. I of course, really liked the Disney animated film, but I was more of a Jungle Book kind of kid. Peter Pan was great, but not one of my favorites. I think a lot of that stems from not actually relating to Peter himself. I understood Wendy, John and Michael, but I didn’t get Peter. He was dangerous, didn’t follow rules, and didn’t understand why the Darling children wanted to go home. See, I loved the idea of visiting Neverland, but I never wanted to STAY in Neverland, and Peter didn’t get that. And the main reason was simple, he didn’t have a family like the Darling kids, i.e., He didn’t have a family like mine. I felt sorry for the guy. I felt sorry that he didn’t have a family like the Darling children did. One that would love him back. (Man…for an eight year old, I was a complex kid.)
But when I saw Hook, something changed. Some how, seeing Peter as an adult, learning to be a good father, and seeing where he came from, I started rooting for him. And actually seeing all the great Neverland fantasy elements (the flying, the pirates, the mermaids etc.) in live action started opening my imagination.
I became Peter Pan obsessed. I started to love the Disney movie more now (and of course, in my eight year old head, the Disney movie and Hook were in the same continuity) I came up with my own Peter Pan stories (maybe one day I’ll find my drawings of my Peter Pan in space concept called Pan 3000). I pretended to fly and to fight pirates.
Years pass, I became more film literate, and in my late teens and early twenties, I was well underway to being a proper film fan…aka, a film snob.
And in those times of being a young Film Snob there’s this strange mentality that you have to pick a popular movie to hate because it goes against what makes a “GOOD” movie. Spielberg movies were easy targets since he’s had so many films that are “mainstream.” I decided to pick Hook. It’s like being the new guy in prison. You have to fight the BIGGEST guy to prove that you are tough.
Boy did my friends hate me for that.
But I didn’t pick it just to hate on it. When I saw it again at that time, I started to see problems with the film. The Lost Boys themselves seem like this outdated remix of ’90s bad boy cliches (down to them having skateboards) and Home Alone devices to fight the pirates. Robin was “pretty good” in the film, but I felt (at the time) that his Peter seemed undefined. It’s not a focused character, and that’s mostly due to the writing and the directing, not so much to Williams himself. The film is also horribly sappy, too sappy for a late teens/early twenties beginning Film Snob to handle.
So that’s how I felt for years. And every time I said that I didn’t like Hook as much as I did when I was a kid, I usually got a “WHAAAAAT?” from someone who’s my age or younger.
I dealt with it… but I was gonna stick to my opinion. I wasn’t going to let “nostalgia” take over what I think is one of Spielberg’s “lesser” films.
When the tragic news of Robin Williams passing came out, many folks went to his dramas to revisit. Films like Dead Poets Society, The Fisher King, Good Will Hunting etc.
Many more…went to Hook.
To live would be an awfully big adventure.
— Quincy (@Quincetessence) August 12, 2014
"I know why I wanted to grow up. I wanted to be a father" #Hook
— Chris Flaherty (@ChrisFlaertweet) August 14, 2014
Basically on the verge of tears while watching #Hook. This movie is so magical.
— Keely (@keelyarod) August 14, 2014
And it goes on and on and on.
As I saw the out poor of love for Robin Williams and this movie, something became clear. Despite what critics said in 1991. Despite the box office attendance. Hell, even despite how Spielberg himself feels about the film, Hook became a beloved classic.
This is a standard case of a movie being owned by the audience, and how that audience made the movie theirs.
I personally haven’t seen it in ages, but I did lighten up on my opinion on the film as the years went by. Funny enough, my own life found two ways to make me look back on my feelings on Hook.
In 2007 I was attending film school. I had to direct a scene for class using a script to an older movie. I chose the flick Harvey, and I had to cast the role of an old man who used to be in jail. I cast this older gentleman, who seemed nice and sweet, and I looked at his resume. Turns out, he was a pirate in Hook. While I was still in my phase of saying that Hook wasn’t good, I couldn’t help but ask the guy a TON of questions about Hook. How were Spielberg and Robin Williams? How was the shoot? Was it fun? Blah blah blah.
The actor was very nice to answer as much as he could, but even he admitted that it was only a small role, a glorified extra. But I didn’t mind. Of all a sudden, I met a man who was a part of a film that (while I’m currently critical of) was HUGE part of my childhood.
So, you have to imagine things got crazier for me when just one year later….I got the chance to direct someone who’s role in Hook was, how should we say…significant.
I had the opportunity to direct actor Dante Basco (aka Rufio) for a tiny bit for this video sketch.
Dante was great to work with on this. We only had a couple of hours to shoot this, but in that time, Dante was fun and was gracious enough to let us call back to his iconic role more times then I though he would have.
The idea that at that time, the only other person to direct Dante to crow like Peter Pan was Steven Spielberg …and me. This pretty much blows my mind even to this day.
After shooting, we hung out and talked a bit about him finishing up his voiceover work (I believe he was getting ready to wrap up on Avatar: The Last Airbender). Dante still had the Hook sword in his hand as we were talking. I of course couldn’t stop looking at it. My friend Eddie Kim (who wrote the sketch and was one of the two robbers in the video) called me out and pretty much said “Hey Dante, I think Justin wants to hold the sword.”
Dante laughed and went, “Dude, of course.”
As I got a good look at the prop, years of me watching that movie started coming back. Memories of me at eight rewatching Hook over and over came rushing back.
Dante soon showed me the tip of the sword to point out a couple ofscratch marks on the blade. He was explaining to me how those scratches got there was because this was the sword they used to film the scene in which Rufio drew the line in the dirt, asking the Lost Boys to cross to the line if they believe if he was Pan or not. The scene that lead into THIS great moment from the flick…..
I geeked out, and started spitting out dialogue from the scene right in front of Dante. It….was…embarrassing. I only let myself geek out for a moment, quickly composed myself, and acted like an adult again.
After that day, it couldn’t become any clearer to me….I still loved Hook.
Yes, I can still see the problems that got to me when I was younger, but man…the best elements in the film still have a strong hold on me to this day.
I can gush for days on how this is one of John Williams best scores (Of which I am listening to RIGHT NOW as I write this.)
But no greater example of how great Williams score was, how energetic Steven’s direction was, and how much fun Robin was having when the film got to Peter’s first flight officially back as Pan…
It’s also clear how this word is still a big part of my vocabulary….
Even at my most stubborn days when I said “Hook was no good”, I’d be a fool to not at least acknowledge that Dustin Hoffman and Bob Hopkins were AMAZING as Captain Hook and Smee.
I’ve always been a sucker for sword play and superheroes, so seeing a man fly and fight with a sword in a great fight scene still wins.
And…of course….Robin Williams is just great in the film.
In the third act of the film, Williams found that happy medium of the fun, daredevil swashbuckler that is Peter Pan, and the good father that wants to take his kids and go home. He makes it look effortless, and it’s the reason why it’s so clear that HE was the right man to play an adult Peter Pan.
The film may have it’s flaws, but there’s no denying that it obviously works despite them. Some films are forgettable and bland, but there is enough life, energy and personality in Hook that I’m sure the filmmakers didn’t even know was in it. That’s the great and mysterious thing about movies. It may take time, but you will never know when a film finds it’s audience, and I honestly think that Hook was well made enough to grab that audience.
So to my generation (despite him not being a kid) Robin Williams IS Peter Pan, and the grip that Hook has on us is quite strong.
Now excuse me….I think it’s time that I revisited this film and give it a proper viewing.