As Netflix continuously piles its shelves with reams of original projects, it’s worth reminding ourselves that they started out by sharing some of the greatest Hollywood titles ever made. So, with Netflix Flashback, we’re looking back at some of the platform’s classic films and seeing if they stand up to our misty-eyed memories. Next up is Steven Spielberg’s 1991 fantasy film Hook.
Spielberg had always been a huge fan of Peter Pan. His obsession with Pan began in childhood when his mother read to him the magical stories about Neverland, prompting an 11-year-old Spielberg to dabble in his first-ever dramatic production in school. A self-proclaimed “victim of the Peter Pan syndrome”, Spielberg has said on multiple occasions that “I still feel like Peter Pan. It has been very hard for me to grow up.”
Peter Pan’s flying abilities had a huge impact on his young mind as it was the first instance of the very notion of flying — way before he encountered superheroes like Superman. Ironically, Spielberg has a fear of flying – he also regrets the 1991 film. Unhappy with the film, he has often talked about how he “felt like a fish out of water” while making the film and was “insecure” as he “tried to paint over my insecurity with production value”.
What made Speilberg feel this way, you ask? Well, in a film that was made three decades back, set in a time when technology was not advanced enough to make brilliant visuals using CGI effects, attempting to make a film like Hook must have been a challenge. The film deals with the perpetual conspiracy theory: “What if Peter Pan grew up and walked out of Neverland?”
Well, in Hook, Peter Pan loses his childhood memories after falling in love with Wendy Darling’s granddaughter and lives in modern-day America as a workaholic, alcoholic executive who has no inkling about his magical past. Magic remains forgotten in the fast-paced world of commercialism where Pan, now Peter Banning, lives a cursed existence, devoid of warmth and love, neglecting his family to cater to his duties. Even when an old Wendy Darling, played by Maggie Smith, tries to jog his memory, he fails to think about his past.
Played by Robin Williams, it is indeed funny to see Peter Pan as a grumpy, cynical fellow who no longer holds the hope and inspiration of magic in his eyes. However, his routine is disrupted by the sudden and mysterious disappearance of his children Jack and Maggie who are kidnapped by Peter’s arch-nemesis, the main antagonist from the original works, Captain Hook.
When Peter follows Wendy’s advice and arrives at Neverland, the audience must prepare for a visual shock. Or rather, disappointment. The magical place that we have imagined since childhood as the perfect spot to escape reality turns out to be messy, cluttered and somewhat claustrophobic, populated by too many people and a lack of proper art direction. However, it is in Neverland that Peter’s abilities are challenged and he must find in himself the strength and faith to defeat Captain Hook with the help of Julia Roberts as Tinker Bell, who is irrevocably in love with Peter.
While Dustin Hoffman and Bob Hoskins as Captain Hook and his clumsy sidekick Smee do a brilliant job, especially in convincing Jack to turn against his father, Peter, Spielberg uses this trope as a characteristic of his to portray the dysfunctional father-son dynamic that is reflective of his childhood. It is endearing to see Peter woo over Jack yet again, and one can only hope for him to have learned his lesson.
While Hook is magically poignant and urges one to keep the faith and believe in themselves, it somehow seems banal, muddled and lost. While Speilberg could have probably executed a remake of the original way better, he seems to lose his voice in the middle of the film. The Peter Pan myth deserves a lot more creative ingenuity, especially from a filmmaker of Spielberg’s stature. Better stylized action sequences, better art direction or even better casting (because, let’s face it, neither Williams nor Hoffman are good swordsmen) could have led to a much more memorable product.
At this point, Hook just seems to be a “what if” controversy stretched into the length of a feature film that understandably made Spielberg’s mettle “insecure”.