What if Peter Pan grew up?
This review pulls me in all directions. I want to be kind to the movie, to the disc, and to Steven Spielberg, but in many ways I just can’t be nice.
I was sixteen when Hook was released in the theatres. I was not that impressed by it. The teen years tend to bring an overinflated sense of your own maturity, and I certainly looked at Hook like, “I’m too old for this sort of thing.” It’s now nine years later, and up until the DVD found its way into my hands, that first theatrical viewing has been the only time I’ve watched it. I think in that time I’ve relaxed slightly. Now that I really am more mature (or at least older), I watch the things I loved as a child with whimsy and a greater appreciation for the joy they bring. At the Jackson house, you’ll be just as likely to find the Cartoon Network or the WB Saturday morning lineup playing on the TV as more serious fare like CNN.
It’s for that reason — the love of things linked to childhood — that I want to be kind to Hook. The story of Peter Pan is the epitome of a child’s dream to never grow up, and Steven Spielberg captures that delightful feeling. The story is interesting as well: A grown-up Peter Pan, trapped for so long in the Real World, must return to Neverland and face his forgotten, magical roots. But, the movie falls short in several ways.
Peter Banning (Robin Williams, Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poet’s Society, The Birdcage) is a successful mergers and acquisitions lawyer, with a wife and two kids. He grew up as an orphan, but Wendy (Maggie Smith, Sister Act, The First Wives Club) found parents for him. Wendy, long ago, was the inspiration for the character in J.M. Barrie’s book, “Peter Pan.” Now, a wing of an orphanage is being dedicated to her, and Peter and his family travel to London to visit the elderly lady who is so special in their lives. While the grown-ups are off at the dedication dinner, Peter’s children, Jack (Charlie Korsmo, Dick Tracy, What About Bob?) and Maggie (Amber Scott, her only screen credit) disappear under mysterious circumstances. A note is found inviting Peter to follow them to Neverland, written by the nefarious Captain Hook.
Wendy reveals to Peter that the stories in the Peter Pan book are true, and that he must confront his repressed memories to save his children. Later that night, Peter is visited by the wee faerie Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts, Pretty Woman, Notting Hill). He still cannot grasp that there is anything supernatural at work, so Tinkerbell incapacitates Peter and carries him off to Neverland. He awakes in the storybook land of pirates and Indians, mermaids and faeries. He soon discovers that Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman, Kramer Vs. Kramer, All The President’s Men) is holding his children captive. He confronts the aging pirate, who cannot believe that the middle-aged lawyer standing before him — who can’t even fly! — is his spry nemesis Peter Pan. Peter is given three days to be able to rescue his children.
Peter is led to the hideout of the Lost Boys. No, not the vampires; the orphaned children he used to lead. Filling that role now is Rufio, a young punk with spiky, multihued hair. With the help of the Lost Boys and Tinkerbell, Peter regains the memories of his childhood and the skills that enabled him to fight against Hook. At last, he can face the pirate to rescue his kids.
Hook is a magical story, but I have a host of problems with it. First is the acting. While not the worst role of her career, Julia Roberts’ Tinkerbell character is so poorly written that it makes her look bad. Tinkerbell talks (particularly in the scenes at the beginning in the real world) like she’s in a storybook, with lines like “Oh, what fun we will have!” It sounds so out of place. The first half of the movie so firmly entrenches Peter Banning’s complete oppositeness to his former Peter Pan self, that it’s hard to believe he really is “the Pan” when the transformation takes place. Robin Williams can play serious characters, as he ably demonstrated in Dead Poet’s Society and Good Will Hunting, but the role of Peter Pan just screams for him to make use of his manic comedic talents. Even when has gotten in touch with his inner child, he is still too serious. It’s a good thing that the little girl picked to play his daughter only appeared in this movie. She’s shrill and annoying, yelling every line like she’s on a playground. Of the leads, only Dustin Hoffman becomes lost in his character, thus is the only one that’s truly believable.
My next gripe is with the elaborate sets. They’re amazing, like an artist’s illustrations ripped from the page and brought to exquisite life on a sound stage. But, that’s all they seem like: elaborate sets. There’s no life to them, and they distract from the action taking place in them.
Lastly, the movie is too long and it drags. Hook is close to two and a half hours long, far too long to keep the interest of most kids. It takes 35 minutes for Peter to arrive in Neverland. It’s another 40 minutes until the food fight scene when he finally begins to believe in his own Pan-errific powers. Another 20 minutes go by until he learns to fly. Peter’s and Hook’s duel begins around the two hour mark. I don’t mind long movies, but only if there’s enough action to carry the length, and most of Hook is just filler.
Even if the movie isn’t entirely satisfying, Columbia’s DVD release is amazing. The picture is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic. The movie has a palette that is all over the place, from stark, dark scenes in the real world, to the earth tones of the pirate’s lair, to the garish colors of the Lost Boy’s hideout. Every bit of it is detailed and accurate. No digital artifacts were visible. The video is nothing short of perfect. Audio is presented in Dolby Surround and Dolby Digital 5.1. The 5.1 track has wide frequency range to all channels, and uses the surrounds for the score and dynamic effects extensively. My only quibble is that John Williams’ score is mixed perhaps a bit too loud, and can drown out the sound effects and dialogue in parts. Overall though, it’s one of the best tracks I’ve ever heard.
Here’s something that I don’t understand. Columbia releases a DVD for Region 1 that only contains a couple trailers (Hook and Jumanji) as extras. Then, they plan to release a Region 2 disc in May that includes a bevy of photo galleries and other extras. Why is that? The packaging lists production notes among the extras. I could not find them on the disc, though there are two pages of notes in the liner notes.
Hook‘s audio and video presentation alone would make it a terrific showcase for your system. If you like the movie, it’s reasonably priced at $24.99US (or, if you’re reading this close to its publication date, you can still pre-order it at online retailers at a discount).
If you look closely, you can catch a few cool little cameos. Singer Phil Collins plays a Scotland Yard investigator. Singers Jimmy Buffett and David Crosby, as well as Glenn Close, play pirates. In one of her first screen roles, Gwyneth Paltrow plays Wendy in a flashback. Three of Dustin Hoffman’s children appear as well.
I’m very glad to see that great attention was paid to the transfer. Not many of Steven Spielberg’s movies are available on DVD, and I hope that Hook is a harbinger of great releases of Jaws, E.T., Jurassic Park, and the Indiana Jones series.