[Note: This editorial was originally published on a prior date, but is being re-posted in anticipation of the release of Spielberg’s Ready Player One.]
Hook is one of the most curious entries in director Steven Spielberg’s illustrious filmography. Regarded by many as one of the worst films of his career, the movie opened in 1991 to solid box office but scathing reviews, and it’s hard not to look at Spielberg’s next film—Jurassic Park—as a direct answer to criticisms thrown his way for Hook. The director himself even now admits that he’s not a fan of the film, but a fascinating divide in public consciousness exists. Ask anyone who was an adult when Hook came out and they’ll tell you it’s terrible, but talk to someone who was a child or pre-teen at the time of release, and they likely have nothing but adoration for Spielberg’s twist on the Peter Pan story.
I’m firmly in the latter camp, but since I hadn’t seen Hook all the way through in years, I began to wonder if my opinion on the movie would change if I tried to watch it with fresh eyes, attempting to be as objective as possible. Would nostalgia keep my love for Hook intact, or would I now see the movie with a more cynical mindset, one in which that childlike wonder was shoved aside, leaving the film’s flaws laid bare with little to no redeeming qualities left?
Like nearly everyone else my age, I was obsessed with Hook in the early 90s. I can clearly remember listening to John Williams’ score on CD over and over again with Rufio sword in hand, acting out all the pirate-fighting with my own personal soundtrack putting me inside the movie. I sorely wanted to partake in that feast of colorful pies, I coveted the vast array of odd mischief-causing gadgets the Lost Boys had invented, and I was prone to random bouts of yelling “Bangarang!” while jumping off the back of my couch.
The funny thing is, this seems to be a common experience among those around my age (okay, maybe not the couch-jumping). Clearly Hook struck a nerve with folks in a very specific developmental period, and it’s not too hard to see why. The sets Spielberg constructed for the Neverland sequences were massive and, from a child’s point of view, magical. The world building is impressive, as Spielberg crafts a Neverland that is lush with colors and larger-than-life characters, brought to life by a very game Dustin Hoffman, Bob Hoskins, and Robin Williams, who was coming off a more dramatic period in his career.
Indeed, Hook marks a sort of turning point for Williams who, following three intense pictures—Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, and The Fisher King—found his inner child to bring adult Peter Pan to life. He would follow Hook with iconic performances in Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire, and it’s that sly playfulness (even when he’s being a jerk) that I think I and many others responded to in his portrayal of Peter Banning.