Bad Movies We Love: Steven Spielberg's Hook

Hook 7.jpgBy now, Super 8 has either rekindled your fondness for Steven Spielberg's whimsy or -- well, it hasn't. Either you embrace nostalgia and the comforts of epic, innocent fantasy, or you're purposely done with them until another Toy Story comes out. I sympathize with the latter option, especially if you think the keywords "Steven Spielberg" and "innocence" call to mind Hook, the 1991 kiddie blockbuster that asks, "What if we took the story of Peter Pan, threw it out, and invented an unrelated story about a grumpy man who begrudgingly saves his kidnapped children?" Tah-dah! Yuck. And yet, I found a few reasons to love this troubling movie. Chortle with me as I rank them!

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Let's start with some gentle hatred: Hook is way too mopey and 1991-riffic (synonyms) to be considered a sequel to or variation on J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. Not even close. That's like if Katy Perry released a squawky, gawky cover of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" and credited Emily Bronte as an active co-writer. My god, please! No literary cred for you, Katy! Similarly, we're bearing witness as Spielberg straps a cupcake bra to a children's classic and plunges roman candles thereon to guarantee a nine-figure explosion at the box office. Taste flies right out the window with the frosting.

Hook is based on an idea Barrie had to write a story about Peter Pan's adulthood. It never came to fruition for undisclosed reasons, but I imagine one of them is that the story of Peter Pan is just too timeless for a foray into middle age. You don't need to update something that's chronically relevant (or chronically chronic). I forgive Spielberg for the error in judgment because there are five giant reasons this 140-minute movie is worthy of love in 2011, and I'm prepared to recite them like wee ole Smee.

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5. Strange, unnecessary, excellent cameos

Hook gives us Robin Williams as a grown Peter Pan who has officially mutated into a corporate schmuck. When he takes his family to visit his childhood orphanage run by the now-80-year-old Wendy (played by 56-year-old Maggie Smith), a hook-handed vandal kidnaps the children and whisks them off to what appears to be a well-embellished miniature golf course called Neverland. Peter must reconcile his long-buried past, venture to Neverland with the just-arrived Tinker Bell (Julia Roberts), and save his spawn from Captain Hook's (Dustin Hoffman) grasp. Do we need more characters? Spielberg insists we need not just an Emerald City's worth of walk-ons, but enough celebrity appearances for a few seasons of ABC's Hotel ('83-'88). Phil Collins plays a police inspector; sci-fi vet Nick Tate turns up as a dueling pirate; George Lucas and Carrie Fisher appear as a canoodling couple; Spielberg godchild Gwyneth Paltrow debuts as young Wendy; David Crosby and Jimmy Buffett join Hook's crew and wear their everyday clothes to blend in. And before you can wonder whether one of the Lost Boys is a growth-stunted Goonie, you see Glenn Close playing a male pirate (pictured) who Hook jettisons in the first 45 minutes. Patty Hewes would've argued her way out of that phony beard.

4. Aw, the delightful torture of children

You have to wonder why Spielberg sensed mass audience appeal in a movie that repeatedly shows Peter's kids getting kidnapped, hauled off, suspended in a pirate net, or begging for mercy. Ah, juvenile torture. Reminds me of other kiddie classics like Ransom or Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

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3. Julia Roberts as Marsha Mason as Zac Efron as Tinker Bell

Reportedly, Spielberg found Julia Roberts difficult to direct because she'd just broken up with her Steel Magnolias paramour Dylan McDermott. Factually, I find Julia Roberts difficult to resist because her spin on Tinker Bell is a boyish coquette in a shag wig. Look at her! The Goodbye Girl subsumes Charlie St. Cloud. Ashton Kutcher mates with Laura Prepon and delivers Topher Grace! Tatum O'Neal gives birth to Kristy McNichol, who is pregnant with Tatum O'Neal! Something! You (shouldn't) understand.

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2. The skateboarding, Happy Meal-consuming Lost Boys

Kudos must go to Leonard Maltin, who once said of the '90s-updated Lost Boys in Hook, "[They] look as if they'd be at home in a McDonald's commercial." Indeed, these leather-togged, feather-banded scamps are the most annoying, camera-ready freaks at the skate park. First of all, they really skateboard. There's a ramp and everything, like they're hanging out in the weird kid underground from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Second, the Lost Boys community is a wildly depressing refuge, a Newsies bunkhouse without the songs, dances, or general productivity, let alone commitment to journalism. I give the producers credit for chasing the zeitgeist of '91, but in a better film, some of these kids would wear Zubaz and listen to C+C Music Factory.

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1. The peerless Dustin Hoffman

While Robin Williams saunters through Hook as the maddened misanthrope Peter, Dustin Hoffman absolutely relishes his role as the original drag king of pirate culture. Take note, Gore Verbinski: Hoffman's flair and flamboyance imbue the last half of this film with enough magic to compensate for the overly ornate, underwritten fairy tale and comprise his best single performance outside of his Oscar-nominated roles. He is better here than he is in All the President's Men and Marathon Man, easily. And he crows "Good form!" and "Bad form!" like a maniacal gymnastics coach throughout, which at least deserves a Saturn Award nomination and a club sandwich. Though Bob Hoskins is also enjoyable as the henchman Smee, he merely contributes to Hoffman's gusto with straight-man setups. Enjoy below; if you haven't seen the movie in 20 years, you'll be shocked to see how well this performance has aged. Unlike Zubaz. 🙁


  • ZebedeeDooDah says:

    "It's Peter Flocking Pan!"
    "Oh, flog off"
    Bob Hoskins is the man.

  • Chasmosaur says:

    Your #1 nailed it. I always thought Dustin Hoffman was awesome in this movie.

  • metroville says:

    Hoffman's 'Hook': The lovechild of Dorothy Michaels and Jeremy Irons.

  • Louis Virtel says:

    Yesssss. And with slight Weird Al residue.

  • Strawberry Pain says:

    Louis, I love your Bad Movies We Love articles so much that I want to have a sex change and marry you.

  • Cameron says:

    Spielberg's follies: 1941, Hook, The Terminal, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

  • Louis Virtel says:

    Let's meet in the middle and change both our genders to Huge-Smiling Pixie!

  • Strawberry Pain says:

    Deal! It'd be my pleasure to irritate Spielberg with you.

  • Sarah says:

    Another one I saw in the theater. Remember how it kind of became a musical in the middle when that little girl sang that weird song? Sadly, I still remember how the song goes. Even more sad, it is now stuck in my head. Oh man I just looked it up and John Williams wrote that song!

  • Margo says:

    ...that Eric Bana sex scene in Munich...

  • ^YES. This. What was that?

  • metroville says:

    Try sitting next to your mom in the theater while watching that scene, which I had to endure (my mom, not yours).

  • Proman says:

    Ah yes, the headlines that lie. The thing is not only "Hook" innovative and great, it is actually kind of magnificent.
    And one of the things that makes it so great - the intentionally messy and totally great art design is probably one of the main reasons it is so misunderstood. Hook is a fantastic movie and had it come from anyone other than the man, no one would have dared even imply it was short of good. "Hook" takes what made previous amblin classics look Goonies so great and ramps it up to eleven. Some of the most memorable and favorite scenes of my childhood are in this movie - and those include the beginning and ending scenes in the real world. I absolutely adore hook in it's Gilbert and Sullivantesque glory.
    So shame on you all.

  • Maxim says:

    Wow what a moronic piece. One would hope that the moron who wrote this artcile would actually understand what it's about before complaining about the plot.
    The story of Hook may be an inversion (look it up) of the original premise but it certainly is neither random nor unrelated. It is actually a true way to continue the story by shifting the dynamic around. It's a great film and deserves to be called nothing else. The only thing "troubling" is your need to be so dismissive.

  • Louis Virtel says:

    It's a bad movie. And you spelled "article" wrong.

  • Meh... says:

    This movie came out when I was at their target audience age, so naturally I LOVE THIS MOVIE!! Hoffman's Hook was by far the most villainous, cheesy, and perfectly executed Hook.
    But I didn't realize there were more cameos than Collins and Close--definitely gonna watch it tonight to spot the rest! 🙂
    Hook, Hook, Give Us the Hook!!!

  • Lisa says:

    One of my favorite movies *ever*. I saw it when it first came out in the theater, and I've probably seen it half a dozen times since then. Great, great, great movie. I don't know what it's doing in a "Bad Movies" column.

  • Pat says:

    Wow. Hook was a great movie. Still is a family favorite. Peter Pan has been retold in so many ways and this was a fantastic take on it. My kids love it. I love it. Why would this guy would dog it just means he has no taste in the classics. This movie is a timeless classic.

  • krash13 says:

    This is a great movie. But the new Peter Pan film that came out only a couple years ago was a bad movie!

  • Margo says:

    What are you saying about my mother?

  • Terry says:

    This may seem strange, but this has always been one of my favorite Spielberg movies. At the time this movie came out, my children were just leaving their grade school era and getting ready to become teenagers. The whole theme of leaving the innocence behind for adult responsibility was very touching to me as I watched my own children grow up. To this day, I can't watch some of the scenes in this movie, including the scene were the child refers to his "happy place" ie, the memory of his mother without crying. So, even though some may ridicule it, I will always look at this movie with great fondness.

  • MIKE says:

    Although I disagree with your overall assessment (I think there was a good movie in there that just got buried under all the...everything), your #1 hits it on the head.
    That said, I find that the several minutes between the beginning of the abduction and the revelation to Peter of his picture in the book to be some of the finest filmmaking Spielberg has ever done...wait for this genre. I've always dug the way he (with a big boost from John Williams) builds tension there and gets the heart of the story going. Also love the demented scar on the walls throughout the house.

  • MIKE says:

    Forgot to add Hoffman's genius William F. Buckley impersonation. Who saw that one coming?

  • Alejandro says:

    If you do not like HOOK, you must be a grown-up...grown ups are Pirates...we kill Pirates.