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What Went Wrong? Hook

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Reviewing a bad movie that could’ve been better

Dustin Hoffman Captain Hook image
Amblin Entertainment

Most people have seen Hook (1991) right? It might be the family movie you watch over the holidays or just something for Sunday afternoon streaming on Netflix. As the follow up to such a popular children’s story in Peter Pan Hook was always going to be popular. But there are many elements of the film that fall short. So what went wrong and why do so many people see Hook as a bad movie?

I’ve taken a look at some movies, like 1993’s Super Mario Bros and 2016’s Suicide Squad here before. Movies that were big budget and high concept that reached for the stars but instead crashed and burned in a major way. They weren’t just critical bombs and financial disappointments. They also torpedoed any chance at launching profitable franchises.

This time, I’m going to take a look at a movie that is in the similar vein: 1991’s Hook. If you’ve seen Hook, you may be raising an eyebrow at me grouping it with the previous movies in my series. Hook wasn’t an overbooked, wasted opportunity (Suicide Squad). Nor an absolute tap-dancing dumpster fire (Super Mario Bros). But given its potential it was so…disappointing.

So lets a flight to Neverland and take a look at the world of Hook. We’ll see what was good about it, what went wrong, and how it could have been better.

SPOILERS: Although this movie is almost 30 years old, there are some spoilers in places. So beware!

What worked and why it had so much potential

There was so much that could have happened with Hook, so much room for originality and creativity. It certainly wasn’t a financial flop, making $300 million off of a $70 million budget, and it was nominated for five Academy Awards. Not only that, it featured an intriguing concept: what would have happened had Peter Pan actually grown up? We’ve seen so many iterations of the Peter Pan tale over the years. Rarely had it dealt with speculative fiction of what might happen if The Boy Who Never Grew Up suddenly…grew up?

Other than the concept, one of the other strong aspects of Hook was the star power it brought to the table. There was star power both in front of the camera and behind it.

The movie starred some of the biggest and brightest stars in Hollywood at the time (though we’ll get more into this in a bit). Plus it had some very strong supporting cast members. At the helm was legendary director Steven Spielberg. A man with family movie experience in E.T and fresh off of directing the mega-successful Indiana Jones movies. He’d go on to direct another family movie Jurassic Park soon afterwards. So experience in this genre was not a problem.

In particular, among the strong supporting cast was Bob Hoskins (who would go on to star in Super Mario Bros of all things) as Smee. Hoskins did a masterful job of walking the line between over-the-top and silly while also being dramatic. Not only that, but the introduction of a noticeable-yet-subtle homosexual undertone to the Smee-Hook relationship was somewhat revolutionary for its time. Also strong was Dante Basco as Rufio, the tough but ultimately sympathetic leader of the Lost Boys who dies defending Peter’s honour. This act forces Peter’s son, Jack, to reconcile with his father and, in the end, the crocodile gets Captain Hook again.

Indeed, one of the stronger elements of the Hook movie is the way it deals with the dynamic of Peter Pan (now Peter Banning) as a father. He becomes the same kind of grown-up he always wanted to avoid. In one of the movie’s most iconic moments, he regains his ability to fly by remembering his happiest thought. He left Neverland and grew up because he wanted to be a father.

That scene…it still gets me all these years later.

So despite all this potential and star power, why isn’t Hook more well-loved? Why is it remembered as a movie with middling reviews at best? It holds an abysmal 29% on Rotten Tomatoes. And why was it not a game-changing work that could have started a franchise?

Well, let’s take a look…

What Went Wrong?

Earlier, I mentioned that Hook had a lot of star-power in its cast, so it shouldn’t be a bad movie, right? It was also directed by Spielberg in his prime. But as any chef can tell you, great ingredients don’t always make a great meal. And Hook was not a great meal.

The biggest issue of the movie was the casting of the two leads. Robin Williams played Peter Pan. Dustin Hoffman played Captain Hook. That’s 11 Academy Award Nominations and 3 wins right there (and Hoffman had just won an Oscar for Rain Man two years prior). Both were very capable actors in their primes. But they were cast incorrectly.

Williams was…fine?…as Peter Pan. He tamed his trademark wild energy at the time and focused it into a more serious role until the time called for it towards the end. But he was a bit too inconsistent in his role. Like in his other more dramatic roles (i.e. What Dreams May Come), his “serious” acting sometimes comes across as too syrupy and over-the-top. His portrayal of Peter Pan was almost too melodramatic and, when he finally crosses back over to the side of the Lost Boys, almost too cheesy for the role.

The real role for Williams in this movie was that of Captain Hook. If Williams would have been cast as Captain Hook, he could have unleashed his manic energy for a good purpose. Captain Hook is all about being over-the-top and theatrical, and Williams would have nailed that part. However, there is also a darker element to Hook’s character. Williams might have been able to match this dark element but it would have been unlikely. One thing is for sure, though: Dustin Hoffman was not right for the role of Captain Hook. Hoffman is a great actor of course. He has played iconic roles and earned both critical and popular acclaim. But his performance as Captain Hook was too bland for this movie. Everything in Hook was over-the-top, syrupy, fantastical, or melodramatic. Hoffman’s performance was just…there. It was fine. But it could have been a lot more.

Speaking of poor casting choices, let’s talk about Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell for a minute. Julia Roberts did not need to be in this movie. She was not good enough to blend into the role. A role which made Tinkerbell less a character and more a ploy to sell tickets (indeed, she was a year removed from her star-making role in Pretty Woman).

This was a movie about a beloved fictional character, framed around an intriguing narrative, directed by a beloved auteur in Steven Spielberg. In this way, Hook was a bad movie as it suffered from a similar problem as something like Suicide Squad now. People were always going to see this movie. It didn’t need a “Hollywood choice” like Julia Roberts to sell tickets. This was a chance to put a potential rising star in a breakout role. Instead, they took the movie star who – like her counterparts – didn’t really fit and was dealing with relationship troubles at the time.

That brings us to the final misfire from Hook, that being the direction of Spielberg. Spielberg’s movies, while loved, always had that overly emotional and melodramatic bent. But he didn’t bring anything original and interesting to this story. He just leaned on his typical tricks and did a cookie-cutter job in which could have been an intriguing narrative. It had the stirring score by John Williams. Then it had the father-son dynamic that so many Spielberg movies have. It had big special effects and bright colours. But it didn’t have any real originality or charm. And I’m not the only one who thinks so: Spielberg himself notoriously disliked Hook, even though fans have taken more of a liking to it in recent years.

How Hook could have been better?

So with all of that in mind, how could Hook have been done better? How could it have become a classic of the fairytale and fantasy genre that it could have been?

Casting

The first step would have been to figure out the correct casting choice. So who would have been a better Peter Pan? You could convince me that Williams could have made Peter work if given a better Captain Hook to play off. In fact, one fascinating choice could have been to have Robin Williams play both Peter Pan and Captain Hook. It would have taken some editing trickery, of course. But to have him unleash all of the different facets of his personality and acting chops would have made for an interesting ride.

However, there could have been other choices to play Peter Pan that likely would have been more intriguing than Williams. The two that stand out the most are Rick Moranis and Tom Hanks. Both Moranis and Hanks had an everyman charm that would have gone over well with audiences and would have made them endearing as Peter Pan. Rick Moranis had recently finished filming the underrated Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. In which he played a goofball but well-meaning dad who ends up saving the day (sound familiar?). This same charm would have played well in Hook as Peter Pan, though having him play the stuck-up version of Peter Banning might have been tricky.

At this time Tom Hanks would have been a perfect choice for Peter Pan. He’d just recently finished starring in his breakout role in Big, where he played an actual boy trapped in a grown-up’s body. He had (and still has) that boyish and loveable charm that would have resonated with audiences as Peter Pan. He had not yet become the megastar he would develop into (Hook came out in 1991, and he didn’t win his back-to-back Oscars until 1994 & 1995). Tom Hanks wouldn’t have overpowered the role with his celebrity star power like Robin Williams did to a degree. With Hanks – or Moranis – in the role of Peter Pan, the character would have been more emotionally resonant and not as campy as Williams made it.

But what about the role of Captain Hook in this movie? Hook’s role is one that needed to be over-the-top and chew all the scenery. As we have discussed, Hoffman did not accomplish that task. But who could have done that effectively? We would need someone who was a quality actor that could handle any role. Plus, we would need someone who could be funny, but more to the point someone who could be sinister and threatening. We would also need someone who wouldn’t overpower the role with obvious celebrity star power.

That’s quite a lot of criteria to meet. But, the best choice for an actor that ticks all the boxes is the man who won the Academy Award for Best Actor the year before Hook was released: Jeremy Irons. Irons has made a career of playing the threatening, brilliant villain. He is always the highlight of the movie he is in, but he never overpowers it. In fact, he could have blended in with any of the actors for Peter Pan, whether it be Williams himself or even Moranis or Hanks.

In summary

The other thing that could have improved Hook? Let the story speak for itself. The way Hook was set up, it was a story about Peter Pan growing up, forgetting his roots, and ultimately redeeming himself. There was no need for nonsensical special effects or melodrama. The story will create the drama and the pathos; let the actors and the script do the rest. Indeed, a major issue with the original version of Hook is the fact that it really tried to pack too much into the film. It’s already a good story. Just let it tell itself.


Thanks for reading our review of Hook (1991). Do you agree or disagree with our points or have anything to add? If so, leave us a comment below.


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9 Bands You Forgot Played Themselves In Movies

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Wayne's World image
Paramount Pictures

There are more bands than you think that played themselves on the big screen. Here are nine bands you might’ve forgotten appeared in movies.

1. Alice Cooper – Wayne’s World (1992)

Being a teenager in the nineties was great for many reasons. Two of those being the release of the Wayne’s World movies. The genius that is Mike Myers created one of the best music-based films of all time. Plus, he convinced one of the greatest rock musicians of all time to be in it. If you’re not a geek like me, you may have forgotten that Alice Cooper was featured in the film. It had the iconic scene of Wayne and Garth meeting, Alice, backstage on bent knees. We’re not worthy, indeed. Alice himself pulls off the diva Rockstar brilliantly, even though he’s a genuine, down-to-earth guy who plays a lot of golf.

2. Primus – Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)

Let’s try and erase the recent Bill & Ted movie from our memory and head back to 1991 for their bogus journey. They come from the future to kill the non-robot versions of themselves and ruin their performance at a Battle of the Bands competition. What’s cool is the band who are playing before them. Californian alt-metal kings Primus. Although the clip is only short, they play themselves and sound as you would expect. Epic.

3. Fall Out Boy – Sex Drive (2008)

You’d be forgiven for forgetting about this one. The teen sex comedy from 2008 is forgettable and won’t really appeal to anyone apart from its teen target audience. If you can sit through all the cringe-inducing moments, you will spot pop-rockers Fall Out Boy. They are performing in a barn in front of some drunk Amish teenagers. There’s a reason for that, but I won’t bore you with it here. What is good, is the soundtrack of the film. As well as Fall Out Boy, it features Airbourne, AC/DC and weirdly, Kenny Loggins.

4. Twisted Sister – Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

Paul Reuben’s character Pee Wee Herman made his big-screen outing in 1985. The children’s show star had a scene where he is being chased through a studio parking lot. Unbeknown to him, glam rockers Twisted Sister are recording a music video on a car. Lead singer Dee Snider is always up for a laugh, so it’s no surprise they’re featured. The clip is brilliant. Pee Wee’s prop-laden bike is just about to crash into Twisted Sister and the look on Dee’s face is genius. Go check out the clip.

5. David Bowie – Zoolander (2001)

Who can forget the brilliant Zoolander? Starring Ben Stiller as the dippy model, it’s one of the funniest comedies ever made. One of the best scenes of the film is the walk-off. This involved Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson’s characters doing a catwalk-off. Of sorts. Can you remember who refereed it? The legend himself, David Bowie. It’s not the first time Bowie was in a movie – remember Labyrinth? But this time, he plays himself. And does it with all the cool swagger you would expect.

6. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – Clueless (1995)

I can’t say that I was a massive fan of this teen comedy at the time. The plot revolves around Alicia Silverstone’s character giving her friend a makeover. The premise doesn’t sound like it lends itself to a cool band cameo. You’d be wrong, though. There’s a scene where the lead characters go watch a gig. The band that are playing are The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. The Boston ska-punk legends are only on stage for a moment, but it’s a slick clip. It certainly brings the film up a level on the cool stakes.

7. Daft Punk – Tron: Legacy (2010)

This sequel to the original sci-fi classic is a cracking movie. The visuals and effects are stunning, as is the atmosphere of the film. The music to the film is also rather special. A futuristic and dystopian movie could only have one act doing the score, and that’s Daft Punk. It works a treat. The music is intertwined into the movie and becomes a part of it. The delicious electronica is the perfect complement to the visuals. The French electronic masters also have a cameo at the end of the movie. They’re spinning the decks in a blink-and-you-miss-it scene.

8. Aerosmith – Wayne’s World (1993)

We’ve already had an appearance from the first film further up our list, and the second doesn’t disappoint either. The plot revolves around Wayne and Garth putting on their own music festival. Book them and they will come, is the advice given. And they certainly did. The headline band for the festival were none other than Aerosmith themselves. They do a sterling effort on stage as performers. And Steven Tyler also shows that he can handle his own on the acting front too.

9. Reel Big Fish – BASEketball (1998)

Trey Parker and Matt Stone star in this bizarre and hilarious sports comedy. Written by the king of spoof David Zucker, it’s become a cult classic. The soundtrack heavily features ska-punkers Reel Big Fish. They do a brilliant rendition of A-HA’s Take on Me, which they also perform in the movie. The band are the entertainment at the stadium where Parker and Stone are competing. You can tell by the footage that the band are clearly enjoying themselves. They add a touch more fun to an already hugely funny film.


That’s our list of nine bands who played themselves in movies. Did we miss any of your favourites? Let us know in the comments below.


Check out our list of actors in bands HERE.

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