The story has a great hook: what if Peter Pan grew up and had children of his own? What if he became a cutthroat lawyer who spent more time with his cellular phone than with his children? And what if Captain Hook did not perish in the crocodile’s jaws—but returned to kidnap those children, prompting Tinkerbell to drag a 40ish Peter kicking and screaming back to Neverland for a therapeutic rematch with his old archenemy? That is the ingenious premise for Hook, director Steven Spielberg’s $79million attempt to give everybody everything they have always wanted for Christmas: magic. But, like Christmas itself, the hotly anticipated Hook proves to be a mixed blessing. Weighed down by too much visible ambition, it is a behemoth of a movie that, despite all the fairy dust in Tinseltown, never quite takes off. Yet although it tends to be more overwrought than overwhelming, Hook is compelling on its own terms—as a circus of stunts, an orgy of art direction and a bazaar of post-yuppie ethics. Dustin Hoffman, meanwhile, makes a sublime Captain Hook. And as Peter Pan, Robin Williams survives the perils of a role that takes him from a tuxedo to tights.
But the man whose reputation hangs on
Hook is Spielberg, Hollywood’s aging boy wonder. And at a time when the movie industry is finally nervous about the recession, he displays the megalomaniacal excess of the old studio moguls. He has also converted an English fairy tale into a morality tale for 1990s America—a movie filled with the father-son bonding of baseball, the bombast of Broadway and the exhibitionist guilt of the men’s movement. It spells out its message to fathers with a heavy hand: spend more time with your children.
Peter Pan lost his youth by marrying Wendy Darling’s granddaughter. Having forgotten his past, he has become an absentee father and cold-blooded acquisitions lawyer. Now, when he says “Got to fly,” it means to a meeting. He is a workaholic corporate raider who takes calls on his mobile phone while watching his daughter, Maggie (Amber Scott), play Wendy in a school production of Peter Pan. His relationship with his son, Jack (Charlie Korsmo), is especially strained after Dad breaks a promise to watch him play baseball. “My word is my bond,” Peter tells him. Replies Jack: “Your junk bond.”
Like men in many other movies this year, Peter is overdue for a redemption. The opportunity arrives when his family goes to London to visit Granny Wendy (Maggie Smith), now 92. One night, Captain Hook steals away Peter’s two children—as bait to draw his former
adversary into a final battle. Tinkerbell Qulia Roberts) then whisks Peter off to Neverland. And the Lost Boys push his unwilling body (and imagination) through a kind of boot camp while she tries to cure his amnesia—and convince him that he can fly.
Spielberg’s Neverland is a jungle arcade, with skateboard ramps and basketball hoops. His Lost Boys are a multi-ethnic ghetto of orphans. The Indian “savages” of the original story—who became racist caricatures in the 1953 Disney cartoon—were cut from Hook screenwriter Jim Hart’s script. But there is more than a nod to native culture in the Lost Boys’ tribal garb. And their leader, Rufio (Dante Basco), who has inherited Peter Pan’s sword, is a punk homeboy with his hair in a redand-black mohawk.
The rainbow pageantry of Hook owes as much to the stage as it does to the screen. The movie was filmed entirely on sound stages, including one used for the The Wizard of Oz. And the production’s visual consultant was designer John Napier, whose work includes such Broadway extravaganzas as Cats, Les Misérables and Miss Saigon. There is a Toytown theatricality to Hook’s sets and costumes. Spielberg has built himself a vast theme park of a movie, with Hooks glistening claw as its corporate symbol—an icon on a par with the Batman logo.
At times, the movie’s gaudy staging is breathtaking. A food fight with cartoon-colored food looks like a Jackson Pollock painting come to life. But excess often leads to overkill. For a scene of Peter and the Lost Boys raiding Hooks ship, the director had 175 stunt bodies in action at once—and it just looks busy.
The best moments focus on character instead of commotion. As Wendy, the impeccable Maggie Smith comes closer than anyone to bringing the storybook magic of Peter Pan to life. Bob Hoskins brings a camy’s wit to the role of Hook’s henchman Smee. Hoffman casts a luxurious spell with a treacle-dark Etonian accent. With occasional flights of improvisation, Williams reheves the hidebound rationalism of the script. And Roberts sparkles as a seven-inch pixie in a short skirt. But her character, pining for Peter’s love, receives short shrift. Hook is no place for a lady. In Spielberg’s Neverland, men will be boys, and so will women—in a well-disguised cameo, Glenn Close appears as a pirate.
Spielberg has made a movie that is less about Peter Pan than about the Peter Pan syndrome. The film-maker has said: “I have always felt like Peter Pan. It has been hard for me to grow up.” And there are striking parallels between Spielberg and Scottish playwright J. M. Barrie, who created Peter Pan. Both had trouble tackling adult material. And both tended to see their mothers as children—Spielberg once said that his mother “was always just like a little girl who never grew out of her pinafore.” As absurd as it seems, Hook appears to be Spielberg’s idea of a personal film—a $79-million plunge into the Neverland of his own private Hollywood.
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