In Hook, Steven Spielberg's rather odd and flat update of Peter Pan, Robin Williams plays an adult Peter Pan as one Peter Banning, a big-money mergers and acquisitions attorney who drinks too much and misses his son's little league games because there's always that one last call on his cell. It's trying to be a modern and hip fantasy with the idea that Peter is a yuppie and has completely forgotten the magic and wonder of what we know to be his rather unique childhood.
But Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) hasn't forgotten. Since it's Peter's fault he has a hook instead of a hand, he wants revenge, so he kidnaps Peter's children. Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) appears. She knocks Peter on the floor, ties him into a bed sheet, and then, in a lumpen image if there ever was one, flies him over the rooftops of London into Neverland where she drops him like a sack of coal (it is Christmas) so he can rescue his children from the evils of Hook, Smee, and the rest of the gaudily-costumed pirate crew.
The two eight-year olds watching this DVD with me made for their bicycles at this point in the 40-minute setup, having no interest in Neverland. I stuck it out, baffled how so much talent (there's plenty of high-price technical and acting talent associated with this movie) and energy couldn't generate some sympathy or understanding for the material they created. Hook has the same characters J.M. Barrie created, but it never touches that fable's classic themes of doubt and fear children have about being left on their own and growing into adults. It isn't for or even about children. Hook caters to those self-involved baby-boomers who are now parents and see movies like this as a chance to wax sentimental about their own childhood. When their children get bored and turn away they probably can't figure out why.
The story's lack of depth and originality comes from the writers. But not to have the visual wonder and inventiveness, which a fantasy like this requires, from a Spielberg movie is harder to understand. He crowds the frame with extras (if you're interested you can spot David Crosby, Glenn Close, and Jimmy Buffet, among many others) but the camera seems to be keeping us at a distance, swooping around like a sea gull over a Broadway set. At the island of the Lost Boys the fort is nothing more than a tame theme ride in Disneyland. And there are several groaners: A segment narrating Peter Pan's childhood comes off like a psychoanalytic session and deadens what little momentum the movie already had; and then there's that, well, that love affair... between Peter and Tinkerbell ("Tink," he calls her). This sets off the imagination in ways words can't describe.
Just maybe Dustin Hoffman's portrayal of Hook makes sitting through this worthwhile. His hammy, one-handed captain as a bewigged fop who swordfights in pumps (pretty well,too) is such fun he seems to be the only character who gets the spirit of the picture. Hoffman is having such a great time amid all the flying and jumping you get the sense he really lives in Neverland. He even speaks to the audience. "There's no adventure here," he says at one point. Right. Who wants to spend over two hours with a Peter Pan who screams, "Don't mess with me, I'm a lawyer!"
The new Superbit Collection of the Hook DVD offers features of little interest or value, at least in the version I saw. I hear the British version is loaded with extras. Even so, this DVD has a sharpness that makes the colors of the sets and costumes a treat to look at. Same for the sound. John Williams score is more schmaltzy than I can handle, but the underlying sound effects have a visceral directness and clarity that'll have you turning to see what's coming out of the rear speakers. That helps keep you awake through the movie.