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HOOK: SUPERBIT

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, Bob Hoskins, Maggie Smith
Director:  Steven Spielberg
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  None
Length:  142 Minutes
Release Date:  September 9, 2003

Film **1/2

I remember reading a review of Disney’s animated Peter Pan in the early 80’s.  I don’t remember who wrote it, but I never forgot an aside mention in the piece:  the fact that director Steven Spielberg considered it one of his biggest influences, and his long time dream was to make a live action version of the story with Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook.  Some ten years later, he proved that some dreams do come true.

There is much to like about Hook, but it’s one of those films you can’t help but wish a little more time had been spent in the editing room in post production, to clear up a few glaring errors, and to bring down the running time, which is far too long for a movie of this nature.  A little tweaking here and there, and this might have been a really terrific film, instead of just a mostly good one.

The concept is wonderful:  what if Peter Pan grew up, and didn’t remember his childhood adventures?  Robin Williams plays Peter Banning, a successful cutthroat business attorney whose obsession with his work is keeping his attention away from his wife Moira and kids Maggie and Jack.  In one of the most beautifully poignant early scenes, Moira throws his cell phone out the window.  “Your kids love you.  They want to play with you.  How long do you think that lasts?” she asks him.  “They’re growing up.  You’re not being careful.  And you are missing it.”

This all takes place in an enchanting old house in London, where Peter and family have flown in order to pay tribute to Granny Wendy (a delightful Maggie Smith), a woman who spent her life caring for orphan children, including Peter himself.  Now a hospital wing is being dedicated in her honor.  But the ceremony is interrupted when an unseen force seizes the children from their beds, leaving behind a strange note, signed by James Hook.

Now Wendy must tell Peter the incredible truth.  The old stories were true.  She was the Wendy of the classic children’s tale, and he is, of course, Peter Pan.  He had abandoned Neverland a long time ago, choosing instead to grow up.  Now, his children’s lives depend on his ability to find that part inside of him that once flew, crowed, and did battle with his evil arch nemesis, Captain Hook (Hoffman).  Soon, with the help of Tinker Bell’s (Roberts) unexpected appearance, he’s reluctantly off on his way:  second star to the right, and straight on til morning.

The film gets off to a great start, and holds momentum right up until the point we’re introduced to the Lost Boys.  In an overly long segment, we watch them taunt Peter, even shooting arrows at him and knocking him down several times.  It’s not a very good introduction; they come across more like obnoxious hooligans than protagonists, and the remainder of the film, as they try to force him back into shape, all the while doubting that he is their once and future leader, does very little to inspire us to like or care about them.

While Peter is learning to be Pan again, Hook is hatching his own plan, working on Jack’s fears and insecurities about his father, making him not want to go home again.  Never mind battles with swords and pistols…if Hook can turn Peter’s kids against him, that’s a clear categorical victory.  The film has a lot to say about the dangers of neglecting your children, but here, in these scenes, it comes across a little too strongly and ham handedly.  We understood the point without the soapbox.

Most of the remaining film meanders between magical moments, like Pan’s first flight, and dull, lingering ones…the bits of repartee between Hook and Smee (Hoskins) that just seem to go on forever.  Hoffman may have been a good choice on paper to play Hook, and was obviously Spielberg’s dream casting, but he comes across more as parody than character here.

Then comes the films multiple endings…really frustrating, because had it stopped early enough, it would have ended on the perfect note (“where would the world be without Captain Hook?”).  Instead, Spielberg opted for a rather silly topper, robbing the film of it’s most potent message.  Then the obligatory return to the real world, so we can see that Peter’s learned a lot from being Pan, and things in his family are bound to be happy ever after.

This film was plagued by many production problems, most of which were well chronicled during shooting.  Julia Roberts had come out of a self imposed hiatus to play Tinker Bell, but was in the middle of her relationship with Lyle Lovett falling apart.  Reports were that she was elusive and unstable during filming, forcing the cast and crew to walk on eggshells around her.  Hoffman’s manic perfectionism led to many delays and forced rewrites, as he tried to make the film more about Hook than Peter and his family.  Most who were on the set remarked about the sense of joylessness inherent in everybody around.  I think a little of that shows up in the picture.

Still, Robin Williams is wonderful, and up to the challenge, and it is his presence that carries the picture through.  Bob Hoskins makes a nice Smee, as well, and for added fun, keep an eye out for cameos by David Crosby, Phil Collins, Jimmy Buffett, an unrecognizable Glenn Close, and an appearance by Gwyneth Paltrow as a young Wendy.

Video ****

As is often the case, Superbit makes the good even better.  This new version of Hook with its higher bit sampling rate and lower level of compression renders a colorful, detailed and lively image with none of the occasional grain and softness of the former issue.  Neverland looks amazing in both day and night sequences.  Very well done.

Audio ***1/2

With a choice of Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks, Pan and company really fly.  The mixes are nicely done, with dynamic range and smooth crossovers in all directions.  The .1 channel is used sparingly but effectively to accentuate certain scenes, and dialogue and music are crisp and clear throughout.

Features (zero stars)

Nothing.

Summary:

There’s so much good in Hook that it’s a real shame that too much wallowing in lesser moments restrained the picture and kept it from being a truly terrific family classic.  It’s still plenty entertaining, with heart and imagination in the storytelling, but merely falls just slightly short of being unreservedly good.