Although Hook is ostensibly a metaphor for Steven Spielberg’s work as a director (he has regularly joked that he is a real-life Peter Pan), of all the films he’s directed, it’s his least essential and most banal, showing none of the flair or excitement of the Jurassic Park film released two years later.
And then he directed Schindler’s List, which showcased a new side to the director, one that was rich with possibility and pathos, demonstrating that the escapist director actually had a beating heart. Since then, he’s scarcely returned to the world of fantasy, making an honourable exception for Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a film that was decidedly more fun to watch than the limp, leaden directorial interpolations of Hook. There’s a case to be made that the fourth Indiana Jones film was the film he should have made with Hook, detailing the fun, frivolities and tensions a parent enjoys with their children.
Hook has none of the fuzzy, free-spirited anarchism of the Indiana Jones trilogy, and none of the jaw-dropping stuntwork seen in Jurassic Park. You get the sense watching it that Spielberg is directing on autopilot, no matter how personal the subject matter is for him, and if it isn’t his weakest work – it’s a bit more appealing to sit through than the misguided Amistad, or the meandering nothingness of his War of The Worlds remake – it’s in the bottom echelon of his work. The film is limply written and directed with slow persuasion, as if demanding that the audiences fall into the well of depression that has caught up with the titular captain, now facing a Peter Pan who is flabbier and more flatulent to the kid who whizzed past him in his youth.
With the majority of the films directed in the 1970s – not forgetting the more overblown spectacles he produced during the 1980s – Spielberg drove through the films with mania and an urgency that was stemmed from a place of tremendous risk and creativity, spearheading a younger, more articulate form of cinema for audiences who couldn’t relate to Francis Ford Coppola’s more character-based portraitures or Martin Scorsese’s grittier depictions of an American falling into the chasms of subtext. Hook, on the other hand, is the portrait of a director growing fat from his success, and there’s none of the danger in this film that made his earlier, and later work, so effortlessly enjoyable to sit through.
As the director branched out into more serious media, he grew more discerning over who he cast, especially since it showcased the director’s determination to venture into more adult territory. Hook holds the trappings of Hollywood excess, featuring a whole host of rock stars eager to showcase their acting credentials. The film boasts Phil Collins – the Genesis drummer turned singer – as well as former Byrd singer David Crosby, both of them dressing up as part of a grand mosaic that bolsters a whole collection of familiar faces, hustling and bustling to compensate for the lack of script.
In typical, Crosby-esque fashion, the singer looks like he’d rather be anywhere else, and given the poor quality of the script – not forgetting the trials it took to deliver the film onto the big screen – I’m not sure I can blame him. Crosby, like Collins, is there to bring some sense of credibility to a film that scarcely holds any. Compared to the shot of Robin Williams floating through the clouds, demonstrating a load of girth but lack of grit, the “fridge” scene in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull zips along with a genuine sense of wit and directorial flair.
Crosby’s appearance is brief – thank the Lord for small mercies – but it’s worth watching on YouTube, and unlike the film, it’s refreshingly brief and built on razor-sharp detail, cutting through the proceedings like a bullet charging for a pirate, passenger or disenfranchised audience member to take down. And considering the banal, boring nature of the film, a bullet to the head isn’t necessarily the worst punishment to sit through. But at least the cameo with Crosby is a hoot to sit through, and barrels along with some of the excitement we’ve come to expect from the director of Raiders of The Lost Ark.