Wednesday, May 26, 2010

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Rufio! Rufio! Ru! Fi! Oooooooo!

I felt like a Glenn Close movie tonight, so I went through her filmography to see what was readily available. Of course, the only thing we had on hand was Steven Spielberg's Hook, the 1993 adventure film in which Glenn cameos as a male pirate executed by the titular captain. Now, I'd never seen Hook before, but it came highly recommended by all of my friends. Everyone my age chants "Rufio! Rufio! Ru! Fi! Oooooo!" My girlfriend refuses to believe Maggie Smith would be a perfect Mrs. Danvers because, to her, she will always be Grandmother Wendy. My friend Kurtis used to blast the score during drives. It is a film much beloved by my generation, and while I was aware of its less esteemed status in the critical world, I know only too well that they sometimes mistake a masterpiece for a mistake. So we loaded up the Instant Watch on our Netflix, and I watched Hook for the first time, curious and a little excited.'s not a terrible movie, at least. But it's not very good, either.

Now, it starts out interestingly enough. Peter Banning (Robin Williams) is a serious workaholic who neglects his beautiful English wife (Caroline Goodall) and two children (Charlie Korsmo, Amber Scott). They go to England so that he may speak at a dedication ceremony for the old woman who took him in as a child, Grandmother Wendy (Maggie Smith, who you should know is my favorite actor ever), and while there, Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps the children. Peter Banning must travel back to Never-Neverland and remember that he is, in fact, Peter Pan. Now this is an intriguing concept, because while Peter's conflict is an inability to grow up, here he needs to find his childlike wonder. And I think that's a beautiful theme to explore, for too often is the easy enchantment of youth looked down on cynically as naive and foolish. It's also perfect fodder for a filmmaker, for surely filmmakers like Spielberg, Zemeckis and Cameron have never lost the awed imaginings of their youth. That balance between adulthood and childhood, of the importance of a parent to be both responsible and fun-loving, that should be bread and butter for Spielberg!

Then there's the little plot points that are oh so intriguing. Hook using Peter's neglect to get his son to join up with the Pirates is deliciously evil! To see that develop would be a masterwork indeed, especially if we do get to see young Jack actually stand by Hook's side. Oh, and Julia Roberts embodying that mischievous pixie Tinkerbell, young and fun-loving, but old enough to feel love for the Boy Who Never Grew Up But Actually Did And He's Now Robin Williams. To finally explore the complications of that relationship is something I've been waiting for! And both these elements are addressed quite beautifully within the film...

...before being immediately dropped within a scene. True, the plot with Hook and Jack is an important subplot, but we never really believe the clock-smashing is anything more than momentary anger, and he never seems to warm to the idea of lording it over Never-Neverland. Maybe that's the point, but there should at least be some tension, some conflict in that story. The Tinkerbell subplot is handled within two scenes, the rest of the work accomplished by a brilliant Julia Roberts, who seems to be the only adult besides Smith who knows what movie she's in. Only they balance pathos with humor appropriately, and they never make a scene all about them. The writers and director have given them the more adult themes to work with, and they deliver them without ever losing the kids.

Smith is especially deft at this, as we see in the scene where she introduces a still-young Pan to her granddaughter. It's a beautiful moment as she realizes, with some sadness in her eyes, that she is giving her granddaughter the one thing she could never have, and offering Peter a life he never realized he wanted. Of course, this is undercut by the sheer illogic of it all: if children never age in Never-Neverland, why then does Peter grow to be thirteen? Is it that the kids only grow up to thirteen? But then why do some of the younger Lost Boys in Never-Neverland know and remember the Peter Pan of old? If a movie can't obey it's own rules...why should I give a darn?

The problem, really, is that the movie insists on being a kid's movie. All those serious, thought-provoking moments are undercut by food fights, name-calling contests, a training montage (!), fat jokes, etc., etc., etc. Some awful kid-acting by the Lost Boys is only highlighted by the always brilliant Charlie Korsmo (I've seen three of his six movies, and he's always the best thing in them) and the underused Amber Scott. Which reminds me: what the hell happened to Amber Scott's character? She disappears for a good chunk of the movie, and then we see her imprisoned with other children during the final battle. Also, WHO THE FUCK ARE THOSE OTHER CHILDREN? Also, why does no one care when one of the central characters is killed off? Oh, it's mentioned once, but it's glossed over so quickly that it might as well have never happened. And oh my God, couldn't someone yell "cut" or "stick to the script" during the scenes where Dustin Hoffman and Bob Hoskins were obviously improvising? I missed half of what they said, and for what? So they can show me they're good at riffing? I don't blame Hoskins, but Hoffman, who is notorious for getting his costars to play these little games with him. And after all is said and done, it's these little diversions that cause the film to clock in at 2 hours and 22 minutes, which is at least two rolling fat kids too long in my book.

Yes, there are so, so, so many problems with Hook. Obviously, the majority of them regard tone and script, and possibly editing. But what it gets right, it gets so right. Again, the performances of Korsmo, Scott, Roberts and Smith are stellar, along with Caroline Goodall and Robin Williams, who actually makes a great Peter Pan. It's not his fault that once this adult male dons the tights once more, it looks more creepy than heroic. He's doing a bang-up job! Hoffman is great mostly, if only he didn't insist on the riffing. John Williams' score suggests a more magical film than the one I saw. Production design is superb, and I'm sure each viewing offers more to see, more little in-jokes to spot. And the costumes and the makeup, and the FX were amazing for the time, and technically it's all very well and good. Oh, and I would be a liar if I dared to even suggest that I won't be chanting "bangarang" and "Rufio! Rufio! Ru! Fi! Oooooo!" the rest of my life. But that script...if only someone had figured out what to do with the story.

In the end? I'm glad I finally saw it, but I don't think anyone could really love this movie apart from a childhood nostalgia.

Oh, and I didn't much care for that Glenn Close cameo. Like, what was the point?


Andrew K. said...

Excellent writeup, I remember snoring through this (AS A CHILD) so I don't think I'll like it now.

Unknown said...

I love this movie. Truly. I suppose nostalgia plays a big factor in that, but every time I watch it, I love it more. For all of its problems I find I rarely if ever care. Like, the rolling fat kid, for some reason that still gets me. I always felt like that Rufio slaying was such a huge deal when I was younger and I know it's really not much, but as a kid I was like dayum. As for the riffing... Smee smee don't try and stop me smee don't try and stop me try and stop smee... that always gets me. I love this movie for better or worse... this was probably my first favorite film. Yup. It means a whole lot to me and whatever's left of my childhood. And I'll always look on it with an eye of wonder and joy. Glad you finally saw it.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Yeah, I can definitely see where its fans are coming from, but it just didn't send me. There's so much potential here, but I feel like the only way to love it is to have seen it as a kid, and then to have never stopped revisiting it every couple of years. And kids love it (except Andrew, apparently :P), so I guess it's doing something right.