First on this tape, from The Movie Channel, is Steven Spielberg’s Hook. It was not particularly well received on its first release, although any doubts about Spielberg losing his magic touch were dispelled two years later, when he released Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List in the same year.
My opinion of this movie has changed rather dramatically over the years. On release I didn’t like it, and broadly agreed with the critical consensus.
But, many years later, with young children of my own, we watched it again with them, and suddenly there were themes there that had never resonated with me before.
It’s still got a lot of problems, but the core themes play much better for me now.
The opening scene, with Robin Williams as Peter Banning watching his daughter playing Wendy in a school production has a really clunky line in it. His wife says to him “Watch your daughter, she’s stealing the show” a grindingly explanatory line. We also get the start of Banning’s obsession with his cellphone, having to take business calls during the show.
The scene where Peter is striding through the office, barking orders while being followed by his harried staff feels very much of its time, Wall-Street-lite. I still cringe a bit when Peter and another man do a stupid quick-draw thing with their phones in holsters. Mobile phones were clearly such a new thing that nobody had any idea how real people would end up using them.
Peter misses his son’s really important baseball game. His son Jack is played by Charlie Korsmo (from Dick Tracy). He’s now a Law Professor. His relationship with his father is the core of the story.
Once the story reaches London, where Peter is helping to dedicate a new wing of Great Ormond Street Hospital to ‘Granny’ Wendy, the film really kicks into high gear, really leaning into the well-known mythology of the Peter Pan story. Wendy, played by Maggie Smith, is Wendy Darling, the real Wendy Darling about whom JM Barrie wrote the Peter Pan story. Maggie Smith, I should point out, is wearing old age makeup here. She was quite a lot younger in 1991.
She asks what he does at work, and Jack describes his job as a corporate raider. “And he blows them out of the water” he says, no doubt echoing things Peter has told him. “Why Peter” says Wendy, “you’ve become a pirate.”
Peter, Wife Moira, and Wendy, go to the ceremony dedicating the new wing, and in the audience are many of the orphans who were looked after, and found homes, by Wendy, a scene that always moved me.
But while the ceremony is going on, something’s happening at Wendy’s house, where the children are sleeping. I do love the tiny hook on the bedroom windows.
They return home to find the glass in the door broken, and deeps scars in the walls. It’s all hugely atmospheric.
The children have gone, and there’s a note from Captain Hook demanding Peter Pan come and get them.
There’s a baffling cameo from Phil Collins as a rather stupid policeman. Collins was making a brief foray into acting at the time, so I guess that’s why.
Wendy tells Peter that the stories were true, and that he is Peter Pan. He had kept returning to see Wendy over the years, then one day, when Wendy herself was a grandmother, he met Moira, her granddaughter, and decided to stay, and start growing up.
Then Peter is visited by Tinker Bell, now in the shape of a very small Julia Roberts, who takes him back to Neverland to get his children back.
At this point, I have to say, the film’s problems begin manifesting. This was a famously expensive movie, and much of the money was spent on the rather lavish sets for Neverland. Huge pirate ships, a whole town, the Lost Boys’ hideout are extremely detailed and complex sets, filled with large crowds of extras. It becomes a really busy film, and very shouty,
Bob Hoskins plays Mr Smee, and he’s brilliant throughout.
Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook is, I think, less good. His accent isn’t bad, but it’s a bit shaky.
There’s another odd cameo, from Glenn Close as a pirate.
After a scene where the rather pathetic Banning fails to rescue his children, due to his cripplingly ironic fear of heights and flying, Tinker Bell gets Hook to agree to a three day training period, where she will get Peter back to his normal fighting self, and then they can have a proper fight.
So now we’re into the Lost Boys world, a weirdly anachronistic scene with skateboards and basketball, and punk haircuts. It all gets very Goonies, lots of shouting and running around.
In the absence of Peter, the leader of the Lost Boys is now Rufio. He’s not happy about this second rate, older Pan turning up, so there’s some conflict there.
The middle part of the movie is the most flabby, as Tinker Bell tries to get Peter back to his flying, fighting, crowing self, including a seemingly interminable food fight with the least appetising food you’ve ever seen on screen.
Meanwhile, Captain Hook decides that he’s going to be a better father to the stolen children than Peter was. Not quite sure how sitting them down for a school lesson is going to achieve that myself.
Amber Scott, playing Peter’s daughter Maggie, sings a song about being alone. It’s interesting because it’s clearly the voice of a very young child, so it’s not a perfect rendition, but I think it works. It was good enough to get an Oscar nomination, anyway.
John Williams actual score wasn’t nominated, I see, although Williams was nominated for JFK. I think the score for this is very good, and it does a huge amount of heavy lifting to make some of the scrappier Neverland material watchable.
Interesting fact about the score, though. If you buy the soundtrack album, it opens with a cue called “Prologue”. This cue never existed in the film, it was written specially for the film’s trailer, and I guess everyone liked it so much it ended up on the soundtrack album. I think it’s a classic Williams score, and contains future echoes of the kind of things he’s do with Harry Potter. But I’m a bit of a John Williams fanboy, so I guess I’m biased.
There’s another rather interminable sequence where Hook stages a baseball game for Jack so he can make up for being rubbish in his game at the start. Also, ironically, his father is actually present to watch this, and sees Hook calling him ‘My Jack’.
All through all of this, it’s all about Jack, and I feel sorry for Maggie, who seems to be entirely an afterthought in all of this, mostly just trapped in a large net.
Then Peter returns to the forest to try to remember who he was, and he finds Wendy’s old house, leading to him remembering when he was a baby, and somehow deciding then not to grow up, getting lost from his mother, and being taken to Neverland by Tinker Bell.
I do find the scene where an older Peter returns to his parents’ house to find they’d ‘forgotten him’ to be a little dark (and probably unfair on the parents). Just because they’ve had a new baby doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten him, but from his point of view that’s how it might have looked. Sorry, just standing up for parents, there.
We also see the scene where Peter meets Wendy for the first time, and Wendy is played by a young Gwyneth Paltrow.
So Peter finds his happy thoughts, that let him fly again, and it’s being a father. Obviously (if you’ve been reading the blog regularly) you’ll know that this is where I start engaging emotionally with the plot again, as father-child issues always do it for me.
So we reach the big climax, another shouty, visually busy fight scene, with the Lost Boys taking on the Pirates, and Peter taking on Hook. There’s some very good wire work going on here, by the way, with Robin Williams plying hither and yon around the massive sets.
Rufio gets a death scene, and gets the line “I wish I had a dad like you” so I’m crying again. It’s a sickness.
And young Jack, who starts the scene as a mini-me version of Captain Hook, realises he does too.
There’s a slightly cheesy scene where Peter’s at Hook’s mercy, and all the kids start saying “I do believe in you Peter” but I’ll let it pass. The duel ends up in the town square, underneath the clock that was made out of the body of the alligator who ate Hook’s hand, and who (in the backstory of this film) Hook then killed and stuffed.
Peter gets the upper hand, and Hook is de-wigged, making him look a bit pathetic and old.
But when Peter turns his back, Hook pulls another sword out and tries to stab him. There’s a tussle, then Hook’s Hook punctures the body of the alligator, which then starts collapsing, and he ends up being eaten by it in the end.
Then we get a coda, as Peter and his children return home, I get to cry a bit more, and Tootles, one of the old Lost Boys, who had lost his marbles, gets them back courtesy of Peter, and is able to fly again.
And the film ends on him flying out of the window, followed by a glorious Matte Painting which starts from a close-up of the attic window
Pulling back to a London cityscape, which Sky are nice enough to show in widescreen.
One last note – the script for this was originally developed by Spielberg, but he dropped it in the mid 80s, and the screenplay credits the story to original writer Jim V Hart, and Nick Castle, who was going to direct it when Spielberg dropped out. Castle, of course, we’ve seen most recently directing The Boy Who Could Fly.
After this, an abrupt change of tone, with a film I remember existing as a film, but I can’t really remember. It’s Body Parts, directed by writer Eric Red, who also wrote The Hitcher, Near Dark and Blue Steel, some films I really like.
It stars Jeff Fahey. You wait years for a Jeff Fahey movie, then two come along together only two days apart. He plays a clinical psychologist, who treats killers, and he wishes he could find a case where he can actually make someone better.
Fahey has a horrible car accident, loses his arm, and has a donor arm attached, in a strange operation where he can see the donor body having its head cut off. It’s also indicated on the computer in the operating room.
Lindsay Duncan is the surgeon who reattaches the arm. I imagine you don’t cast her in this role if that’s all she’s doing, so I suspect dark secrets.
He starts to see things, visions from the mind of the former owner of the arm who, wouldn’t you just know it, was a multiple murderer on Death Row who was executed. He looks up other recipients of the killer’s parts, including Brad Dourif, who was a struggling artist who now is in demand because of the new, dark and edgy work he’s producing, based on the same visions he’s getting.
So far, so similar to other spooky transplant films. The new limbs are making people behave oddly. But then Dourif is attacked by someone in his studio, thrown out of the window, and his arm ripped off by his assailant. falling conveniently on the bonnet of the police car holding Fahey and the detective investigating the case, played by Zakes Mokae.
Things get even sillier when, while waiting at lights, another drives up alongside them and someone in a neck brace (the same person who attacked Dourif) pulls alongside, and handcuffs himself to Fahey’s arm, then drives off, forcing Mokae to keep up with him. This is definitely something I haven’t seen in other spooky transplant movies.
Sure enough, the bloke in the neck brace has got the murderer’s head, which we saw removed at the start of the movie. Dr Duncan was doing some kind of experiment, and the head was rounding up all the other parts so she could do a Frankenstein job on him. But Fahey wins out in the end. A very silly movie.
After this, recording continues for a time with the start of a Robert Urich movie, Blind Man’s Bluff. The tape ends during this.
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- behind the scenes: Ricochet
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