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Vogt: An in-depth look at why ‘Hook’ is a pile of shit

By on September 5, 2013
Steven Spielberg is the only director I count among my absolute favorites who has made more than one terrible film. Hell, he’s made three. And more than a few mediocre ones. AND his contribution to The Twilight Zone movie is one of the most awful things I’ve ever seen. But let’s stay on track. Science backs me up on this: Spielberg’s three unassailably terrible films are:

1. 1941

2. The Terminal

3. Hook

“But…but what about Crystal Skull!” you are no doubt screaming at your computer screen right now. I want to be absolutely clear on this: I don’t go throwing the word “terrible” around willy-nilly. Terrible means terrible. Not “it’s got it’s moments but doesn’t really work”. Crystal Skull has it’s moments. Granted, I could count them on half of one hand, but The Terminal doesn’t have any moments. It is terrible. Have you seen it? Don’t.

1941 is probably Spielberg’s most famous flop. It doesn’t grate on you like Tom Hanks with an unspecific European accent, but it’s a borderline incoherent mess. It’s like watching Steve just shovel money onto a bonfire for two hours. It’s one of those movies the big filmmakers were always making in the late 70’s and early 80’s under the judgement and restraint-impairing influence of coke, power, money, hubris and the feeling of general invincibility. But, of course, Steven has probably never even looked directly at cocaine, so he had to make do with just 4 of those 5 things. It was enough.

But nobody gives two shits about those movies. There are precious few people singing the praises of 1941 and The Terminal. They’re wedged deep inside the bowels of the cultural dustbin, where they justly belong. Hook, on the other hand…I am sad to report that I know lots and lots of people who claim to love Hook. It is an absolutely baffling phenomenon, which I will be examining in depth shortly. But first, let me just review for you in brief some of the many, many reasons Hook is a pile of shit.

1. It is ugly

Few directors have ever been able to match Spielberg in the visual skill department. The guy is a genius, plain and simple. His idol was Stanley Kubrick, which makes sense. They even worked together (sort of) on a movie that is not terrible. But where Kubrick was famously deliberative, both during and between projects, Spielberg likes to crank shit out. His quality control is all over the place. Between 1990 and 1998 he released Hook, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, The Lost World, Amistad and Saving Private Ryan. That shit is all over the place, quality-wise. Know what Kubrick did during that time? Not a goddamn thing.

The point is, Speilberg is fully capable of spreading himself too thin. And his visual style has never been thinner than it is in Hook. Neverland is supposed to look grandiose and whimsical, but it really looks like the Rock Monster from The NeverEnding Story ate a bunch of ships, candy and plaster and puked it all over a backlot at Tristar Studios. It’s artificial, unpleasant and overcrowded. Like he thought that if he could just cram more boats, more pirates, more carvings, more stuff into every frame, the film’s existence would be justified.

2. Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, awful children.

Robin Williams takes a lot of shit, and some of it is certainly justified. But he’s not worthless. He can be a pretty damn good actor when presented with the right role. But when you get him around kid-friendly forced-sentimentality schlock like Patch Adams, Mrs. Doubtfire and fucking Hook, he is a cringe factory. Know what? Same goes for Spielberg. Both of those dudes need to stay off the shmaltzy sauce, permanently. This whole movie is a perfect storm of shudder-inducing mawkishness.

But at least Mork was probably fun to work with. I’ve met him before (I didn’t call him “Mork” to his face, fyi), and he’s such a nice guy you really wish he was in fewer terrible films.

Roberts, on the other hand, was (supposedly) a nightmare. Folks on set called her “Tinkerhell”, which would’ve been a much better movie. She called Spielberg a “turncoat” when he talked shit about her to the press. The result? She sucks in this. Embarrassingly so. Possibly deliberately–who knows, she was going through some bad times when this movie was made. See how well you take it when you leave Kiefer Sutherland at the altar.

And as for the kids. Look, it’s not their fault. I think until an actor is, say, 16, they should not be held accountable for being awful in a movie. Kids don’t know what the hell they’re doing. The director and the casting agent are the ones who are culpable. (As a side note, that means you really shouldn’t make fun of poor, poor Jake Lloyd. As always, please direct your hatred toward George Lucas. Shit, too late. The guy’s life is already ruined.) That said, the children in Hook are terrible and I want to hit them.

Furthermore, many of the other children in this movie, particularly most of the Lost Boys, aren’t characters at all. They’re just cute. They might as well be Tribbles. All they do is look angelic and say precious things, and therefore they are nothing like actual children that anyone would ever recognize.

Spielberg seems to think that he has some special link to children and childhood, and so he expresses it here with wonderful little sparkle sprites who giggle and frolic and roll down planks to bowl over pirates if they are fat. But the movie that made people begin to connect Spielberg with children in the first place–ET–is filled with realistic, flawed and complex child characters, who swear and lie and are dicks to each other and are filled with fear and sadness and surprising reserves of bravery and unvarnished decency. You know, kids.

3. Fucking lawyer jokes

This movie has never heard of anything funnier than a lawyer joke. We find out that Robin Williams’ Peter Panning is a lawyer early on and we’re all supposed to immediately wish for his comeuppance: “PETER PAN is a…a…LAWYER? But lawyers are the exact opposite of Peter Pans!” Lawyer-bashing irritates me because it’s fake-populist, easy AND entirely hypocritical. “Man, those lawyers are a bunch of bastards, right? Until I need one, that is!” I wish I could think of some sort of pithy phase that would fit the situation, something about how you shouldn’t hate the people that are playing by the rules of a certain game, you should hate the game itself. Ah, well.

4. Sickening yuppie “good father” nonsense

Let me quickly recap some stuff that actually happens in this movie. Peter Panning, who is Peter Pan all grown up and now a blood-drinking LAWYER, doesn’t get to see his stupid awful kid very often because he’s working all the time TO PUT FOOD IN HIS STUPID AWFUL MOUTH. But the movie sees this as a terrible crime, most likely because he’s working as a LAWYER, the type of goblin the makers of this film would never associate with more than 200 times a day. His kid is so furious about it that after he’s kidnapped by sleazy Captain Hook he renounces his father and is willingly adopted by Hook within a matter of something like a day. Seriously, he even goes around dressing exactly the same as Hook so the betrayal is unmistakable to all.

So then, of course, it’s up to Peter to whip himself into shape and finally prove to his ungrateful, shitty son that he really, really does love him more than the sociopath who kidnapped him and murdered people in front of him.

Finally reunited with his ingrate son and obscenely precious daughter, Peter says goodbye to the folks at Neverland and, by proxy, childhood innocence, and goes home to be with his family. He resolves that the most important thing in the world is to spend time with the family. Above all else. Meaning he seriously quits his lucrative, high paying, family-providing-for job as a LAWYER, so he can…well, we never find out. I guess love will keep the heat on.

I absolutely hate this kind of bullshit. Parental neglect is one thing, but are there really any kids out there that are that resentful of their parents for doing what they have to do to provide for them? My father worked his ass off every day in a high-stress job, commuting an hour in each direction (Uphill both ways! Neck deep in snow!). We didn’t see him in the morning, he was exhausted and irritable at night, and he often missed our games and ballet recitals and what have you. And like all children (I have to believe), we fucking loved him for it because we weren’t vile little shitheads who don’t have a shred of empathy for the person who is sacrificing his time and energy to keep food in their bellies. Well, not all the time, anyway. My point is, this “Daddy needs to spend less time at work” film/TV trope is strictly the concoction of rich people, who are blessed with the ability to just drop everything at any point because lil’ Billy isn’t getting enough attention.

So, if your counter-argument to all of this is “hey, settle down, it’s just a kids movie!” then I ask you: what the hell kind of message is this to send to kids? “Your parents should quit their jobs if they keep using them to make money all the time?” Also, why are so many children murdered in this kids movie? (It’s just one, but still.)

5. Even Spielberg can’t stand it

It’s true. Deal with it.

6. Who give a shit about Peter Pan?

I mean that. Now here’s where I might lose those of you that I haven’t lost already, but Peter Pan fetishising is the domain of entitled, deluded megalomaniacs. And I say that citing basically two people: Michael Jackson and Steven Spielberg when he sucks. So, my case is not exactly airtight, but I stand by it nonetheless.

JM Barrie’s famous story has very dark origins and undertones that are seldom acknowledged by those who obsess over the world of Neverland. Clearly he delighted in the freedom and innocence of childhood, but he was also a tormented man, and I’ve always felt that the story of Peter Pan must’ve arisen from some kind of irreconcilable discomfort with adulthood that Michael Jackson also cleared identified with. It is the idealization of childhood, which is a fairly odious thing when applied literally. Jackson just couldn’t get past it–to the point where it seemed the only people he could identify with were children. That’s troubling even without bringing into consideration the allegations of Jacksons far darker crimes. By which, of course, I mean Captain EO.

It’s perfectly natural, of course, for people to love children and be delighted by them. But kids are not ideal. They are incomplete. That’s their whole deal. They’re innocent because they’ve basically been lied to about the world constantly. They don’t have all of the information, that’s why they see the world with such wonder. They are “wondering” what the hell is going on, because they really don’t know yet. So if you look at a child and see nothing but a pureness and innocence and truth that will only be obliterated by the cruel onset of gross-me-out adulthood, then you have probably forgotten what you were like when you were a child.

Ever since ET, Spielberg has identified with this glossy caricature of childhood, rather than with the real thing, probably because he’s gotten older and has hundreds of kids of his own. He clearly summoned up his cheesiest demons while making Hook, claiming he identified strongly with the character:

“I have always felt like Peter Pan. I still feel like Peter Pan. It has been very hard for me to grow up, I’m a victim of the Peter Pan syndrome.”

Which brings me to the thing about entitled, deluded megalomaniacs. Look, Steven. Nobody wants to grow up. Growing up means you have to do stuff you don’t want to do and then die. But only rich, self obsessed weirdos agonize over it. I suspect you have to be worth at least 100 million dollars to call yourself a “victim of Peter Pan syndrome”, because then you have a lot of time and unspent mental energy to expend on how childlike and fun you are, and you have the money to afford your own big ol’ video game room and gold plated bean bag chair.

If Michael Jackson had ended up working at a steel mill in Gary, Indiana instead of becoming a famously talented strange-o, do you think he would’ve spent his spare time going on and on about how he just can’t grow up? He would’ve grown up real fast.

[I know it’s not really fair to use an alternate timeline universe to make a point, but you have to admit: it’s fun to imagine Michael Jackson as a burly steel worker. Oh, and while I’m in sidenote territory, I’d also like to observe that Steven Spielberg is almost certainly the world’s nicest megalomaniac.]

I could go on and on. Frankly, I’d really love to. I have about 30 or 40 other strong points I can make against Hook and that’s just off the top of my head. So why do so many people persist in continuing to hold it up as a cherished cinematic classic?

I once did a comedy piece about the film at one of my shows. It was a 15 minute video essay detailing every terrible thing about it (well, obviously not every terrible thing), many of which I have mentioned here. Everyone knowingly laughed at the bad scenes that I screened, but afterward told me “I can’t believe you don’t like Hook!” I MADE A 15 MINUTE PRESENTATION! BELIEVE IT! One of my comedian friends even called me a “monster”, though he might have been partially joking. Hard to say with that guy.

People don’t feel this way about all childhood movies. Nobody’s keeping a candle lit for The Last Starfighter or Willow. Not as many people, at least. What’s so special about Hook? It ain’t the Spielberg factor. People have happily forgotten plenty of his other mediocrities.

I reached out to one of my Hook-loving friends for answers. Her name is Paige, she is in her mid-20’s, and could fairly be described as rational as well as intelligent.

What are your memories of this movie from when you first watched it?

It’s funny you ask, because when it originally came out, I was only 5 but…I probably didn’t end up seeing it until I was 13. I loved it–it was the slightly-higher-stakes-and-way-less-singing version of Peter Pan, and I was at the height of my Robin Williams phase (thanks to JUMANJI and ALADDIN). At the least, I remember telling my friends I “loved it”.

Please refrain from thanking Jumanji during this interview. Do you genuinely think Hook is a good movie? Or do you just have warm feelings toward it?

Definitely warm feelings. It’s definitely a low-point in Spielberg’s career, especially when he did stuff like JAWS, The INDIANA JONES TRILOGY and JURASSIC PARK, which are all super great stories, age-appropriate for under-13-youngsters and decent movies for all adults. I still appreciate all the stupid physical jokes, weird artificial sets, and I still like the food fight scene a lot. And I generally adore Dustin Hoffman, even as the vile Hook.  

Okay, so it sounds like Paige has downgraded herself from a “Hook Lover” to a “Hook tolerator”. She has since told me that her years working with the bitter film nerds at Scarecrow Video have eroded her love for the film (guilty!). Hey! Don’t say “awww”! This is not a bad thing! She now sees the movie for what it is rather than what she hoped it was. Truth is good…isn’t it?

I recently had a conversation with another friend about a film that we’d both loved as teenagers. The film was called Chasing Amy. This friend and I generally have very similar taste in movies and I told him I’d seen it recently and absolutely hated it, and therefore, of course, I recommended that he watch it again to witness the vastness of the gulf between his memory and reality.  “Nah,” he replied, “You’re probably right, but I don’t want to ruin it for myself. I want it to stay the way I remember it”. I’ve always found that response fascinating.

It is in our nature to reflect warmly on the past. As time goes by, the memory grows fonder. You forget the bad things about broken relationships and people you’ve lost. You find the positive, educational side in negative experiences. This is healthy. It’s certainly better than the alternative. But movies are not like memories. They are concrete things. As long as the film print has been preserved, you can watch them again and again and again and your brain can’t alter them. Granted, George Lucas can alter them, but most filmmakers are a tad bit more respectful of their medium.

We don’t have to be nostalgic about movies. We can re-watch them, and re-evaluate them, measuring our current selves against the people we once were. It’s okay if we think differently about movies as we age and progress and regress and get old and stubborn and wise.

Wouldn’t we all like to be able to review our childhood memories and find out which ones, like Hook and Chasing Amy are total bullshit, and which ones, like The Karate Kid and Back to the Future are beautiful and true?


Yeah. Probably not.

About Travis Vogt

Travis Vogt is a comedian, filmmaker and writer (obviously) who has performed at Bumbershoot, Sasquatch and the Vancouver Comedy Festival. His film work has been acknowledged by the Stranger Genius Awards and the Seattle International Film Festival. "Acknowledged" means he didn't win. He has been to 1/6 of the countries in Europe plus Canada. @TravisVogt

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