Hook (1991) is the greatest children’s film of all time. That’s not even up for debate. Its classic Spielbergean blend of childhood fantasy and adult drama make it a magical two hours and twenty-four minutes that the whole family can enjoy.
If you’re not a fan, I highly recommend this analysis by YouTube channel Twin Perfect. It’s likely you just didn’t appreciate what Hook is trying to do.
And as well as being a great adventure film, the film features some great action sequences. The film doesn’t get much credit for this, and it’s easy to see why. For the first solid hour of the movie, almost nothing happens. There’s… a baseball game? And… a speech about orphans? And that’s about it.
In fact, the start of the movie is all about Peter Pan missing out on the action. He’s absent from events, and it’s not until the abduction of his children that things start to ramp up. It’s then a slow burn of escalating scenes leading to the final battle.
Along the way, the action is doled out in slow, teasing doses. The first confrontation with Hook is defined by frustration – Hook is annoyed that Peter isn’t up for a fight. And Peter isn’t even able to climb the ship’s ropes to get to his kids. Then he’s chased by the Lost Boys for a bit, gets into an imaginary food fight, and learns to fly. And it’s all building up to the final payoff. THE BATTLE SCENE.
Let’s dig into what makes this so great.
1. The music of Hook
John Williams just absolutely kills it here. Throughout the whole movie, in fact, but especially here. The swinging score is as good as any you’ll find in Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or Jurassic Park.
It captures the lively excitement of a battle while still maintaining the sense of childhood playfulness underlying the scene. It stomps when it needs to stomp, almost evoking Holst’s Mars in places. But it’s also whimsical. It’s absolutely perfect.
2. It takes the fight seriously (sort of)
‘Children fighting adults’ is a very delicate subject to tackle in film. That’s because you have to concede that any straight fight between children and adults is going to result in the production of a number of quite small coffins.
How do films get around this? They’ll either make the adults bumbling idiots, the children super-powered, or compromise the film’s own reality. Take the gadget-laden kids in Spy Kids, for instance. Or the “man gets electrocuted so badly you can see his actual skeleton but is otherwise fine” cartoonish reality of Home Alone.
Hook takes a serious approach to this. The pirates aren’t stupid, for instance. They’re a bit buffoon-y, sure, but they do genuinely want to murder all these children with their swords. Hook even does so, putting his sword right through Rufio’s heart. Likewise, the children don’t have any super-powers, but they do have… IMAGINATION.
This results in some of the most creative sequences seen in cinema history. Most of the elements are things I’ve only ever seen in Hook. I’m talking about:
- A chicken gun that shoots eggs into peoples eyes
- Tomato guns that shoot tomatoes into peoples eyes
- A four-way blaster that shoots some kind of coloured acid water into peoples’ eyes
- And something so special it deserves its own section
3. The bit where the kid rolls up into a human bowling ball
I mean: how is he doing that?
He’s so readily able to get his legs into a full inverted position. He must have the flexibility of a seasoned yoga instructor. Look, he doesn’t even flinch!
He rolls with such solid momentum too. It really sells the idea that if this child rolled down the stairs and hit you, it’d cause you severe damage. Listen to the scene again, with headphones and max volume. You hear him hit every single step on the way down. These are deep resounding thuds.
People talk about the boulder scene from the first Indiana Jones. But I think this improves on that in every single way. Instead of asking “how would you escape a falling boulder?” it poses a simpler question. “What if a kid rolled up into a ball and hurtled down a plank towards you?” Indeed, what then?
4. The bit where the kid rolls up into a human bowling ball again
We have to talk about the fact that this happens twice. I don’t know why film director Steven Spielberg made the creative decision that this should be shown on screen two times in five minutes, but I’m glad he did.
I mean, in a way it adds very little to repeat the same bit again. If it’s meant to be funny that an overweight child has weaponised his own mass, then there’s no benefit from showing it a second time. The surprise is lost.
And yet it works. It really sells that this is something that really works. Just look at how many pirates he takes out. He neutralises at least five pirates, either directly or indirectly. And unlike the rest of the kids, he’s not just spraying stuff in people’s eyes. He is racking up kills like a professional.
Without missing a beat, he takes out a pirate with the old ‘stomp on a loose board’ trick. And then he demolishes the groin area of another pirate with the same method. Clearly, once he’s found something that works he knows to double down on it.
Say by some disaster, the original film stock of Hook was destroyed, and the sole remaining footage were the two sequences of this kid rolling down the planks. I would confidently state that nothing of value had been lost. In fact, I would strongly argue for this new ‘directors cut’ to be the superior version.
5. Robin Williams is great (in all of Hook)
Yeah, he’s excellent here. He’s gurning a bit for the camera, but that’s the whole shtick here. He’s not the stuck-up lawyer, he’s the chicken man now.
But he doesn’t roll up into a ball and get pushed down a plank. So there’s nothing more to say about him.
And that’s it! The next time you’re thinking about great action scenes in movies, I hope you’ll remember Hook. And the next time you’re sitting at the top of some stairs or the gangplank of a ship, maybe you’ll even try rolling yourself up into a ball and ploughing down it. If you do so, please send me the footage so I can laugh at you.