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There is perhaps no director whose films did more to shape the childhoods of a generation of film fans than Steven Spielberg. Films like Jaws, E.T. and the Indiana Jones franchise are undisputed classics that define the legendary director's career. But not all of Spielberg's films hold such universal regard. The director's 1991 film, Hook, an alternative take on the Peter Pan story, was not well-received by critics. It's also not remembered fondly by Spielberg himself. As far as what went wrong in the making of Hook, Steven Spielberg had this to say:
I felt like a fish out of water making Hook. I didn't have confidence in the script. I had confidence in the first act and I had confidence in the epilogue. I didn't have confidence in the body of it. I didn't quite know what I was doing and I tried to paint over my insecurity with production value.
Steven Spielberg has spoken in the past about getting nervous before every new movie, but he usually has confidence and an excited energy. So it must have been quite challenging for the director to shoot a film where he didn't have total confidence in the script. For Steven Spielberg of all people, with three Indiana Jones films, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Empire of the Sun among the films under his belt at the time, to feel like a fish out of water on a film set is unimaginable. That lack of confidence in the story no doubt played a part in why Hook failed to receive the critical acclaim the director's films usually enjoy.
Steven Spielberg mentions to Empire that he was confident in the first act Hook and the epilogue, which are arguably the two tightest sections of the film. The middle, the Neverland part, is seemingly where the director struggled and some of the pacing and tonal inconsistency bears that out. He may have used production value to mask his own insecurity about the story, but it's hard to argue that Hook did and still does look great. Neverland was fully realized as a bright and colorful, fantastical world. Even if Steven Spielberg claims to have not really known what he was doing in part of the film, he is such a master craftsman that there is still plenty of merit to be found in the film's world-building.
Now, I would be remiss if I did not mention that although Steven Spielberg views Hook as one of his biggest failures, there is a whole generation of fans that feel otherwise. Full disclosure, I am one of them. Many people grew up with Hook and Robin Williams nostalgia aside, view Hook as a seminal part of their childhood. Those of us of that ilk hold Williams as the one true Peter Pan, and can break into a 'Rufio!' chant at a moment's notice. I can see the director's points, read all the critiques, but to me, Hook is great. And no one, not even Steven Spielberg can convince me otherwise.