Adapt And Die


Somewhere Between Sleep And Awake

Hook the game has what Hook the movie is missing, and vice versa.

By Anthony John Agnello • July 31, 2013

Adapt And Die is an ongoing look at works of film, TV, and other media that crashed and burned in video game form.

Of the many psychologically fraught fantasy movies made at the end of the 20th century, Hook isn’t the most outwardly messed up. Steven Spielberg’s 1991 “Peter Pan grows up” movie is never as aggressively nightmarish as Return To Oz, not as explicit as Labyrinth, and nowhere near as lonely as Goonies. But beneath Hook’s veneer of soundstage bombast and killer food fights is a movie about childhood trauma. It’s about how people cope and how materialism is far more dangerous to innocence than aging. The movie is almost great. All its inspiration can’t make up for its disaster of an ending, which gives up on poking at Peter Pan’s brain and opts instead for an extended, incoherent fight scene.

Hook the video game picks up the slack in that regard. Released in 1992, the Super NES adaptation is nothing but 10 action scenes strung together, and they are, for the most part, excellent. The game is never as visually imaginative as its movie forebear, but it’s often beautiful to look at, to hear, and to play. Plus, it captures some of the essential chaos of Neverland that the movie sometimes rushes through. Peter’s catharsis, however, is totally absent from the game. It’s a shame; somewhere between the movie and the video game adaptation is an ideal version of the Hook story.

Hook makes psychological healing fun. Robin Williams is Peter Banning, a 40-something corporate litigator who’s obsessed with money and has little time for his two young children. He’s an orphan raised by Wendy Darling, a woman who served as the inspiration for J.M. Barrie’s old Peter And Wendy story. Turns out that Wendy’s a bit more than inspiration, since Banning is actually Peter Pan himself. He has no recollection of all the fairies and flying, though, so it’s terribly surprising when pirate captain James T. Hook shows up and kidnaps his children, hoping to reignite the good old days.

It’s an ugly scenario when you dig into it: A man is so warped by his century-long childhood killing pirates and kidnapping girls that he remembers nothing before the age of 14. After his neglected children are threatened by his wayward youth, he’s incapable of saving them because he lacks the strength or imagination to do anything. Peter actually pulls out a checkbook when he first meets Hook, rather than just reaching out for his kids. This is a sad person in a fantasy land of sad people. (Other moments in the film include his son breaking down completely and smashing up a room of clocks, Captain Hook attempting suicide, and Wendy making reference to her sexual past with Peter. Dang!)

The game doesn’t spend any time on the story meat here. Fire it up, and you’re treated to a short scene of pixelated Robin Williams telling his kids to shut up about Peter Pan while a pirate ship flies through the sky in the background. The first level covers most of the movie’s run time in about two minutes. Pixel Williams dons the green tights and Tears For Fears hair of Peter Pan, hops through the village of the Lost Boys, and wins a duel against their leader, Rufio.

This matches up with the plot in the flick. Every scene of Peter Pan reclaiming his mantle as king of the Lost Boys is awesome. It’s sentimental stuff, but Neverland’s weird logic and language—”Pan” isn’t a name but a title, and “bangarang” is shorthand for anything good—help it all work. After Peter’s back, though, the Lost Boys go and have the stupidest movie fight ever, and it all falls apart. There are backpack cannons that shoot marbles and eggs. Rufio dies, and no one really cares for more than a second. All the carefully cultivated melancholy of the previous scenes dissipates in the blitz.

What follows in the game doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense, either. For starters, Peter circumnavigates all of Neverland, visiting ice fields and skeleton infested caverns. That’s all well and good, but he starts right next to Hook’s ship on the map. He can fly! Just go over there and save your kids, moron!

But ultimately, the weird logic makes the game better, especially since all the action is coherent and functional. Freewheeling absurdity doesn’t feel out of place in Neverland, after all. That’s kind of the point of the place. Keeping that in mind, the narrative inconsistencies in the video game are a wash, and underneath is a slick adventure. Peter looks and handles precisely as he should, with wind ripping through his hair and a floatiness when you control him that makes gravity feel like an afterthought. There are no skeleton pirates that throw their heads at you in the movie, nor are there bearded hobos who hide in trees and hit you with oversized boxing gloves. But these game-only creations do feel appropriate to Neverland when you run into them. The fight around the edges of Neverland has the consistency, stakes, and fun that are missing in the movie’s big showdown.

Hook the movie and Hook the game end on the same note. Peter accepts his past and embraces his family. “To live,” says Peter, echoing J.M. Barrie himself, “To live would be an awfully big adventure.” Oddly, he tells this to Tinkebell in the game, rather than to his family as in the movie, which says everything about the game you need to know. Backstory and character don’t matter here.

But the movie’s no less weird. Peter has a nice moment with his family, but there’s also an obese old man flying around in front of them. (Plus, his wife is just sort of standing there taking it all in stride. You can practically hear her new neuroses forming. If only we got a sequel movie about her.) It would be sweet if it weren’t soured by the preceding 20 minutes of fighting.

Tinkerbell has a pretty good solution for the problem of Hook the film vs. Hook the game. “You know that place between sleep and awake? That place where you still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you,” she says in the film. When I’m at my haziest, remembering the game and the movie at the same time, that’s when Hook works best.

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55 Responses to “Somewhere Between Sleep And Awake”

  1. Drew Toal says:

    Uh dude. Spoiler alert? Some of us didn’t know Rufio died.

  2. PugsMalone says:

    Tinkerbell used the Toothbrush. Tinkerbell’s Teeth became unusually bright. The Whiteness of Tinkerbell’s Teeth scared the enemy!

    (I wonder what it says about me that Julia Roberts’ teeth are what I remember best about the movie.)

  3. Oxperiment says:

    At your haziest, Mr. Agnello, you mix together movies and their video game adaptations? You, sir, are the ultimate author for this series.

  4. Steven Timberman says:

    This game was also BASTARD hard. I kept on renting it from my local video rental chain when I was growing up and never did make it too far.

    • Dave Dalrymple says:

      Games based on movies were ridiculously hard in those days. The 16-bit games didn’t have the sluggish controls that were common on the NES, and they weren’t as buggy as the later 3D games, they were just completely unforgiving. 

      • Girard says:

        I remember renting the NES adaptation of Hook (after reading a walkthrough of the SNES version in some gaming magazine, and thinking it looked pretty cool, plus I liked the movie). It made even less sense, was even more bastard hard, and was more broken than the SNES version by far.

        Also, in the battle with Rufio, instead of a life bar, there was just an image of each character’s shirt up at the top of the screen, and whoever ripped the other’s shirt off first won, which was a little strange.

        Also, in googling for that game, I found there was also an (inevitable, perhaps) arcade beat-em-up adaptation, too. Weird.

      • Marozeph says:

        I vaguely remember an SNES-Adaption of Cliffhanger that was also hard as hell. The second level (i think) had the player run away from an avalance – one wrong move and 16-Bit-Stallone was dead. I never made it any further. Pretty sure it was a “No Passwords / Limited Continues” kind of game.

      • HobbesMkii says:

         Like those pits in ET.

    • bamfspace says:

       Totally, me and my brother combined to beat this game but it took us forever. If I played it now, I’d probably give up on the first level. Younger me was far more resilient.

  5. GhaleonQ says:

    This was a good choice, but I would have loved the quadruple feature.  There was this game, probably the most interesting, which was made by the same people who would go on to do the really wonderful portable Metal Slug games, 1st and 2nd Mission.  There was a super-generic game made by the super-generic Ocean Software, apparently.

    However, the 3rd game was the totally bizarre beat-’em-up made by the great Irem. It’s not good, but totally anticipates how good Ninja Baseball Bat Man/Baseball Combat Fighting League would be a mere year later.  Peter and 3 Lost Boys get fighting game-style commands to beat up some kind of West Asian ascetic on an ice floe, a giant with a pipe, a fat butcher, and HOOK CLONES.  I don’t know.  I’m not sure Anthony could really dissect it and have it make sense.

    Too bad Toodles doesn’t come in as a desperation summon, Streets Of Rage/Bare Knuckle-style, say, “I’ve lost my marbles,” and then shower the baddies with giant marble meteors.

    • Marozeph says:

      A movie that got adapted into three different games in three different genres (I’m pretty sure the Ocean one was a point-and-click adventure – not sure about the genericness though)?
      That must be some kind of record.

    • Ghaleon, I knew I could rely on you to know about the unusual development of the many Hook adaptations. I actually did look into the arcade brawler before writing this because I actually didn’t know about it before.

      Sidenote: While the portable Metal Slug games are indeed worth checking out, that studio’s real diamond in the rough is Skyblazer for SNES. For anyone that likes 16-bit style Mega Man and Castlevania, check that game out.

      • GhaleonQ says:

        Oh, man, that game is something I totally ignored.  I’m even a sucker for Mode 7 or Sega-arcade-pseudo-3-d gameplay.  I’m on it!  As always, thanks for the stellar writing and obscurities.

  6. I HATE DONKEYS says:

    “The movie is almost great.”
    That’s…certainly an opinion.

    • Girard says:

      I’m actually kind of happy to see the movie get some (admittedly reserved) praise after all the relentless drubbing it got/gets over that the AVClub. Yeah, it’s got some trademark Spielberg schmaltz, but it’s also a pretty epic children’s fantasy film – especially for the time, before pushing-three-hours fantasies became somewhat of a norm. We watched the movie incessantly growing up, and it was definitely a household favorite.

      Obviously, that’s also just an opinion, but it’s weird that a film that was absolutely tops in the minds of so many kids I knew growing up seems to generate such a strong negative reaction now.

      • DrFlimFlam says:

         It was one of those movies that I had to see endlessly at after-school daycare growing up. There was also a lot of Hey, Dude! and the Thriller video.

        I should probably watch it again at some point.

        Did you know that the crazy aged stuff they did to Maggie Smith ( and other stuff) got that movie nominated for an Oscar?

      • Marozeph says:

        I like the movie quite a bit, but it is pretty flawed – its schmaltzy, some stuff makes little sense (the kids eat colored putty?) and scenes like Rufios death feel oddly unfinished. There is a lot of good stuff though – as the article points out, the parts where it delves into Peters psychology are often very enthralling.

        My guess is that the movie gets more flak than it deserves because it doesn’t live up to Spielbergs (very high) standards and, well, could have been great. Disappointment is often worse than outright failure.

        • Girard says:

          Wasn’t the colored putty thing just a product of their imagination (which was either literally or visually ‘realized’ in the movie because they were in Never Land)?

          Not that “the Lost Boys eat exclusively imaginary food” makes much more sense than “the Lost Boys east colored putty”…

        • Penis Van Lesbian says:

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus almost anything makes more sense than “the Lost Boys east colored putty”

      • Drew Toal says:


      • I don’t really get the hate. Any movie that has Bob Hoskins dressed like a pirate while receiving the adoration of immortal prostitutes in Neverland, even if just for a second, is deserving of praise.

    • Penis Van Lesbian says:

      It certainly is. Sorry, but this movie is painfully terrible. And “to live would be an awfully big adventure” is just so wrong.

      I remember going in with such high hopes – Peter Pan, Spielberg, Williams, Hoffman – what could go wrong? The only thing I’ll say in its favour is that you can just about glimpse the film it could have been.

      I seem to recall that the editing is bizarre as well – there’s a sequence with mermaids that makes absolutely zero sense iirc.

      • DrFlimFlam says:

         But he’s stealing second!

      • I HATE DONKEYS says:

        Aw yeah what was that mermaid bit??
        Also in the book it’s “to die would be a big adventure” which is a way cooler line. (I loved the living shit out Peter Pan when I was a kid).

      • Jonathan Michaels says:

        Harry Knowles’s book has a second hand anecdote about Spielberg leaving a screening, realizing he botched the movie, and crying.

        He then resolved himself not to make the same mistake again, and his next two movies were Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List.

        • Penis Van Lesbian says:

          I guess he gets some credit for that. It’s such a weirdly bad film – there’s nothing themetically wrong with it afaicr, but nothing really works or hangs together in a way that resonates.

  7. Mike P says:

    I would have never even imagined this game on this website.

    My parents rented it for me for a weekend back in ’92(when I was a 6 year old scamp). I never beat it in that weekend.

    Flash forward 10 years, I see it at an Exchange-buy that baby-and beat it in a night. Still one of my favorite SNES games (Also love, Robocop vs Terminator). Do a write up on that baby! 

    • Penis Van Lesbian says:

      Add The Lion King to the list…

      • BarbleBapkins says:

        And Aladdin, with the inevitable (and perhaps unanswerable) question: Which was better, the Genesis or SNES version?

        • Boonehams says:

          Genesis Aladdin: Best graphics and sound.

          SNES Aladdin: Best controls and level design.

          Winner: Anyone who had both systems.

    • Boonehams says:

      Robocop Vs. Terminator for the Genesis was the most ridiculously violent game back in the day.  It was crazy and my little kid brain could barely process the game’s visual carnage.

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    You guys should do Fast and the Furious Showdown next, just a suggestion. 

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