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.