Review: Hook (1991)

Composer: John Williams

Label: Epic Soundtrax

Catalogue Nr.: EK 48888

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Hollywood's filmmaking-wunderkind Steven Spielberg has always been obsessed with two things: directing a live-action film of the classic Peter Pan tale and making a musical. The latter dream already lead to a big failure in the form of the ill-fated chaos-comedy 1941: Hellcats Over Hollywood (1979). Ten years later, Spielberg would try to combine his obsessions by creating the stage musical Hook but a troubled production turned it into something entirely different. The idea of a musical was almost completely lost during the process and the classic story was largely abandoned since the film deals with an adult Pan who has to re-discover his adventurous youth in order to save his kids from the evil captain. The classic tale was degraded to provide the basis for Spielberg's own unofficial sequel to exploit his personal Peter Pan syndrome. After the film came out, it earned bad reviews and a generally bad response even from Spielberg fans while the result even displeased the director himself. Still, Hook can not be called a total failure because it is still an enjoyable children film with several considerable pro's like Dustin Hoffman's performance as the manic-depressive captain or Bob Hoskins as Smee, great lighting and amazing in-door sets.

The score:

If you try to divide Williams' body of work into different categories, Hook would belong into the Saccharine-category and also represents the peak of it. A childish score near perfection spiced with a plethora of themes and swashbuckling adventure music. The origins of being conceived as a musical once are still evident to a rudimentary degree in John Williams score. Hook contains a lot of character themes which were probably all meant to be songs at a very early point of production. For that purpose, Williams even brought in his long-time collaborator, lyricist Leslie Bricusse with whom he developed songs for a number of films, including another film-musical Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969) or the earlier kiddie film Home Alone (1990). In the end, only two of their songs written for Hook actually remained in the film and appear on this CD and to be honest, they are nothing spectacular (despite the academy award nomination for "When You're Alone") and the underscore gets the main focus instead. A rushed production schedule made it necessary for Williams to start composing the music before the film was actually finished, so the results he delivered are even more amazing. More than two hours of music exist for the film and it was notably tried hard to give a decent overview of all the great material with this official single disc OST.

In the film, William's musical journey to never land actually starts with the song "We Don't Wanna Grow Up" but the CD opens with a very special rarity instead: the official trailer music, which comes as "Prologue". This short but rousing, adventurous composition is giving a brief hint of what is about to come later and already introduces the main theme. The song that follows opens with solo piano introducing the theme for Tinkerbell followed by kids singing. What seems pretty annoying and simple at first is actually meant as source music in the film for a delightful school play of the Peter Pan tale. "Banning Back Home" is probably more familiar to fans under the name "Yuppie Sounds" which is a much better summary of the cue with its light-hearted, soft jazz arrangement, the kind of music you would expect in a tool kit commercial. It's interesting that a lot of the film's first ten minutes are left completely without underscore except the two oddities mentioned before. The real orchestral underscore carefully starts with "Granny Wendy" when Peter Banning visits Wendy and enters his old past. A careful solo-flute performance is slowly giving away the memories-theme which will become a main element of the music for the flying sequences later in the score. Dark music with clusters of menacingly low whirling strings and fanfares sets the tone for the scary Hook-napping of the children.

Chaotic mickey-mousing for pizzicato strings, flute and a touch of Tchaikovsky's nutcracker is heard during the first half of "The Arrival Of Tink and the Flight To Neverland". It's these passages that are a bit lengthy especially if you belong to the people who don't like Williams in nutcracker-mode but still, it's a funny and fitting musical interpretation of a little elf. Tinkerbell's theme is featured extensively during this passage as she tries to convince a puzzled Peter that Elves exist and that he must follow her to never land to save his children. More or less willingly, he does which results in a first big statement of the memories-theme for their fairy journey. However, the first real highlight comes with "Presenting The Hook". It's Williams in pirate mood with a nice integration of woodwinds and fiddle to create a sunny coastal feeling of planks and saltwater. Low woodwinds introduce the pirate theme which is followed by Smee's/Hook's theme, rising from flute and fiddle to a bouncy march with dark fanfares. Peter's underwater encounters are accompanied by ethereal female choir as he travels "From Mermaids To Lost Boys". A first statement of the neverland-theme, a beautiful fairytale-melody for horns, comes later in the cue and greets a panorama view of the place between sleep and awake (no, not Michael Jackson's horror ranch). What follows is a fast-paced ballet for "The Lost Boy Chase" which is an even bigger homage to the nutcracker but on the other hand, a ballet is something that Williams does not create all day and the piece brings the necessary rhythmic fun to the scene while maintaining a gentle elegance.

"Smee's Plan" solely consists of quiet lurking woodwind outings of Smee's/Hook's theme supporting a dialogue between the two in the film. Following now are two closely connected cues since they support the same never-dinner scene. "The Banquet" and "The Never-Feast" both introduce a festive new theme for the lost boys while "The Banquet" actually resembles some of the characters through its orchestration. When you hear the low tuba, you simply know that there must be a fat little boy on screen and its a lot of fun to spot all these little extras interwoven in the piece. "The Never-Feast" celebrates Peter's retrieval of fantasy with broad fanfare statements of the lost boys theme. "Remembering Childhood" is a lengthy cue which is introducing a new theme at the beginning for Peter's kids. The melody is later picked up in the sad song "When You're Alone" but here it soars with full power of the brass section. The glorious moment gives way to soft, emotional underscoring for string, piano and violin as Peter slowly remembers his past with the memories-theme getting main focus from Williams. While this passage can be a bit lengthy, it offers some warm music and another big moment of joy when the full orchestra suddenly bursts into the flying-theme at the end. Hard not to get excited here but it is just getting better, with "You Are The Pan" bringing us a quasi-religious choral power and a heartbreaking pan flute performance at the end, which actually comes much earlier in the film but when it comes, its so damn effective. Williams really has never done a more beautiful thing with the flute than "The Face Of Pan" (which is the real name of that moment).

After the song comes the climax of the entire score, "The Ultimate War", with playful and elegant battle music that is so thematically complex it could come right from a galaxy far, far away. All major and minor themes from the score are thrown in, so that it feels like everything was aiming at this exciting, swashbuckling battle music. Big fanfares, string races and occasional nods to Korngold & co. - this composition remains one of John Williams' best action cue for a children film to date right along with the finale from E.T. (1981) and nothing from the Home Alone or Harry Potter scores can beat this. Take into account that the 7 minute CD version is only a fraction of the monumental 20 minute film version which offers even more cool moments. Once this baby starts you just want it to continue forever. Ending the score is "Farewell Neverland" with a return of the neverland-theme, touching ethereal female choir and a Christmassy new theme for snowy London and for Peter's retained childhood. A pleasant ending for an amazing musical fairytale.

 

RATING:

Score as heard in the film: 90%

Score as heard on CD: 90%

TOTAL: 90%

 

The presentation:

The CD offers a generous running time of over 70 minutes while the sequencing presents most of the music in its chronological film order without loosing any listening flow. However, it was noticeably tried to squeeze the music on a single disc. There are just too many great moments in this score, so a lot of crucial material is missing while some of the cues that actually appear on the CD were shortened. Examples for this are "Presenting The Hook" which has an additional action moment in the film or "The Ultimate War" for obvious reasons, since the full 20 minute version would have never fit on a single disc release. However, it should be mentioned that there are no concert versions or re-arrangements which is often the case with John Williams' score albums. Track listing is completely absent from the back inlay because the OST release for Hook was rushed into the pressing plant. Track listings only appear in the booklet and on the CD itself but running times are nowhere to be found. A little gem for fans of the film comes with the booklet. Among the small six colour pictures from the film, there is one showing a cut-scene (Hook, Smee and Jack in a small boat during bad weather). The biggest problem with this CD is the absence of nearly 70% of further underscore. Understandable though, if you consider that there are bootlegs of the complete score consisting of 4-CDs. The OST offers a solid overview but an expanded release would be welcomed. I understand that the OST is going OOP and Sony/Columbia seems to be the music rights owner. Good reasons to cross your fingers for a new, expanded edition.

Presentation by the Label: 63%

 

Summary:

Hook is John Williams in fairytale mood with a children/fantasy film score crafted near perfection. A wealth of highlights are spread over the disc like "Presenting The Hook", "The Lost Boy Chase", "The Never-Feast", "You Are The Pan" or "The Ultimate War" with lots of themes coming and going. This score offers something great for every soul. Of course, all that should not cloak the fact that there are a couple of moments that simply drag a bit like the first half of "The Arrival Of Tink and the Flight To Neverland" or the slow emotional middle section of "Remembering Childhood" but overall, there is barely any reason for criticism because the music is just perfect for what it is. If you consider that Williams composed most of this music blindly without having seen much of the final footage, the result is jaw-dropping amazing. But I can tell you a lot of things, so I will just quote the man who knows better, Steven Spielberg: 'The music needs to be experienced, not discussed' Who am I to disagree with the man? You heard him! Get Hook!

Review by Andreas Creutzburg

 

                   Tracklisting:

01. Prologue (1:30)
02. We Don't Want to Grow Up (1:50)
03. Banning Back Home (2:22)
04. Granny Wendy (2:57)
05. Hook-Napped (3:56)
06. The Arrival of Tink and the Flight to Neverland (5:55)
07. Presenting the Hook (2:58)
08. From Mermaids to Lost Boys (4:24)
09. The Lost Boy Chase (3:31)
10. Smee's Plan (1:44)
11. The Banquet (3:07)
12. The Never-Feast (4:39)
13. Remembering Childhood (11:02)
14. You are the Pan (3:59) 
15. When You're Alone (3:13)
16. The Ultimate War (7:53)
17. Farewell Neverland (10:16)