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HOOK – John Williams

December 2, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

There have been dozens of theatrical and cinematic adaptations of J. M. Barrie’s classic fairy tale Peter Pan in the years since it was first published in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until Steven Spielberg came along that there was a sequel. Hook was written by Jim Hart, Nick Castle, and Malia Scotch Marmo, and is set many years after the original story. Peter Pan has grown up and forgotten all about his adventurous childhood; he is now Peter Banning, and a successful lawyer in San Francisco, but he neglects his wife Moira and his children Jack and Maggie. In a last ditch attempt to save his marriage he agrees to a family vacation in London with Moira’s grandmother Wendy – the same Wendy who loved Peter when she was a girl, and who is now an old woman. However, everything changes when Peter’s old nemesis Captain Hook kidnaps his children, and Peter is forced to return to Neverland, reunite with Tinker Bell and the Lost Boys, and remember his birthright, in order to save them.

The film is anchored by a wonderful, childlike performance by Robin Williams as Peter, who gradually sheds his adult neuroses and embraces his inner hero as the film unfolds. He is ably supported by Dustin Hoffman as the moustache-twirling flamboyant villain James Hook, as well as Julia Roberts as Tinker Bell, Bob Hoskins as Hook’s first mate Smee, and Caroline Goodall as Moira, plus Charlie Korsmo and Amber Scott as the children. The film is a raucous, anarchic, technicolor delight; it has swashbuckling action sequences, chaotic playful scenes involving Peter and the Lost Boys, and a rich vein of emotional depth exploring themes relating to families and fatherhood. I’ve grown to appreciate it more and more as the years go by, and now consider it to be one of Spielberg’s unsung classics.

Of course, the music for Hook was by John Williams, who with this film marked his 11th collaboration with his most fruitful director relationship, sandwiched between Always and Jurassic Park. Interestingly, some of the music in Hook was written years previously; Williams collaborated with his long-time friend, composer and lyricist Leslie Bricusse, on ideas for an aborted stage musical based on the Barrie story as far back as 1985, before the project was cancelled. Despite this, the bare bones of ten songs had been written for the musical, two of which – “We Don’t Wanna Grow Up” and “When You’re Alone” – made it into the finished film, along with various thematic nuggets and ideas which found a home in the final score. And what a score it is – it’s a rich children’s fantasy adventure score, overflowing with colorful orchestral textures, action sequences, heartbreaking tenderness, and more than a dozen interlocking themes and motifs representing different characters, locations, and concepts.

There are themes for Peter, his children, his ‘Granny Wendy,’ Hook and Smee and the Pirates, Tinker Bell, and the Lost Boys, as well as a Flying Theme, a theme representing Peter’s Childhood as the Pan, a ‘hook-napping’ theme, and action variants thereof throughout many of the score’s expansive and raucous swordfight battles. The also score is overflowing with Williams’s personal compositional techniques, with textures that recall scores like Home Alone and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, while foreshadowing his later work on scores like Far and Away, Jurassic Park, The Phantom Menace, and even Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

The opening cue, “Prologue,” is actually the music for the film’s trailer, which of course came out many months before the film did, but nevertheless introduced two of the score’s main themes – one of the nautical Pirate Marches, right at the outset, and the soaring Flying Theme at 0:31, which effortlessly captures the joy and freedom of flight, and is among the best themes of Williams’s career. It’s a stunning opening salvo, and sets a perfect tone for the rest of the score to come.

After a performance of “We Don’t Wanna Grow Up” by an amateur children’s choir – Peter is watching his daughter Maggie perform in a school play version of Peter Pan – which is cute but verges on the annoying, and a busy and jazzy Mike Lang piano piece called “Banning Back Home,” which represents the modern hustle-and-bustle of Peter’s work life, the score begins in earnest in “Granny Wendy”. This cue underscores the scene where Moira’s elderly grandmother meets Peter for the first time in years; she remembers him as he was in his youth, whereas he barely remembers her at all. The piece unfolds like a nostalgic music box, chimes and woodwinds and shimmering strings, as eventually the theme representing Peter’s Childhood emerges from Wendy’s subconscious, melancholy flutes leading the way.

Everything changes when Peter’s old nemesis Captain Hook – who has learned that Peter is back – kidnaps his children Jack and Maggie, and whisks them off to Neverland. “Hook-Napped” is the scene where Peter discovers his children missing; both the Pirate March from the “Prologue,” and a secondary Pirate Theme, play off each other constantly, as the string section rolls and churns like a galleon on the ocean, before introducing the ‘hook-napping’ theme – part playful, part sinister – in the second half of the cue. The way Williams combines these three distinct melodic ideas, all representing different aspects of Hook, his pirates, and their plan, is a masterclass in leitmotivic writing; it’s so seamless, so effortless.

Peter’s long-lost fairy friend Tinker Bell arrives at the beginning of “The Arrival of Tink and the Flight to Neverland,” and attempts to convince Peter of who he really is, so that he can journey to Neverland and rescue his children. Williams hinted at Tinker Bell’s theme at the beginning of “We Don’t Wanna Grow Up” with a flurry of xylophones, but here he builds it out in full; it slowly emerges from a series of magical, playful, fluttering mickey-mouse textures, until the first statement of the full Tinker Bell Theme at 1:53. The combination of twittering strings, xylophones, and celesta captures her delicacy and her fragility perfectly, as well as both her mischievousness and her determination. Eventually her persistence wins over and, with the help of a little sprinkle of fairy dust, Peter joins her on a joyous flight out the window, across the rooftops of London, and on to Neverland. Peter’s Childhood theme emerges at 5:20 in one of its most glorious refrains, warm brass and gorgeous string harmonies.

“Presenting the Hook” reprises the two Pirate Marches, the first as an Irish reel for fiddles and pennywhistles at 0:20, and then the second as a hornpipe at 1:20 that jumps between a wily bass flute motif and more fiddles. Eventually the pompous theme for Captain Hook himself begins at 1:54, as the bewigged and be-coiffed pirate dandy prances down his deck in front of his adoring minions, strutting like a peacock while Williams’s theme trills around him. Meanwhile, Peter is trying to get to grips with Neverland, as he is accosted by mermaids and lost boys, and he experiences all the fantastical sights and sounds they show him. There is bucolic choral magic and shimmering string wonderment in the opening moments of “From Mermaids to Lost Boys,” which leads into the first statement of the magnificent ‘Believe’ theme at 1:57 as Peter views the sylvan beauty of the island (more on that later), some references to Peter’s Childhood theme and Tinker Bell’s theme, and some anarchic action music as Peter meets the Lost Boys for the first time. This leads into the frantic and excitable “The Lost Boy Chase,” as the boys – who steadfastly refuse to believe that this old man is their former leader – chase him on skateboards to 3½ minutes of orchestral ebullience; the brass-heavy 7-note motif for the Lost Boys runs through the cue, accompanied by all manner of dancing instrumental flourishes.

Back on Hook’s boat, “Smee’s Plan” for finally defeating Peter is revealed to the strains of Hook’s Theme, which here is reorchestrated for more whimsical woodwinds and subtle waltz-time strokes from the strings, and again foreshadows some of the darkly playful music Williams would feature heavily in his Harry Potter scores. Meanwhile, back at the Lost Boys village, Peter finally regains his memories of his childhood – and his status as their leader – through “The Banquet” and “The Never-Feast,” which underscores the riotous technicolor food fight that unlocks his imagination and his inner child. A regal march full of trilling brass fanfares and inspiring strings accompanies the arrival of the food that Peter cannot see to the dinner table; the interplay between all the different sections of the orchestra is fabulous, a triumph of musical dexterity. The enormous, sparkling statement of the theme that erupts at 1:16 in “The Never-Feast” is spine-tinglingly good – despite the unexpected Christmassy sound – and then the allusions to Peter’s Childhood theme, the Flying theme, and the tender theme for Peter’s children (at 3:53) cement Peter’s transformation from stuffy lawyer into swashbuckling hero. Bangarang!

“Remembering Childhood” is a festival of thematic interplay as Williams weaves numerous statements of the Children’s theme, Peter’s Childhood theme, the Flying theme, and the Believe theme together in a stunning 11-minute celebration of everything that makes Peter Pan Peter Pan. The Children’s theme – which represents the ‘happy thought’ that allows Peter to fly – is arranged with spectacular brass-led wonder, while the flood of memories that allow him to recall his youthful adventures with Wendy, John, Peter, Tinker Bell and the others, are covered with the golden glow of warmth and nostalgia; the heartbreaking piano performance of the Childhood theme around the 5:30 mark is especially poignant and completely wonderful. The conclusive thematic duet between the Flying theme and the full, unrestrained version of Peter’s theme is just glorious, sweeping and heroic and majestic and overflowing with unbridled enthusiasm.

This then leads into “You Are the Pan,” which for my money is the emotional apex of the score. It underscores the scene where Peter is formally ‘recognized’ by the Lost Boys and their interim leader, Rufio, who gives him his sword in an emotional ceremony. Williams takes the seriousness of this moment to heart, and introduces a new theme for religioso strings and choir that is almost overwhelmingly beautiful, and at times reaches operatic proportions; the horn countermelody that runs alongside the strings and choir from 0:42 to 1:20 is some of the most powerfully emotional stuff this side of E.T . The keen-eared will clearly recognize that the flute-led theme that begins at 1:47 is inspired by Georges Delerue’s 1985 score for Agnes of God, but this is a minor matter. Honestly, when the strings swell halfway through its second refrain, around the 2:28 mark, it’s all I can to do keep from bursting into tears.

The song “When You’re Alone,” performed by the then 8-year old actress Amber Scott in character as Peter’s daughter Maggie, is a holdover from the Williams-Bricusse musical, and is sweetly endearing, as all songs performed by children who can’t sing are; however, the melody of the piece is important as it provides the thematic inspiration for the Children’s theme. “When You’re Alone” was surprisingly nominated for Best Original Song at the 1991 Oscars, and Scott performed a lip-synch during the telecast (in a bed that looked like a cage, and surrounded by dancers on wires), but it eventually lost the award to “Beauty and the Beast” from Beauty and the Beast.

The big finale of the score is “The Ultimate War,” which underscores the massive battle between the Lost Boys, led by Peter and Rufio, and the pirates, led by Hook, for the fate of Peter’s children, and Neverland as a whole. Throughout the almost 8-minute cue Williams turns virtually all of his major thematic ideas into action motifs, pitting them against each other in ferocious counterpoint as the characters clash swords, swing from ropes, and more. There is a great deal of staccato percussion underpinning the performances, several flamboyant fanfares announcing Peter’s arrival on the deck of Hook’s pirate ship, and one especially wonderful sequence when Williams jumps backwards between the themes for both Peter and Hook as they face off. The depth and intricacy of the arrangements, and the vivid sense of movement in the rhythmic parts of the score, are staggeringly good.

The conclusive “Farewell Neverland” sees Peter and his children – having vanquished Hook once and for all – returning to the ‘real world,’ and safety. However, this time Peter has not forgotten about his adventures, and Williams reads into this by leaning heavily into several themes in scenes of heartfelt goodbyes and emotional reunions. There are powerful statements of both the Children’s theme and the Believe theme, representing the two elements pulling most at Peter’s feelings. The choral tones and the variation on “You Are the Pan” underscores the good-hearted lost boy Thud Butt being anointed as Peter’s successor following the death of Rufio in battle, and the gorgeous longing statement of Tinker Bell’s theme at 5:20 is the climax of their never-quite-romantic relationship. When Peter reunites with his wife Moira and Granny Wendy – who has a new twinkle in her eye – Williams brings back both the Childhood theme and the Children’s theme contrapuntally, and finishes with a spectacular statement of the previously little-heard theme for Tootles, the now-elderly lost boy who ‘lost his marbles’. His Christmas-inspired theme resounds in combination with the Flying theme to spine-tingling effect, as he joyfully floats up into the sky, and Peter declares that ‘to live… to live will be an awfully big adventure’.

As good as the original soundtrack of Hook was – and, believe me, it is an outstanding album – it was nevertheless missing a great deal of music. In 2012 La-La Land Records released a 2-CD expanded edition of the score containing more than 140 minutes of music, including bonus alternate and unused cues, greatly expanding the score’s original content. This includes much more of the gentle nostalgia from the beginning of the film in the scenes with Granny Wendy, a massively expanded “Ultimate War” sequence that includes Rufio’s death and a longer look at Hook’s final demise at the hands (jaws?) of the crocodile clock, the excellent “Hook’s Madness” cue which is an extended take on the under-served Hook material, and the complete “End Credits”. The album was produced by Didier Deutsch and Mark Wilder, supervised and approved by Williams, and features art design by Jim Titus and excellent in-depth liner notes by Daniel Schweiger. Both albums are outstanding, and only your level of deep interest in the score should determine which one you pick up – and you should definitely pick up one of them.

Quite how Hook failed to earn up an Oscar nomination in 1991 is unbelievable – for me, it’s better than Williams’s other score of the year, JFK, and streets ahead of other nominees Bugsy and The Fisher King in terms of depth and complexity – but the bizarre backlash against the film and its director that existed at the time is the only logical conclusion I can come to. Because, when you get down to the bottom line, Hook is a bonafide masterpiece.

Whenever I sit down to review a John Williams score, I often think that my familiarity with the work will result in me having an easy time, but over and over and again I am overwhelmed by the thematic depth, the quality of the orchestration, the way he weaves themes together to create a clever dramatic narrative, and the power of the emotion in his work. Hook is another one like that. As the film itself has become more beloved over time, so too should John Williams’s music for it; it’s one of the best scores he wrote in the entire decade, a sweeping and stirring fantasy masterpiece that, for me, was the best score of 1991.

Buy the Hook soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Prologue (1:31)
  • We Don’t Wanna Grow Up (written by John Williams and Leslie Bricusse) (1:50)
  • Banning Back Home (2:22)
  • Granny Wendy (2:57)
  • Hook-Napped (3:56)
  • The Arrival of Tink and the Flight to Neverland (5:56)
  • Presenting the Hook (2:58)
  • From Mermaids to Lost Boys (4:24)
  • The Lost Boy Chase (3:32)
  • Smee’s Plan (1:45)
  • The Banquet (3:08)
  • The Never-Feast (4:39)
  • Remembering Childhood (11:02)
  • You Are the Pan (4:00)
  • When You’re Alone (written by John Williams and Leslie Bricusse, performed by Amber Scott) (3:14)
  • The Ultimate War (7:53)
  • Farewell Neverland (10:17)
  • Prologue (1:30)
  • We Don’t Wanna Grow Up (written by John Williams and Leslie Bricusse) (1:50)
  • Banning Back Home (2:25)
  • Granny Wendy (2:57)
  • The Bedroom (1:07)
  • The Nursery (1:38)
  • The Watch (0:56)
  • Hook-Napped (3:56)
  • A Portrait of Wendy (1:06)
  • The Arrival of Tink and The Flight to Neverland (6:03)
  • Presenting the Hook (3:01)
  • Pirates (2:41)
  • Hook Challenges Peter (7:50)
  • From Mermaids to Lost Boys (5:13)
  • The Lost Boy Chase (3:32)
  • Smee’s Plan (3:25)
  • Pan Is Challenged (1:20)
  • Hook’s Lesson (3:08)
  • The Banquet (3:10)
  • The Never-Feast (4:41)
  • Hook’s Madness (4:00)
  • Follow That Shadow (2:38)
  • Remembering Childhood (11:04)
  • You Are the Pan (4:03)
  • When You’re Alone (written by John Williams and Leslie Bricusse, performed by Amber Scott) (3:16)
  • Tink Grows Up (2:20)
  • The Ultimate War: To War (9:45)
  • The Ultimate War: The Death of Rufio (2:36)
  • The Ultimate War: Sword Fight (5:32)
  • Farewell Neverland (11:15)
  • End Credits (6:08)
  • Prologue (Alternate Version) (1:35) BONUS
  • Banning Back Home (Film Version) BONUS (3:14)
  • Presenting the Hook (Extended Film Version) (4:03) BONUS
  • Hook’s Blues (2:17) BONUS
  • Wendy Tells Peter the Truth (Partly Unused Version) BONUS (2:24)
  • Exit Music (Unused Version) BONUS (1:42)

Running Time: 73 minutes 53 seconds – Original
Running Time: 139 minutes 21 seconds – Expanded

Epic Soundtrax EK-48888 (1991) – Original
La-La Land Records LLCD-1211 (1991/2012) – Expanded

Music composed and conducted by John Williams. Orchestrations by Alexander Courage, John Neufeld, Grieg McRitchie and Angela Morley. Featured piano soloist Mike Lang. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy . Edited by Ken Wannberg. Original album produced by John Williams. Expanded album produced by Didier Deutsch, Mark Wilder, MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys.

  1. December 2, 2021 at 9:51 am

    Absolutely – a masterpiece by a maestro at the very top of his game. So textured, so thematically rich. By the way, on my blog I’m working through doing reviews of a Williams score for every year of my life – I’m up to 1981. You may be interested in reading them.

  2. December 3, 2021 at 1:44 am

    It is not the London Symphony Orchestra who performed this fantastic score, I wish it would have been 😜

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