In the film music world, every once a while there comes along a truly terrible film featuring a great score. Hook (to be fair, it wasn't an awful film, just not up to Spielberg's usual par) was a rare mis-fire for Steven Spielberg, director of such classics as the original Star Wars trilogy, E.T., Jaws, and the original Indiana Jones trilogy. A common thread running through these classic films is their score composer: John Williams. As a composer, Williams has crafted more classic and instantly-recognizable themes than any film score composer on the planet, past, present, and future. Hook might not be one of his best known (most likely due to the sinking of the film into obscurity very soon after its release), but it is still a classic in almost every regard.
The film itself is about a Peter 'Pan' Banning who has chosen to live in the real world and has now grown into a terrible father and husband (and he, for some weird reason, does not remember anything of his experiences as a child in Neverland). When he and his wife and children go to Granny Wendy's to visit for Christmas, things quickly take a turn for the worst when the infamous Captain Hook decides to kidnap Peter's children in order to turn them against their father. And so begins an adventure which reunites nostalgic viewers with live-action versions of Tinkerbell and all of the other characters from the classic play and Disney animated feature. While the film's execution may have been somewhat stagnant and stale, it nevertheless provided Williams the opportunity to write one of his best scores.
Williams pulled off the rare feat of composing many distinct themes for the film and making every single one of them quite memorable. The theme first heard at the conclusion of 'The Arrival of Tink and the Flight to Neverland' is one of the most recognizable and enjoyable themes in the score. The theme brilliantly captures the joy of flight and fantasy. The theme for Captain Hook, heard most prominently in 'Presenting the Hook' is perhaps the second most recognizable theme. It is primarily comical and, unfortunately, doesn't make for any real tension, yet it works just the same. Many other themes course their way through the score, including one for Neverland itself and one for the Lost Boys in 'The Lost Boy Chase'. The way Williams wove these themes into one cohesive score makes for a spellbinding and magical listening experience. In addition to the broad strokes, there are numerous individual touches that leave a distinct impression. 'You are the Pan' is an achingly beautiful choral piece. 'The Lost Boy Chase' is a silly and light-hearted but fun track. 'Remembering Childhood' is a great nostalgic piece, with a lilting piano performance of the main theme, which culminates in a spectacular outburst of thematic flight at the end of the track. 'The Ultimate War' is also light-hearted yet fun and fast-paced.
If there were to be any flaws found in the score, one might be that it is a little too light-hearted. There is very little sense of danger. Even in the score's most sinister moments ('Hook-Napped') there is very little tension. One could posit that Williams simply followed the film, and they would most likely be correct. The character of Hook is never presented in the film as a real and sinister threat, but rather more of a comical bumbling fool of a villain who never really ever stood a chance of winning the battle. This attitude crosses over into the music as well, and it is slightly disappointing, though the fingers should possibly be pointed at Spielberg for this problem and not primarily Williams.
While the score is a masterpiece in my opinion, the commercial album is a less-than-spectacular treatment of the score. The two singing tracks are throw-away and could have easily been replaced with more substantial underscore. 'Banning Back Home' is also a throwaway electronic track. All of these could have been scrapped and replaced by a true ending to the score, the End Credits. As it stands, we have an imperfect, lacking album. However, something it still better than nothing. I, and many others, are hoping and praying that one day this score gets the expanded or 'Special Edition' treatment so we can finally hear the score in its entirety (legally, that is).
This is a score that no true film score fan should be without. It was a peak in Williams' career and stands as one of my most favorite scores of all time. Don't let the flawed album presentation deter you from purchasing this album, as it still contains most of the best moments from the score. This is a classic score in every sense of the word and will take a considerable miracle of a score to de-throne and replace this one as one of my favorites. If you're looking for a perfect place with which to start your Williams collection, then I cannot think of a better place than this. This score represents some of Williams' best and most magical writing to date. Invest in the purchase, and I promise that you won't regret it.