I. Kindest Personal Regards
When critics walked out of screening rooms for Steven Spielberg's Hook, they - not inaccurately - saw a film that possessed the childlike whimsy and rollercoaster thrills the director was a sure hand at ever since JAWS scared its way to the top of the all-time box-office charts. And yet, it was hard not to feel a bit overwhelmed by it all. "Hook is a huge party cake of a movie, with too much frosting," David Ansen opined for Newsweek. "After the first delicious bite, sugar shock sets in."
It seems some moviegoers saw it entirely differently: though overshadowed by film's like Disney's dazzling animated feature Beauty and the Beast, the film was not only profitable, but more importantly beloved by a generation unencumbered by trade reports. The things even Spielberg himself would see as flaws in retrospect - the maximalist set design, the tonal shifts between deep emotion and crass humor - were treasured by audiences not unlike this writer, who patiently sat through all two hours and 20 minutes in a theater at the age of four, weeks after a first trip to the multiplex to watch An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. For a certain type of fantasy blockbuster, from Matilda to the Harry Potter series, Hook was an unexpected template upon which many filmmakers built.
And yet, not even that rosy reception would betray the one dirty little secret hiding in Hook's margins: this film's score, composed by stalwart Spielberg collaborator John Williams, deserves to be spoken of with the same reverence as Williams' works for JAWS, the Star Wars trilogy, Superman: The Movie, the Indiana Jones series, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Jurassic Park. Those who remain skeptical need only listen to Hook (The Ultimate Edition) (La-La Land Records LLLCD 1632), a fascinating and insightful package that gives the score a long-overdue appraisal and comprehensively lifts the curtain on what could have been Spielberg and Williams' boldest gambit of all time.
II. Oh, There You Are, Peter
The principles of Hook's thematic mastery were always there. Williams recorded the score at breakneck speed, owing to production deadlines and the composer's own schedule (including work on Oliver Stone's JFK); despite this down-to-the-wire approach, fans originally got a generous soundtrack, more than an hour in length, which featured many of the main themes in the picture. A rousing, fanfare-laden "Prologue" set the tone for Peter Pan and Hook's long-awaited rematch; a pair of bold, occasionally sneaky motifs accompanied the bad-form captain and his band of pirates; a rousing, playful theme accompanied the antics of the Lost Boys; and a yearning, lyrical tune, heard prominently in the album track "Remembering Childhood," laid bare the film's emotional core - that even when literal childhood is lost, the love and innocence of the young can build a bridge between generations.
And then there was "When You're Alone," a winsome lullaby with lyrics penned by the indomitable Leslie Bricusse. A year before, Williams and Bricusse built a sturdy new entry into the Christmas canon with songs and score from the blockbuster Home Alone; like "Somewhere in My Memory" from that film, "When You're Alone" earned Williams and Bricusse an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. (The depths of this collaboration would not be fully understood and articulated until this very release, but more on that in a moment.) All these pieces would make a score for the ages - one that, as handsome as it was in 1991, was simply missing things on record. Performances and flourishes were heard differently in the final film, and a good two-thirds of the film's rousing climax - in which Williams balances and interweaves a good half-dozen musical ideas over a quarter of an hour with the grace of a Star Wars battle or the bike chase in E.T. - was simply not on the CD.
After years of bootlegs, it seemed La-La Land was ready to deliver the goods in 2012 with a 2CD expansion of that original soundtrack. But like the Lost Boys' pantomimed "Neverfeasts," it seemed that some of the offerings laid hollow: some flourishes were still missing, while others were presented from slightly sub-optimal tape sources. (Much of the film's missing climax, for instance, seemed sourced from the film's original music-and-effects track, with edits to fit the exact film and dips in volume to account for sound effects and dialogue placement.) As the film's 25th and 30th anniversaries passed, and Williams' longtime archivist and reissue producer Mike Matessino (who did not work on the 2012 reissue) sprinkled his restorative magic on a host of other Williams titles, it seemed like this Peter Pan story might never fly the way fans dreamed.
That concern is evaporated - obliterated - with the contents of this 3CD set. Everything Hook fans could want and more is here: every insert, film version and notable album take, at nearly four hours of music. The emotional film version of "The Never-Feast"? Present. All of the film's climactic cues in pristine quality, and with more music dialed out of the final mix? It's here. Eyebrow-raising alternates and extensions, like an even longer version of the album take of light jazz-fusion riff "Banning Back Home" or a striking version of emotional cue "The Face of Pan" with full choral overlays? The treasure chest is cracked wide open, me hearties - and if that's all this reissue of Hook had, it would be a suitable improvement over releases past.
But it's not.
III. Low Below
For nearly 40 years, there's been a sort of game of telephone surrounding the destiny of Hook as an honest-to-Tinkerbell musical. Spielberg considered a straight adaptation of Peter Pan in 1985 - which was announced as a project for Paramount Pictures and rumored to feature Michael Jackson in the titular role. But the King of Pop's potential presence did not guarantee a musical - a genre Spielberg was nonetheless keen to make his mark in after a decade of teasing, from the dance fight in 1941 to the lavish take on "Anything Goes" that opens Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom.
The genesis of a Hook musical began casually - humorously so - when Williams briefly interrupted a phone conversation with Bricusse praising their work in the final cut of Home Alone and came back on the other line with an offer to write songs for the project. The tunes flowed like a waterfall into a mermaid lagoon: beyond "When You're Alone," there was a moving number called "Childhood" (using that same melody heard in the final film), while the two Hook/pirate themes were their own songs, "Low Below" and "Stick with Me." Yet another lyrical ode to faith, trust and pixie dust, "Believe," was also on the menu. "When You're Alone," "Childhood" and "Low Below" were all seriously considered for the film - the latter part of a sprawling sequence choreographed by Michael Jackson collaborator Vincent Paterson - but most of the songs simply became deeply memorable themes.
Hook as Spielberg's "musical-that-never-was" earned mythical status over the years, especially when, 30 years later, Spielberg finally did tackle that genre with a striking adaptation of the immortal West Side Story. This Ultimate Edition's brilliantly sequenced third disc brings the mysteries of the concept to striking light through original demos, mockups, score alternates and even a few of those tantalizing assemblies for the final film, from a brief version of "When You're Alone" sung by Caroline Goodall, the actress who played Peter's wife Moira, to the rousing "Low Below" temped by a cast of would-be pirates and prostitutes(!) in the makeshift town around Hook's ship, the Jolly Roger.
With 30 years of hindsight (and, at only about seven tunes, perhaps not enough to qualify for a true musical), it's impossible to know if this approach would have worked exactly the way the filmmakers intended it. But fans of the Spielberg-Williams canon - not to mention the inimitable stylings of Bricusse, who sadly died in 2021 as this set was undergoing what's been confirmed as a lengthy gestation period - will have much to appreciate here. (A deep-pocketed artistic visionary might even consider taking those unrealized songs, plus some from Bricusse and Anthony Newley's 1976 television adaptation of Peter Pan (which featured Mia Farrow and Danny Kaye as Pan and Hook) and dreaming up a project which would bring the magic of Williams to Broadway. )
IV. An Awfully Big Adventure
At nearly 92 years old, John Williams has seemingly walked back plans to retire after a fifth go-round scoring the Indiana Jones series. Like Spielberg, however, he's more than earned the right to try different things after definitively reinventing the sound of blockbuster film; we have the countless memories still being invented and recalled by the Spielberg-Williams canon. Labels like La-La Land and producer Matessino (here working with associate producers Jason LeBlanc and John Takis, who also contributes brilliant notes on the score) have preserved those musical memories for us, and it's great to know that after so many triumphs, there are yet more to uncover like Hook.
If you believe, you don't even need to clap your hands; simply hit play on Hook (The Ultimate Edition) and be reminded of the delirious power and potential of great film scoring.