Book Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret: The Book That Was Meant to Win Oscars and the Caldecott

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I finally got hold of a copy of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret and tore through it.  I took it out Thursday night.  I was done by Sunday afternoon.  For me, that’s a quick read, but as I pointed out to my mother when she expressed her surprise that I had finished, it’s only 26,159 words and 158 pictures.  For those looking for some perspective, that’s just over fifty typed pages of text; this review is just over one page including the independence claim.

This book was made to be cinematically adapted.  Film history is central to the plot, and film can be so much better appreciated as moving picture than as stills, though it is obvious that Selznick has done his research.  The book even includes sketches of creatures never created and set designs for Méliès films.

I wondered how much Martin Scorsese had changed the plot, but as it turns out, Scorsese adjusted very little; he cut one or two characters to more fully focus on others, avoided some of the injuries incurred in the drama, and tweaked the dialogue and the staging of a few scenes.  One of the main differences between the book and the film is the focus put on more minor characters.  Selznick’s book more narrowly focuses on Hugo’s and Georges Méliès’ story.  Scorsese expands Hugo’s idea that all the world is a machine and all the men and women in it merely cogs and that no cog is extraneous in a machine, so no person is extraneous.  Scorsese decided to treat all the characters in his story, then, as with the importance and respect that the world would give them as vital cogs.  The Station Inspector, Madame Emile, and Monsieur Frick are given their own individual stories in Scorsese’s film.  In Selznick’s novel, they are cogs to move Hugo and Méliès towards their destinies, vital but meant to be virtually unseen, as one sees the clock’s hand move without seeing the inner workings.  Both are interesting ways of viewing the people who come into and disappear out of our lives.  I don’t think that I judge either as having more merit.  Though I enjoyed knowing the back-stories of these characters in Scorsese’s film, in Selznick’s book, I appreciated the speed and focus of the story too.  If Hugo had stopped to observe others, I wonder if it would have seemed to slow the plot and maybe even break Hugo’s character.  Hugo in both versions is focused and task-oriented; I don’t know that he would be distracted by the interactions of the crowd as the audience is in Scorsese’s film.

I want to amend too what I said earlier: Selznick’s book is more like a flipbook than a picture book.  One turns the pages, viewing each full page illustration, and follows the story that way till the flipbook is interrupted by text, which expands upon the story, offering ideas that could not perhaps be grasped as fully in illustrations alone, names and relations, for example.  It is a beautiful symbiosis of text and image, film and book.

Beyond being beautiful and revolutionary in composition, this is a delightful story of finding family and friends, the importance of dreams, and a person’s ability to “fix” another.  I add my praise to others’.

****1/2

Selznick, Brian.  The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  New York: Scholastic, 2007.

Hugo.  Dir. Martin Scorsese.  GK Films and Infinitum Nihil, 2011.  Film.

This review is not endorsed by Brian Selznik, Scholastic, GK Films, Infinitum Nihil, Martin Scorsese, anyone in the cast, or anyone involved in making the film.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader and viewer.

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