Tag Archives: cinematic adaptation

Film Review: The Inventive Hugo of Martin Scorsese


I finally did it!  I finally went out and saw films!

One was Hugo, the cinematic adaptation of Brian Selznick’s graphic novel dare I say “revolutionary” graphic novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  I have not yet been able to get my hands on a copy of the book for any longer than to flip through the pages and admire the detailed, dynamic, black-and-white illustrations (for those who will understand, much in the style of Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick).  Having done that much, I recognized the dynamism and imagination of Selznick’s illustrations in the film.  Having seen that much, I think I can claim that Hugo in some ways, then, captured the spirit of Selznick’s novel, which I look forward to reading, especially after seeing the film adaptation.

I very much enjoyed the film version of the story, though as the friends with whom I saw the film said afterward, the film’s plot is more loose than I generally enjoy.

But aside from plot, there are real reasons to see the film:

The cinematography is absolutely stunning.

Another feature of note is the risks that the director, Martin Scorsese, took in looking back on a bygone era of film and reintroducing it to a modern audience beside 3-D (Hugo was very much intended to be a 3-D film; even wearing Hank Green’s 2-D glasses to prevent the film from being ruined by my dislike of and discomfort when watching 3-D films, I could tell and appreciate that) and highly advanced computer animation.  Hugo includes snippets of reenacted Georges Méliès films, produced between 1896 and 1913, of a style that would be laughed at if presented alone to modern audiences, I feel.  The colors are strange, the costumes are blatant, and the effects can hardly compare with what computers have allowed present-day filmmakers to do.  For its time, my friends and I agreed, those films would have been fantastic, especially as Hugo talks of them as the introduction of imagination and dreamscape into film.

By including such films, Hugo compares itself to them, naming itself a reintroduction of imagination and dreamscape, a label that I would almost allow the film to claim for its creative storytelling and mix of modern and ancient.  But there are many films more imaginative and more dreamlike than Hugo, including I think it must be said, James Cameron’s visually stunning Avatar (2009).  However, these film clips remind me of the graphic novel upon which Hugo is based, graphic novels being an incorporation of words and pictures and, in some ways, a reclamation of the picture book for older audiences.  The film clips suggest to me that Hugo was made in the spirit of the original graphic novel, as Hugo reclaims Méliès’ films for the modern audience and integrates different storytelling and filmmaking techniques.

A tale of humanity, of searching for love, of searching for purpose, and of the necessity of healthy interactions between humans, Hugo is a philosophically heavy film, and I would actually say that at times, it seems to preach.  But I mostly forgave the film these speeches were poetic, and the tale—the dangers and interactions between characters—kept my  attention.

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

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

Book Review: How To Train Your Dragon: Time to Un-Banish the Book for Lighthearted Fun and Important Lessons


Berk.  “The only problem is the pests.”  Right?

In Cressida Cowell’s book How to Train Your Dragon, first in a series of “memoirs” by Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, dragons are not pests; they’re pets, cat-like creatures about the size of leopards with the same duties as hunting falcons.  Sorry, all.  No one’s riding Toothless.  The only thing remarkable about Toothless, a Common or Garden dragon (who knows where DreamWorks got the idea for a Night Fury), is his very, very small size (Terrible Terror-sized maybe).

Hiccup is still the sarcastic only son of Chief Stoick the Vast.  He is still an unlikely hero, who doesn’t look or act like a “proper” Viking should.  His best friend is the allergy-ridden Fishlegs, also not likely to be nominated most likely to succeed.  Snotlout is there, arrogant, but bullying and now Hiccup’s cousin with designs for the chieftainship.  He does not reconcile with Hiccup by the end of the book.  Hiccup would be left without a rival for the remainder of the series if he did.

Stoick and Hiccup’s relationship is still rocky because Stoick clings to the traditional Viking way, and Hiccup is “a talking fishbone,” but Gobber is no go-between, and the restoration of a loving father-son relationship takes back-seat to Hiccup’s unlikely heroism in the book’s plot.

How to Train Your Dragon is a boys’ book through and through.  You will find no Astrid or Ruffnut.  Sad, I know, but I’m a girl, and I still enjoyed it.

For fans of the movie, reading through the book and matching the bits of scrap fabric from which DreamWorks’ quilt is made is a fun challenge.  Many of the pieces are there, but they aren’t always what they seem.  It’s a brilliant adaptation in that way.  Moviemakers might be interested in the book for the same challenge.

Independently of the movie or beside it, the book is enjoyable.  It’s lighthearted in the main, lighter than the film, illustrated with childish drawings (some are better than others) and splattered with… ink? blood?  It’s humorous, though relies more on hyperbole, the unexpected, undergarments, and bodily functions than the sarcasm of the film.

The film retained the books’ main message: that you needn’t be the strongest or loudest or an adult to win friends and fight enemies, that cleverness and diplomacy and understanding can conquer monsters, that what seems heartless (dragons and people) may be only misunderstood.

I have my doubts about Cowell’s writing style.  It did not seem entirely cohesive.  Sometimes it seemed to be Hiccup’s first person voice, sometimes a close third, and sometimes an omniscient third, but I think that most readers may not even notice in the exciting plot, jokes, scattered drawings, plentiful capitals, and inkblots.

I appreciate the nods to Viking culture, though I do think that her representation is probably highly stereotyped.  Still, the presence of Thor, seers, Hiberno-Saxon designs, and Beowulf all add to the setting.

This is definitely a book to recommend to the boy who feels like he doesn’t fit in, the boy outside of the popular crowd, the boy who likes adventure, the boy of average boy humor, maybe even the boy who might be a reluctant reader (cinematic adaptation ought to help that, right?).

And yeah, the rest of us can enjoy it too.


Cowell, Cressida.  How To Train Your Dragon.  New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2003.

This review is not endorsed by Hachette Book Group, Little, Brown and Company, or Cressida Cowell.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Film review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 7.2 (SPOILERS AHEAD)


I’ve now been to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows thrice, once at midnight with some of the girls from Hollins’ Children’s Literature program; the following day with Erin; then again with a group of old, dear friends that I’ve shared Harry Potter with since the beginning.  Each time I’ve come nearer and nearer to true crying, though I don’t know whether that’s a reflection of the movie or my company (I think it’s more likely the latter actually).

I’ve decided that it is, in fact, a good, well-done movie.  The problem is that it is a poorly done cinematic adaptation.

I want to reiterate before I enumerate my quibbles with Yates that I do enjoy the film, that I’ve paid for it thrice.  But Yates missed some key points in his adaptation:  (Beware something of a fan’s rant.)

  • Where’s the love?

There’s no mention of there being a possibility for redemption for Voldemort.  There’s no mention of Harry’s love for his friends having defeated the invincible Elder Wand.  Way to miss the point of the series, Yates.

  • Where’s everyone?

I’m not sure I realized till it wasn’t in the film how much it meant to me that everyone ultimately unites against Voldemort: the house-elves (General Kreacher, I missed you!); Trelawney, who never leaves her tower; Sprout with her mandrakes; the centaurs, who earlier wouldn’t hear of helping Dumbledore or Harry; the giants, who aren’t all bad; all the friends and family of everyone who remained at Hogwarts to fight and the people of Hogsmeade; Percy….  Now, some of these people were in Yates’ battle (Trelawney, Percy, Sprout), but their entrance into the fray was not highlighted.  Percy’s betrayal, let alone apology, was not even mentioned….

  • Where’re the death scenes?

I know Yates was afraid to traumatize us.  Thank you, sir, for your consideration.  One problem, I, and I think many other fans, had hoped the film would bring a sense of closure to these deaths, closure that I really don’t find possible when I’ve been offered even less evidence of the deaths than JKR gave to us originally.  I wanted to bawl in that theater; I expected to do so; I have not yet.

  • If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

Voldemort and Harry’s face-off, striped of its exchange, Harry removed from his Dumbledore-esque role of explaining what has been happening, was better in the book.  Neville’s heroic moment, delayed and removed from its original audience and context, was not as epic.  These were disappointing.  This is particularly problematic as Harry and Voldemort’s battle becomes a large part of the film.  I was never keeping a record, but I’d wager a half hour’s time on screen, or certainly a quarter of an hour.  Some other changes I understand: Voldemort, Harry, and Nagini all being effected by the death of a Horcrux, for example.  While it directly counters book canon, it does make for a nice visual, increased tension in the plot as Voldemort knows what is happening and is therefore becoming more aware of his vulnerability.  Another nice touch is Voldemort’s speaking directly into people’s minds rather than just projecting his voice; it’s creepier.  Did the boathouse really better the scene that takes place inside of it?  Not really, but nice touch with the Gryffindor scarf hanging behind him.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.  Dir. David Yates.  Heyday Films-Warner Bros, 2011.

This review is not endorsed by J. K. Rowling, Warner Bros, or anyone involved in the making of the Harry Potter films.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.