Thursday, August 25, 2011
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick: A Review
The Invention of Hugo Cabret, A Novel in Words and Pictures, Brian Selznick. New York: Scholastic Press. 2007
Later this year, Martin Scorsese will release a new film called Hugo, based on the 2007 novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. This would seem like an odd choice for a director like Scorsese, known for his gritty urban dramas, to direct a film based on a children’s story. But this particular story is actually more up the alley for a well beloved cineaste.
The novel, which takes place in Paris during the early 1930s, is about a young boy named Hugo Cabret, left orphaned after his father is killed in a fire at the museum where he works and is taken under the wing of a drunken uncle who is in charge of making sure that all the clocks in the train station are on time. When the uncle disappears, Hugo is left to fend for himself, caring for the clocks and stealing food from the local vendors. One day he decides to steal a toy mouse from a toy booth across the way from the apartment where he is holed up. He is caught by the toy vendor and forced to work at the booth, mending toys, as punishment. He soon becomes embroiled in the lives of Papa Georges, the man who runs the booth, and his goddaughter, Isabel, who later helps Hugo undercover a mystery concerning an automaton his father tried to fix. After discovering the automation among the ruins of the museum fire, Hugo lugs it home and tries to fix it, hoping to discover the message his father left him through a mechanization which allows it to write. When he realizes that a key dangling from Isabelle’s neck might actually be the key that will turn on the automaton, he steals it. What he and Isabelle discover after they turn on the automaton uncovers another mystery about Papa Georges. It turns out that he is actually Georges Méliès, the film director responsible for the film A Trip to the Moon, one of cinema’s earliest sci-fi/adventure movies.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a novel about the wonder and beauty of film, so it’s hard to see why Scorsese wouldn’t have been attracted to such a project. Interspersed throughout the novel are the author’s own pencil hand drawings, which lend it a sense of cinematic splendor. Too bad the writing itself couldn’t have matched the illustrations. Selznick has a rather flat and unengaging writing style that could have used more of the same magical renderings of his illustrations. I never got a sense of the magic and mystery in Hugo’s story from the writing itself, which is disappointing since the story is interesting.
No doubt, when Hugo will be released later this year, Scorsese will bring some of his own cinematic magic to a children’s tale about the magic of film. The film stars Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley as Méliès, and Sacha Cohen Baron.