A couple years ago, I came across a DIY magazine known as Make. Their theme that issue was steampunk, and thus featured different steampunk styled works, people and crafts. One of the things featured was a five-hundred thirty-four (I didn’t typo there. It really is 534) page picture book titled The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.
I suppose I’ll begin with this: To the people expecting to see an action flick – you may find the movie extremely boring.
To prevent spoiling the story, I’m going to keep photos of the drawings (and specific comments of the movie) as minimal as possible.
Marketed as a children’s book (in the children’s section), the pictures are all completely hand drawn by the author on watercolour paper (save for some shots from the original films by Georges Méliès) with pencil accompanied by minimal text for dialogue between the characters or some complex actions that couldn’t be clearly expressed in drawing.
I instantly fell in love with the book – who wouldn’t? One hundred and fifty eight detailed pencil drawings* I could only wish to be able to be on the same level as, a simplistic writing style and a tie in with the early era of film making – all three piqued my interest.
So I was extremely excited when a trailer came out for a movie version. However, after watching the movie, I have to say I was slightly disappointed.
The movie itself holds pretty true to the book, and painfully so. The original story’s pacing is slow, with several pictures to show each scene. For example: the first scene itself (from the beginning of the movie until Hugo first sees Georges and Isabella) is 38 pages long and consists of 21 drawings.
The core of the story still begins with the incident involving Hugo’s notebook. The introduction of the automaton in the movie was much better than the one in the book; and I thoroughly enjoyed the simply touched-upon scenes that were much more detailed in the movie – the incident with Hugo’s father in the museum; the dream with the train and the scene near the end with the traintracks really livened up the slow-moving story.
The station inspector’s role in the movie was hilarious, as well as the dynamics of Madame Emile and Monsieur Frick. The three characters play a role more important than just comic relief in the book.
The movie itself gives off a slight cut-and-paste feel of the old black-and-white films – scenes seem to jump abruptly (perhaps to match the style of Méliès’ film segments that are shown throughout the second half of the movie) and scenes of just a person (predominantly Hugo, then Georges) seem to drag on for quite an amount of time.
Speaking of the book; the differences in story are subtle at best. They are small things that were mostly shuffled around or simplified to make more sense.
George’s life is explained in more detail – he gives more explanation of his past and how Isabelle came to live with them. Hugo in the book is not the one who knows how to pick a lock. Hugo’s friend Etienne is replaced by the book store keeper Monsieur Labisse.
The integration of the films by Georges Méliès is similar to the book, but with a twist – restoring the films with colour (which was done just this year) was a nice touch and let it break away from the constant black-and-white feel that is given from the original. Several scenes from Méliès’ films were redone with the actors for the movie, while the images in the book remain unedited.
Despite my praise of the movie rendition, the disappointment comes here: there were a couple things (that I felt were) of importance that were never stated. The painting in the film academy of Prometheus, or Hugo’s announcement as the timekeeper. Hugo’s actual invention, while never revealed throughout the story until the very end of the book, doesn’t exist at all in the movie. The final narration is thus by Isabelle instead. But I guess that explains why the movie is merely called Hugo.
I suppose it’s safe to say that the movie is a good movie, if you’ve never read the book. If you’re not really into reading picture books, go watch the movie. However, if you want the true experience, I’d suggest picking up the book and playing (read: youtubing) the music, which is amazing by the way. My personal favourite is the theme that is set for Hugo.
All in all, Hugo (and The Invention of Hugo Cabret) is a story worth seeing.
* “… can produce one hundred and fifty-eight different pictures…” (The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick, 2007. Page 511)