As Brian Selznick continues to stir up excitement in the book world with his national tour for Wonderstruck (Scholastic Press, Sept.), another high-voltage event is on the horizon. Hugo, the film adaptation of Selznick’s Caldecott-winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic Press, 2007), opens in theatres on November 23. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film stars Asa Butterfield as Hugo, along with Chloë Grace Moretz, Jude Law, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Ben Kingsley. Fans can view the trailer here.
Hugo represents a departure for Scorsese, who is known for his gritty dramas like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Departed. The historical fantasy-adventure is his first screen endeavor for children as well as his first 3-D feature.
In some ways, the book is a natural candidate for film adaptation. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is characterized by its own cinematic qualities, offering a fusion of prose and hundreds of black-and-white illustrations, many of which appear as successive spreads, creating a narrative continuum of language and images.
In addition to the use of 3-D, the movie also uses stereoscopic technology to recreate 1930’s Paris and the train station where orphan Hugo lives. The film contrasts bright colors with more somber tones to reflect the story’s multilayered, mysterious, and melancholic elements, with many of the scenes and sets drawn from Selznick’s original illustrations.
Those looking for a behind-the-scenes tour both of the inspirations that led to Selznick’s book and the making of the film can visit the Invention of Hugo Cabret Web site. On the site, Selznick describes his interest in early automaton machines, explaining that one of the first seeds for the book came from his idea of a boy finding a discarded, broken automaton in the trash. He also includes photographs from his trips to Paris, where he researched material for the book, and historical background on events like an 1895 train wreck at Gare Montparnasse in Paris.
Additionally, readers will find a link to a featurette, which appeared before the surprise New York Film Festival screening of Hugo on October 10. The featurette includes interviews and a behind the scenes perspective on the making of the film.
Though the film was not yet complete at the time, commentators who viewed sneak peek lauded Hugo’s visual aesthetic, which is reportedly evocative of early silent films. On Deadline.com, Michael Fleming wrote, “Scorsese has infused the film with his love of cinema history and passion for film restoration,” and Eric Kohn for IndieWire.com described the film as “a triumph of technique.”
Although Selznick did not have a direct role in adapting the book for screen, he did visit the movie set for two weeks, where he interviewed cast and crew and witnessed the process of his book being transformed to screen. “It was awesome for Brian to see the world he’d dreamed up in his head come breathtakingly to life on such a grand scale,” said Tracy Mack, executive editor at Scholastic Press, and Selznick’s editor for Hugo Cabret.
Selznick has chronicled his experience on-set in The Hugo Movie Companion: A Behind the Scenes Look at How a Beloved Book Became a Major Motion Picture. The companion book, which Mack describes as “a visual feast” was released on November 1 and has an initial print run of 100,000 copies. The book contains movie stills and profiles of the cast and crew (including the film’s animal trainer, 3-D stereographer, stunt coordinator, and composer), as well as an essay about cinema by Scorsese. In addition, Selznick shares his own fascination with silent movies like Georges Méliès’s 1902 A Trip to the Moon, and readers can view side-by-side comparisons of Selznick’s illustrations from the novel with film sets, characters, and costumes. “From the beginning, we set out to make a book like no other movie book,” Mack explained. “Our goal was to show kids how movies are made through this particular movie.”
She went on to describe Selznick’s joy in seeing the cast and crew carrying copies of The Invention of Hugo Cabret around on the film set. “Brian could not be happier about how faithful the movie is to the book,” she said. “There are a lot of dreams coming true with this movie, but that may be the biggest.”