The Importance Of ‘Hugo Cabret’

I’m sorry to see that Hugo hasn’t earned back its production costs yet: it’s a very good movie that deserves a tremendous audience. But I also want it to succeed not just because it deserves to, but because it strikes me as a promising reinterpretation of an entry in a promising genre.

I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the book on which the movie was based, over the break, and two things about it struck me. First, the interpolation of words and pictures — it’s not a straight graphic novel, there aren’t speech bubbles — is a great way to enrich and flesh out a narrative that might be more viable as a short story than as a full novel. In a way, it fills in the interpretive space between prose writer and reader. The illustrations show us what Hugo looks like rather than letting us imagine it for ourselves, providing us with bone structure, with a visual guide through the train station and the streets of Paris. By putting Selznick’s illustrations next to photographs of old movie productions, the book gives them an authority, a sense of authenticity.

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Second, I’d like to see more movies that have the kind of relationship to their source material that Hugo has to The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Part of Watchmen’s airlessness came from the fact that it’s a shot-by-shot remake of the graphic novel. But Hugo takes the shots from the illustrations that work and fill in those that don’t, or that don’t exist at all, adding new whimsy and a sense of scale and grandeur. It’s a good template without being a suffocating one.