The Invention of Hugo Cabret: a novel movie indeed.

It’s rare to find a book that is so well written, it would be impossible to adapt it to a movie. There are many things that movies do for a story that unfortunately, a book cannot. A book cannot zoom in or recede, it cannot fade out or be tinted in sepia tones. While it can have characters, settings, and important items, it doesn’t have a soundtrack, a set with endless props, or costumes. There is no sound in a book outside of the crisp turn of a page, and depending on the book, it is hard to find something above a fifth grade level that has illustrations.

But The Invention of Hugo Cabret is so much more. It interweaves the best of both worlds, so to speak. The novel opens with a “zoom in” or a “dolly zoom”, in which the camera zooms in on one specific object. The novel, which opens overlooking a city, zooms in onto a very fine detail, and the novel ends with a corresponding shot of a “zoom out” in which the reader goes from a very specific detail to one that is very general (once again the city). With the addition of illustration that is purposefully copying film, we get the “feel” of a movie that cannot be conveyed through text alone. For example, while it takes a fantastic writer to describe how vast, awe-inspiring, and incredible the Statue of Liberty is, it is truly fantastic to see a wide pan aerial shot of the Statue to convey her magnificence. But at the same time, there are things that film cannot convey, such as intricate details, backstory (it takes a narrator to do that in a movie) and inner thought (one again takes a first person narrator in film).

In this way, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a story that is so complete, blending film and the written word, that to make it into a movie would not only be useless, but it would be insulting as well. The story so fully incorporates what is wonderful about film into the written word, describing it’s beautiful and humble beginnings, and is a good homage to the end of such inventions as the machinated man described in the story.

But the main thread of the story is one that I value; the wonder and magic of dreams. We have the dreams of Hugo and his father, the dreams of the girl Hugo meets and befriends, as well as her grandparents. They all so heavily wish for and dream of things that enchant the mind; from film to the mechanical man. It shows the transition between the mechanical wonders to those of film. The grandfather is one of the first to pioneer film doctoring and splicing film to create special effects, while Hugo and his father represent a type of field that is slowly dying; that of physical wonders and creations. It is easy to create a film representation of a mechanical man, but it is another thing altogether to make a real mechanical man. The transition between the mechanical to the digital age is alarming.

But the great thing about this book is that it mirrors this change. The book itself is an old technology that is getting swallowed up by film and digital media. Kindles and the like are some of the hottest items of the year, and I’m typing this very post on an iPad. People are switching to digital articles, magazine subscriptions, and more, while physical prints such as books, newspapers, and even cds and dvds are fading. The physical construction of this novel mirrors this change in addition to the plot; by printing it with images drawn in a film-style throughout the novel, this book is a rare blend of the old and the new.

And while I am one to abhor new types of technology (I specifically asked for anything besides an iPad for Christmas, but now I can’t see life without it) I also try to be as open-minded as possible, and this book was definitely eye opening; that while books are fantastic, there is a lot to be said for film as well, and even for future technologies such as 3-D, 4-D imaging, and more. I can’t wait to see what the future brings us.


About Angela

Editor, bookbinder, and writer.

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