The film “Hugo” made headlines Tuesday when it received 11 Oscar nominations, the most of any film this year and just squeaking ahead of silent film “The Artist” with 10.
But, for Hugo, that’s nothing new. Every incarnation of the story – of a boy who lives at a Paris train station – has been buoyed by good word of mouth since the novel by author Brian Selznick was published
Selznick's book, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” came out in 2007, and was adorned with an intricate cover that shows a hole that could fit a key set against a Paris skyline. In the novel, an orphan named Hugo Cabret lives inside a train station, working to keep the clocks running so the trains can depart on time. He meets a crotchety toymaker and the toymaker’s goddaughter, Isabelle, as he works to find a key that he believes could start an automaton that belonged to his father and which he thinks could contain a secret message.
The book has almost 300 illustrations for its 533 pages and was the first novel to win the Caldecott Medal, a prize given to picture books. Selznick was moved to write the story after hearing of the filmmaker Georges Méliès, who is portrayed by Ben Kingsley in the film and plays a large part in the story. As in the book, Méliès had no money in the later years of his life and ran a booth selling children’s toys in a station in Paris. He also had automata, as seen in the book.
“The Invention of Hugo Cabret” received rave reviews, with The New York Times writing, “Hugo Cabret evokes wonder… the result is a captivating work of fiction that young readers with a taste for complex plots and a touch of magic — think Harry H., not Harry P. — can love.” Reports released by independent bookstores said “Hugo Cabret” was a mainstay on their list of bestselling children’s books throughout the fall and winter, at one point coming in at the top spot on the list.
When Martin Scorsese was announced as director for the film version, the reaction of both the literary and film communities seemed to be surprised, but happy. The legendary director had never done a children’s movie before, but films such as “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas” (among others) spoke for themselves in terms of a recommendation. What attracted more attention was the news that it would be filmed in 3-D – with the book’s intricate illustrations, it seemed like a natural fit to fans of the book and those looking forward to the movie. Actor Ben Kingsley came on board to play Méliès and Jude Law signed on for a few scenes playing Hugo’s deceased father. “Let Me In” actress Chloe Moretz was Hugo’s friend Isabelle and Asa Butterfield, who will also play the hero in a film adaptation “Ender’s Game,” as the titular Hugo.
While rated well by film critics, some have called the box office take for Hugo disappointing. As of Jan. 22, the filme has earned $55 million but reportedly had a $150 million budget. The Christian Science Monitor critic Peter Rainer gave it a B+ and wrote of the movie’s 3-D effects:
“Unlike most directors who use the visual process as a gimmick, Scorsese brings us into the imagery with an understated elegance” and said that while “the huge apparatus of Dante Ferretti’s production design, extraordinary as it is, along with the elaborate visual effects, are sometimes as much an impediment as a spur to the film’s flights of fancy,” the movie is “a mixed bag but one well worth rummaging through.”
Metacritic, a website that tallies critics’ reviews, reports the film as currently having score of 83 out of100 based on reviews from more than 40 critics.
While other movies like “The Artist” and “The Descendants” are tipped to dominate the Academy Awards on Feb. 26, “Hugo” still has received the most honors, many for the visual feel of the movie, and has been a frontrunner all awards season for Best Picture and Best Directing prizes.
Not bad for a kids’ movie.