Brian Selznick has a knack for writing whimsical, nostalgic stories starring precocious children. For the second screen adaptation of his work, he penned the screenplay for “Wonderstruck,” in theaters now. Selznick wrote “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” in 2007, which was turned into a successful motion picture in 2011 with the assistance of master filmmaker Martin Scorsese (“Silence”). “Hugo” received eleven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and took home five awards in total.
“Hugo” follows Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield, “Ender’s Game”), an orphan who lives among the gears of the Montparnasse train station clock in 1930s Paris. Hugo is fascinated by machines, especially an automaton given to him by his father. While trying to fix the enigmatic automaton, Hugo meets Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz, “If I Stay”), who loves any adventure beyond the pages of a book that she can get her hands on. Together, they try to solve the mystery of the automaton and uncover more than they bargained for.
“Hugo” is aesthetically breathtaking, especially in 3D, with dramatic pans of 1930s Paris and the magical, golden gears of Hugo’s clock. “Hugo” falls somewhere between the genres of fantastical historical fiction and wholesome family entertainment. In other words, it’s the most un-Scorsese film made by Scorsese. When I think of Scorsese I think blood-curdling violence and profanities a sailor would not dare utter. So how did the mastermind behind the twisted thrills of “Taxi Driver” and the filth of “The Wolf of Wall Street” make the children’s movie of the year? And for fuck’s sake, why?
While “Hugo” is about a curious child inventor, it is also about the film legend, Georges Méliès. Méliès is best known for his 1902 masterpiece, “A Trip to the Moon,” a film theory classic and the first fantasy film of its kind. Yet, the magician-turned-filmmaker, inspired by the Lumière brothers, was driven out of filmmaking later in his life. By the 1920s, Méliès was selling toys and knickknacks at a small shop at the Montparnasse train station in Paris. What if something reminded Méliès of his love of film? That was the inspiration behind Selznick’s novel, in which Méliès rediscovers his passion through the bright eyes of young Hugo. While this never actually happened, Scorsese found the tale endearing and inspiring. After all, Scorsese, who has perhaps done more for the preservation, restoration and general discovery of film than any other person alive, credits Méliès as a huge inspiration for him as a filmmaker. While the film is an ode to Méliès, it is also an ode to film in general. The film depicts Méliès’s filmmaking process and the way he pioneered movie magic.
Essentially, “Hugo” is Scorsese’s love letter to cinema through the imaginative eyes of a young boy. The nostalgic fantasy brings dreams to life, putting the viewer in Hugo’s magical world. Selznick created the world, and Scorsese brought it to life. Can Todd Haynes (“Carol”) do the same with “Wonderstruck”?