November 23, 2011


The Hugo Movie Companion: A Behind the Scenes Look at How a Beloved Book Became a Major Motion Picture. By Brian Selznick. Scholastic. $19.99.

Scholastic Book of World Records 2012. By Jenifer Corr Morse. Scholastic. $10.99.

Circus Galacticus. By Deva Fagan. Harcourt. $16.99.

     It is a truism (although not always true) that a movie is never as good as the book on which it is based. (It actually depends on the book…well, and the movie.) The question raised by The Hugo Movie Companion is whether a book about a movie about a book can be as good as the book on which the whole sequence rests. The answer, at least in this case, is no – but for fans of the film, this companion volume will certainly be likable enough…although for fans of the book, not so much. There are some very interesting relationships explored, often somewhat offhandedly, in this book – for instance, the first movie that director Martin Scorsese saw when he was a child was produced by David O. Selznick, who is a distant cousin of Brian Selznick, author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, on which is based the movie that is the subject of this book – oh, it is all very self-referential, and often very enjoyable. In the main, though, The Hugo Movie Companion is a pretty straightforward book combining text about the movie (and sometimes about the book on which it is based) with stills from the film and profiles of the actors, director and others involved in the production. In addition to the parts written by Selznick, there are contributions from Scorsese and – especially interesting – from David Serlin, who fills in such crucial background as what Paris was really like in 1931 (when the book and film take place) and what early filmmaker Georges Méliès, an important influence on and element of the book and movie, was really like. Costume sketches, behind-the-scenes views of sets, photos of some of the equipment needed to create the movie, and lots of other movie-related material add up to a moderately interesting look at a film made from an extraordinarily interesting book – a book whose very concept bridges traditional novels and film by being told partly in words but in large measure in pictures. The Invention of Hugo Cabret remains an extraordinary achievement; The Hugo Movie Companion is, in contrast, a little bit pale – although surely of interest to anyone interested in the book, the film, and the transformation of one into the other.

     Movies are one significant part of Scholastic Book of World Records 2012 as well. Here you will find that the best-selling movie soundtrack is from The Bodyguard (17 million copies sold since release in 1992), the biggest-budget movie is Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End ($300 million), and the actress with the most Oscar nominations is Meryl Streep (16, with two wins). As it does every year, this Scholastic compendium of pop culture gets into areas other than films: the most-downloaded song is Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” (4.39 million downloads in 2010); Roger Federer is both the top-earning male tennis player and the man with the most Grand Slam singles titles; the best-selling cell-phone brand worldwide is Nokia; the fastest production motorcycle is the Ducati Desmosedici RR (which can go almost 200 miles per hour); and so on. Many of these records change year after year, but some elements of Scholastic Book of World Records 2012 are inevitably the same as in earlier versions: the world’s longest river is the Nile (4,145 miles); the bird with the largest wingspan (13 feet) is the marabou stork; the longest snake is the reticulated python (27 feet); the largest reptile is the saltwater crocodile (22 feet); the largest flower belongs to the giant rafflesia (blooms can be 36 inches in diameter). This book of once-over-lightly facts always has some elements that readers are likely to find surprising (probably not the fact that Google is the most-visited search engine, but perhaps the fact that the country with the most Web sites per person is Germany). It is always fun to see what record each state in the U.S holds – Arizona has the largest collection of telescopes, Colorado the tallest sand dunes, Connecticut the oldest theme park – but Scholastic Book of World Records 2012 remains one of those volumes that is moderately interesting for a little while and then is likely to languish: it is not meaty enough to be a real reference book and cannot, simply because it is a book, be sufficiently up-to-date to stay in touch with the latest trends in popular culture.

     Movie-like scenes abound in Circus Galacticus, a fast-paced if rather silly intergalactic story that it is easy to imagine being adapted for film. Deva Fagan’s coming-of-age-in-space tale is all about Beatrix Ling (inevitably nicknamed Trix), a champion gymnast at Bleeker Academy, the bleak boarding school where she lives as an orphan and charity case – and where her most valuable possession is a meteorite that her parents gave her to keep and protect, without telling her why. This is a fairly ordinary setup for an adventure tale: it is obvious that Trix has to get out, find herself, battle enemies and make friends, and eventually learn the truth about her parents and the object she has guarded so carefully at their behest. That is exactly the arc of Fagan’s plot, so what will attract readers is not so much what happens in Circus Galacticus as how it happens. The bad guys, earthbound or space-traveling, are utterly one-dimensional. Miss Primwell, headmistress at Bleeker Academy, tells Trix, “You dream too large,” leading Trix to think, “Maybe I am a deluded freak.” Much later, after Circus Galacticus comes to town and whisks Trix out of this world, Nyl, evil representative of “the Mandate,” also tells Trix of “the folly of such dreams” while offering “a world without jealousy or war. All peoples working together to create a bright future for all” – a collectivist vision that Trix realizes is rotten at the core. It is the Ringmaster of Circus Galacticus who knows all about Trix’s parents and, eventually, gets around to telling her: “‘Once upon a time,’ he begins, ‘there was [a] young woman, the daughter of an ancient household of great power. This young woman saw much of the ways of her kinfolk, and did not like them. She wished to walk another path.’” And that path eventually produced Trix, who of course turns out to be very special indeed, endowed with unique powers that go far beyond her gymnastics skill (which, however, proves crucial when needed). There are some clever elements in Circus Galacticus, the principal one being the whole intergalactic-circus idea itself, but there is also a great deal here that is obvious and thoroughly unsurprising. The dialogue, for instance, is pure space opera and often unintentionally funny: “I’ll get her back from a black hole if I have to.” There are some attempts to make the book serious: “‘Collateral damage is part of war.’ ‘That wasn’t war. That was terrorism.’” But it is the more exotic elements, not the intense ones – and certainly not the old-fashioned science-fictional words, such as Hasoo-Pashtung, Vargalo-5 and “graphimephric m-field” – that are ultimately the most enjoyable. And the most cinematic.

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