Exploring Soundtracks: Hugo

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Today in Exploring Soundtracks, we’ll be continuing our walk through the films of Martin Scorsese by looking at the 2011 historical adventure film, “Hugo”.

So far, we’ve looked at six soundtracks from Martin Scorsese’s filmography, with “Hugo” as our seventh. While we’ve only covered a fraction of the films Scorsese has released, we’ve focused mainly on some of his more popular and well-known works. Once we catch up to his recent releases, we might take a dip back in time to look at some of his earlier films.

Much like “Shutter Island”, the soundtrack to “Hugo” stands out among Scorsese’s other films. For one, it’s one of the few that consists of a score by Howard Shore. Scorsese has used Shore’s work in the past. But while he previously just incorporated Shore’s compositions into his soundtracks, for “Hugo”, Scorsese enlisted him to create an entirely original score. His choice turned out to be a good one, as the score for “Hugo” was nominated for an Oscar.

But before we get too far into the soundtrack, here’s a brief synopsis of “Hugo”, for those who haven’t seen it, or just need a quick refresher.

Synopsis

Set in a 1930s Paris train station, “Hugo” follows the story of orphan Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), who lives alone with his uncle in the walls of the station. Hugo’s job is to maintain the clocks in the train station, but cares more about protecting the broken automaton and notebook left to him by his dead father (Jude Law). With help from the goddaughter (Chloe Grace Mortez) of a bitter toy merchant (Ben Kingsley), Hugo goes off in the hopes of solving the mystery of his inheritance, and finding a home along the way.

Hugo

The musical soundscape that Howard Shore brings to “Hugo” masterfully balances a myriad of tones and flavors to bring a sometimes subtle, yet always powerful connection to the characters and plot. At times, such as the opening scene where we first meet Hugo, Shore brings a whimsical tone that is reminiscent of Alexandre Desplat’s compositions in some Wes Anderson films.

At other times, Shore’s music takes a backseat, like during the chase scene with Sacha Baron Cohen’s character, which is accompanied by a small ensemble of a guitar, acoustic bass, piano, accordion, and percussion. In the aforementioned scene, Baron Cohen’s character actually runs into the band as they’re playing. A lot of the music in “Hugo” features this small band, giving the film a very “French” feel to it. Shore’s music is played simultaneously in some scenes, to support the small band, as well as assist with transitions between scenes.

While the music in the first half of “Hugo” is full of more whimsy and wonder than anything, the second half ramps up the sense of adventure and drama, starting with Hugo’s nightmare of the train crash, and following nightmare of being turned into a robot. As the film rushes toward its climax, the music follows suit appropriately with flurries of strings and great orchestral swells.

Final Thoughts

While the music in “Hugo” consists of completely instrumental compositions that play well alongside the film’s plot and atmosphere, when listening to it on its own, the soundtrack can some off as a bit disjointed. It’s not a good enough soundtrack, or good enough film, in my opinion, to warrant much re-listening value. Even if you’re only using it as a background while studying or working, you could probably find better out there.

That’s not to say that Howard Shore didn’t do a great job. Of course he did. But the best way to experience his score is by listening to it alongside the film. Out of all of the soundtracks for Scorsese films we’ve looked at so far, this one stands alone in that respect.

That about wraps up our discussion of the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”. Next time, we’ll continue our walk through Scorsese’s films by looking at “The Wolf of Wall Street”.

Track List

1. “The Thief” 4:20
2. “The Chase” 2:50
3. “The Clocks” 4:28
4. “Snowfall” 1:50
5. “Hugo’s Father” 3:24
6. “Ashes” 2:33
7. “The Station Inspector” 1:10
8. “Bookstore” 1:51
9. “The Movies” 1:29
10. “The Message” 4:36
11. “The Armoire” 2:32
12. “Purpose” 2:04
13. “The Plan” 2:48
14. “Trains” 2:50
15. “Papa George Made Movies” 1:52
16. “The Invention of Dreams” 6:28
17. “A Ghost in the Station” 6:00
18. “A Train Arrives in the Station” 3:25
19. “The Magician” 2:33
20. “Cœur volant (feat Zaz)” 4:19
21. “Winding it Up” 4:11

 

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