Director Martin Scorsese's Hugo, adapted from the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, presents composer Howard Shore, working on his sixth Scorsese film, with distinct requirements that he fulfills ably. The story is set in 1930s Paris, and it is concerned with magical and childlike elements, also taking in the early days of cinema. For this most lighthearted (and most Gallic) of Scorsese efforts, Shore appropriately suggests French moods everywhere. The basic way he achieves this is by using two different sets of musicians simultaneously on most cues. There is a full orchestra, to be sure, but it tends to occupy the background of the sound picture. In the foreground is a smaller band featuring Simon Chamberlain (piano), Eddie Hessian (the accordion-like musette), Chris Laurence (bass), John Parricelli (guitar), Cynthia Millar (the keyboard instrument ondes Martenot), and Paul Clarvis (percussion). The small group carries much of the music, with the orchestra supporting. Often employing waltz time, the music early on emphasizes charm and buoyancy, but it becomes more involved and dramatic as time goes on, with the orchestra making itself felt to stirring effect. Of course, this is soundtrack music, so, within a particular track, such as "Trains," the music can start out slow, then become fast and more forceful, only to fall back again to its slow beginnings, all to follow the contours of the action on the screen. "The Invention of Dreams," with its flurry of notes in Renaissance style, is one of the more developed pieces, even if, at five minutes in, it abruptly subsides into a slow piano piece. If this sounds like the score is a little choppy, especially in its later parts, it is never less than engaging and gives the sense of a film of subtle and complex moods.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann